Rigging a staged rocket

I have several models of staged rockets or spacecraft that I’m working on, and I’d like to use some kind of armature to animate the staging process, but it’s quite different from either an articulated machine or a deformable character. The main difference is that the parts need to detach and fall away in a controlled way.

In general, I’d like to have the model snap or limit the motion so that the stage will stop when it’s moved to the connected position (i.e. putting it back in the starting position). And I’d like the stage to follow a defined departure track as it detaches – these are pretty well defined – straight stages depart directly aft, pods follow a complex tilt, slip, and arc trajectory, shroud panels typically pivot on a joint and then release once they get past a certain point.

Can this kind of motion be done with armature bones? Can I define one bone for each stage, and then apply these kinds of constraints?

I’m still pretty new to rigging, so it’s not clear to me if I’m on the right track, or how to go about doing this.

I tried a few searches on Google and YouTube for tutorials that might be related, but I didn’t find much.

I did find references to the “Floor” and “Follow Path” constraints, which seem like they might be the way to go – does it make sense to use these constraints between bones, and then parent stages to the bones?

Any leads on how to do this would be much appreciated. :slight_smile:

Interesting problem. I think I would stay away from armatures for this one, for the most part, (and I’m the type that likes rigging). I think I would use a combo of path curves and follow path constraints to accomplish this, for the most part, see attached example. In it, I’ve parented a curve path to the top cylinder so the curve moves as the top cylinder moves. The 2nd cylinder has a follow path constraint on it and I’ve keyframed the offset of the constraint. for the first 10 frames the offset doesn’t change, for the next 10 frames the offset changes and the stage moves away from the 1st cylinder. This is how I would handle the stages, (although I would change a few things about that example).

The shroud panels I would set the origin of the object to the pivot point of the object, and likewise use pretty much the same technique. For the pods, I really don’t understand the type of motion you desire so I can’t say what I would do…



rocket.blend (370 KB)

Wow, That’s very helpful – especially the example!

And yes, the pods were obviously going to be the most challenging part – I read a diagram about how the release mechanism works, and it’s pretty wild. I’ll work it out.

I don’t think I mentioned that this is a Soyuz launch vehicle I’m working on – they have four pod stages around a core stage when they lift off, and then there’s an upper stage. The Soyuz orbiter is in a clamshell shroud at the top. It’s a fun project – I’ll probably post pictures in the gallery (or “works in progress”?) when I get further along.

Thanks, Randy! :slight_smile: