deformers - skinning

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For quite a while a rig was mainly composed of joints skinned to the mesh, and some blendshapes.

There wasn’t a lot else thrown in on top.

What the heck does this mean exactly?


Joints are merely transforms describing a position/orientation/scale in 3dSpace.

Some applications treat these as special cases and make them strange first class citizens.


Skinning is the art of taking xNum of joints, assigning them to a mesh via a skinCluster, and then painting each joint’s area of affect onto the mesh. The act of this painting literally establishes a per joint' relationship to the vertexes on the mesh by assigning to it a per joint weight value`.

eg: vtx01: [joint01: .5, joint02:.5]

Which would mean that joint01 has a weight of .5 and joint02 has a weight of .5 so each have a %50 influence over the vertex they are assigned to.

That’s it really. Take a bunch of joints, and create their binding relationship to the 3d mesh. How you do it can be done by hand or by painting using various tools in your application of choice.

Doing it by hand on complex meshesshudder / run screaming!

.. skipTo… blendshapes

Further reading:

These 2 fundamentals haven’t changed much in the last 20 years so I think it’s important to at least show you how to handle them, even if it doesn’t make too much sense at this time.

We have paintWeight tools to help make this a much easier job for us! So lets look at my general go to starting process for skinning.

My Style of Painting Weights for the last 20years

Years and years ago I started treating the whole process of weight painting as the Bastard son of Satan! As a result, I ONLY WORK ON JOINT PAIRS and do not have any faith/trust/respect for any kind of `auto’ weight assignments while doing the work.

Essentially for the last 20 years (and to this day) my weight painting workflow is this;


If you do this, you’ll be much more in control of your weight painting and you’ll find it a whole lot less painful.

Here’s a look at the process in action.


Shout out to some handy Maya tools

Brave Rabbit brsmoothweights - Maya

This is a great tool for hitting an area of a mesh you want to smooth out and get great trusted results from the smooth. I’ve used this a bit recently and haven’t suffered significant side effects. Reccommend this tool. Will save you a lot of time.

ngSkinTools - Maya

The layering / masking / filtering in ngSkinTools just makes life a lot easier. It’s how the skinning tools should work really. The only down side here is for some pipelines you have to remove underlying nodes before submitting to farms etc and that can result in the stack no longer existing in the scene when you grab an asset from the server etc. But there are ways around that.. so…

.. skipTo… blendshapes