character rigging, simple vs complex

When rigging a character, what criteria do you typically use to decide whether to go with a complex rig or a simple rig? For example, at what times does a simple rig prove more valuable than complex?

What criteria do you use when trying to decide whether to build from scratch go with a pre-built rig like Man Candy?

And… how much time does it take to come up to speed on using Man Candy? What are the pros/cons using it?

A complex rig is longer (for me) to setup, but can save a lot of time during animation. It’s a matter of comparing these amounts of time “lost”: setting up constraints and debugging them on one side, versus having to move each single bone to get a pose instead of one complex control on the other. If the lost time is equal, I would go for the complex rig because even if you hate rigging, you’ll get so much more pleasure with animation. It’s probably also better for team work to elaborate an intuitive puppet for someone who didn’t create it to animate. But I’m not as good a rigger as Slikdigit, also known as Bassam Kurdali who made mancandy. It’s a very capable and controllable rig if you want to practice animation and Mancandy FAQ DVD is a must see. Nevertheless, for tayloring it to your needs, it’s a little complex to find your way around. So I sometimes chop off a limb or two of another great ressource rig’s armature to get into a custom character: Ludwig by Jason Pierce (Sketchy) it’s file size is the smallest around and it works well if you have low hardware ressources.

Thank you, Maurice.

So it sounds like the number of bones to animate is another factor in deciding whether to get more complex. Which makes sense if you have a large number of bones, it would be tedious to be manually moving each.

But what if you’re one a tight timeframe and you’re not familiar with adapting Mancandy or Ludwig?

Do you ever take your model and duplicate it so you can use multiple rigs? If so, how do you handle updates to the model?

All this is only my personal preferences and they may be bound to change, I never used multiple rigs: layers of a single complex rig can give it enough flexibility (look at mancandy face rig: you have two different approches on different layers, one with shapekeys, the other with lattices).
A case when I would use mutiple rigs would be if the character model and structure has to be changed, for exemple a walking/flying squirel (BBB).
The deadline issue though is a tricky one and I wouldn’t want to give a bad advice since you’re the only one to know the extent of your knowledge.
Have you modelled your own character? Or would mancandy’s appearance out of the box (or almost) fit your need? If so grab it, learn its controls from Mancandy FAQ and animate, don’t get into any rigging.

Thanks for the advice, Maurice!

A rig should always be as complex as it needs to be, and no more than that. A rig should always be as simple as it can be, but no simpler. Finding that sweet spot, however, is very difficult.

A couple of valuable questions that often help in designing a rig are:

  1. What does the character being rigged need to be able to do? (How wide will his mouth open? Does he ever smile? Does he ever walk? On his hands?)
  2. Given those requirements, how can I make the rig as easy and fast for animators to use as possible? (What are things that the character does a lot? What things will he rarely do? How much can things be automated and simplified without sacrificing animator control? How much control does the animator even need?)

In general, keeping the rig as simple as possible both from the user perspective and technical wizardry perspective is good. Doing something clever just because it’s clever is more likely to harm than help. Features should only be added to a rig to solve an actual problem, never because they’re cool or clever… unless your rig is only meant as a tech demo, and not to actually be animated with.