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Rigging 3D models in Codea - First animation

IgnatzIgnatz Mod
edited December 2014 in General Posts: 5,396

My main frustration with 3D is not being able to animate 3D models, eg wave their arms around or walk. Programs like Blender do it by providing "armatures" (effectively bones) which you can put inside a 3D figure and then move around, and the program figures out how to distort your mesh. But you can't export the armatures to anything Codea can use, and Codea wouldn't know what to do with them anyway.

So because I like an insane challenge, I am building a rigging program in Codea. I've defined a number of body joints, and created "bones" that run between them. The model's mesh will need to be broken into pieces, one for each bone. Then as the joints move, the body pieces and meshes will change direction along with them.

Each animation will require a number of frames, which means setting and storing x,y,z positions for each joint, for each frame. The playback program can then play back the frames, positioning and rotating the body meshes.

There is, of course, a lot of work setting positions for nearly 20 joints, for every frame, and making all the body parts move together. That's why Blender has armatures and all sorts of helper functions. So I've created the best approximation I can.

My rigging program allows me to use Codea to drag joints in 3D, to position the body to create one frame of an animation, save the positions, and then do the next frame, just as you do in Blender. Codea can then play back the animation in any of my other 3D programs, to create the effect I want.

The hard part is keeping the body parts moving coherently, so if you move the foot, it doesn't detach from the leg, or bend the leg the wrong way. I believe this is known as inverse kinematics, or IK. I'm including some IK in my program for arm and leg movements.

Initially, I'm just using a body without a mesh, and my progress is shown in the video below. Clearly, there is a lot of work to go, but I thought I'd share it for anyone who is interested.


  • Posts: 1,976

    I was actually working on my own rigging code a while ago, based on @spacemonkey's rigging. You can check out his over here:

    I only have a box that stretches right now, yours looks amazing! How did you make the 3D IK?

  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    Posts: 5,396

    I'm still working on it, only just started with IK, which requires lots of trigonometry.

    I see spacemonkey used a shader and weighted bone effects. I'm keeping it much simpler and using separate meshes, one per bone, and no shader.

    This is how a lot of games were built until recently. That's why characters had shoulderpads and big belts, to hide the not-quite-working joins at shoulders and hips!

  • edited December 2014 Posts: 300

    Very nice!

    I messed around with Unreal Development Kit for a little while, which used a lot of skeletal meshes like what you are creating. Thankfully the code didn't have to be written from scratch like what you are doing.

    Interested to see where you take this.

  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    edited December 2014 Posts: 5,396

    I've got my joint movements working (mostly) and I've carefully chosen a 3D model to work with (below). It is small (only 100 vertices), has clearly defined limbs and nice big shoulders and knees that I hope will cover any "tears" that happen when limbs bend.

    I've carefully chopped the model into 12 separate meshes in Blender, and imported them into Codea.

    I still have to position my joints inside this model, get the drawing to work with meshes instead of sticks, and then I can start creating animation frames.

  • Posts: 689

    That's only a 100 vertices??? That's a bloody good model for such a low vertex count, obviously the texturing makes a lot of difference.

    I'm not sure if your handling lighting, but it would be interesting to see it untextured - just have the poly's with some flat lighting.

    Where did you find the model?

  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    Posts: 5,396

    Sorry, 1100 vertices! :P

    I found it on a free site ( with thousands of models, most already in obj format.

  • Posts: 689

    Ok - 1100 seems a little more reasonable :)

  • In mine, (apart from the shader mojo) I set the bones up in a structure where they link to each other. This solves the foot detaching kind of scenarios as you make joint movement relative to the joint. So when you move the hip, it cascades down the bone tree to the knee and foot to keep them all synced up.

    That's done in the bone part in lua before it gets anywhere near the shader and a similar approach should work for you too.

  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    edited December 2014 Posts: 5,396

    Yep, I'm doing that too

    I'm not using a shader at all, at the moment. I thought about using an "influencing" technique for handing limb movements, but it seems too slow, because it means adjusting all the vertices at every frame, which slowed my iPad 3 from 60FPS to 8FPS.

  • Posts: 689


  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    Posts: 5,396


  • Yeah, that's the point, if you modify the vertices each frame you are stuffed performance wise.

    But you can either bind the "bones" to the vertices and dynamically shift the vertices in the vertex shader which was my approach, which with good weightings can smooth shoulder joints etc, or have each body segment it's own mesh, and translate the mesh position by the bones and draw each mesh at the right place/rotation. And as you say, big shoulder pads hide all issues ;-) And that way the mesh draws are just normal mesh draws.

  • Posts: 689


    Sorry - I'm in a silly mood this afternoon! :)

  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    edited December 2014 Posts: 5,396

    @spacemonkey, @TechDojo - I've rejigged how I'm doing this. Instead of dragging joints around (which creates problems because I have to keep bones the same length), I am simply rotating them, as shown in the video below, and that works much better.

    I think working with separate limb meshes is going to be the best approach in Codea, because it runs so much faster than vertex manipulation (I had a look at doing that, but apart from speed issues, it is extremely difficult, especially when your figure has an irregular shape).

    I'm not using any K or IK now (unless you count flowing rotations down a limb, so when you rotate a shoulder, it also rotates the elbow and hand), because when you only have a couple of linked bones, it isn't worth the effort. All I'm doing is restricting movement in certain directions, depending on the joint, so a knee joint can only rotate backwards.

    The real work has been managing rotations, because I have so many different layers - the figure can be placed in a scene and rotated, and then it can be further rotated (as part of an animation), then individual body parts can be rotated as well. And of course, rotations to one body part may affect rotations for other body parts, which have their own rotations..... (Did I mention I hate rotations?)

    Additionally, I have 4 primary camera views (front, left, eight, top), with manual adjustments to those views, which create more rotations.

    I am using quaternions for all of this, and while they are marvellous, it has been a nightmare sorting them all out.

    I can store joint positions to create frames, so now I'm going to see if I can create and play back an animation.

  • Posts: 1,976

    @Ignatz What if you want to animate a character's face? How would you do that using separate meshes?

  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    edited December 2014 Posts: 5,396

    @SkyTheCoder - I probably wouldn't because it's very hard, according to a book I'm using as a reference. You can do faces with vertex-based systems, or using a skeletal (bone) system.

    I'm certainly not going near that in the near future!

  • Posts: 257

    it's great. codea arrive in the 4th dimension. i imagine with red and yellow ironman's colors.

  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    Posts: 5,396

    Here is my very first animation :)

    It uses 5 frames, which cover one stride. The jerkiness in rotation is purely because I am rotating manually. (You may see a few loose vertices floating free - it was very difficult to cut the limbs apart cleanly because the model had a lot of internal rigging vertices).

    I'm getting something like 45 FPS.

  • edited December 2014 Posts: 212

    The quake3 source code is open source. Why not take a look at how they handled the import/rendering of the model data and animations? then you can just export your model (with bones) and animation sequence from blender instead of having to animate it via some LUA.

    edit: here's the Doom (2004) source as well, since it's newer than quake3, and also written in C++
    Check out all the stuff labeled "model"

  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    Posts: 5,396

    @matkatmusic - thank you for that, but I don't want to spend the rest of my life trying to follow the Quake 3 code! (Besides, I don't think you can export bones from Blender).

  • Posts: 689

    @Ignatz that looks really impressive, @SkyTheCoder, one way to do facial animation (and simple model animation) is to simply work with the actual vertex points themselves, move them to new positions and then do a linear interpolation (morph) between the points.

    We did that in one of the first games I worked on (Cybermorph and Battlemorph on the Atari Jaguar). In game the wings on the players ship would sweep forward and back as the player slowed down and sped up. To achieve the effect there were three different models (wings back, normal and forward) with back and forward being copies of normal but with the vertext points just dragged into different places (so all the faces etc were all the same), the code then simply interpolated the vertex list to create the required model frame.

  • edited December 2014 Posts: 212


    Blender can export bones in the md5 format:

    Use the Doom source code to see how to load in the md5 format if it's not plain-text. but there ya go.

    here's the code for md5anim processing:

    and the main header for anim processing: Check out the class "idAnimator" dedicated to handling the animations stored in the md5anim files

  • Posts: 1,976

    @TechDojo I tried that a long time ago, when you get more vertices it's horribly laggy.

  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    Posts: 5,396

    @matkatmusic - thank you again, that is interesting, and I wasn't aware md5 was in readable form or I would have looked at it.

    It uses weights to set vertex positions, which is simply too slow in Codea unless it is somehow done in a shader. It also uses bit positions for animations, and bits aren't supported in Codea yet. Altogether too much work, and I'm not going to build a game with it anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

    So I'm going to leave that to someone else, my life isn't long enough to master all that code.

    But thank you for going to the effort of finding those links, much appreciated, and I wish I'd known about that sooner, because it has some valuable suggestions.

  • edited December 2014 Posts: 689

    @SkyTheCoder, I remember the days when low poly models were all you had :)
    I agree dynamically changing data like that in Lua can get messy - it was much easier in Assembler, where you can poke directly into memory buffers with out any dynamic allocation :)

  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    Posts: 5,396

    @matkatmusic - interesting - they didn't succeed, though

  • @ignatz, he posted a video of it succeeding on page 3:

  • IgnatzIgnatz Mod
    Posts: 5,396

    pretty good, but I still reckon that's the slow way to do it

  • well, it's the tradeoff of the ease of creating assets in Blender/3DS/Maya and using them in a difficult environment that doesn't natively support those types of assets.

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