Creating Animation Rigs with DUik in After Effects4 min read
I'd like to showcase the power of DUik plugin for After Effects, built by Duduf (now Rainbox Productions); it's one of the primary tools I use to animate. The plugin is totally free, and helps animators rig models for animation manipulation. If you're not familiar with the plugin, check out the tutorial section to get a basic idea of how it works, or simply read on!
Creating 2D visuals in Illustrator
The first thing you need is a character drawn up in Illustrator. The character can be as simple or as complicated as you'd like to make it. Additionally, DUik has support for ungulates (e.g. cows), digitigrades (e.g. dogs), and plantigrades (e.g. humans), so go wild with your designs. The key part here is to make sure every section of your animation (e.g. shoulder, forearm, hand) has its own layer in your Illustrator file; this makes each section able to be targeted by DUik in After Effects.
Rigging in After Effects
Once in After Effects, import your Illustrator file as a composition, making sure to select 'layer size' instead of 'document size'. This ensures that each layer bounding box is the correct size. Then go through each layer and move the rotational anchor point with the Pan Behind Tool [Y] to the proper location for realistic movement (e.g. put the rotation point on the shoulder joint for a shoulder layer) so DUik knows how to rotate limbs in conjunction with each other.
The next step is to add bones for your body layer; this allows DUik to bend and warp the layer to create movement. To do this, select the Puppet Pin tool [ctrl-P] and place pins in key movement areas. For this example, I used two pins, one in the neck area and another in the hips. After you've created your pins, select your layer and hit "Bones" in the DUik control panel. This should apply bones to each pin on your layer; if it's not working properly or something is acting funky, make sure your pins are labelled with unique names before applying the bones.
Once your rotation anchor points are placed and your bones are set, you are ready to start the autorig process. Select "autorig" in the DUik control panel, then "Full character". On each pane, select the corresponding layer; sometimes the program will read your layer names and auto-load properly-named layers into the correct control slots. Check the DUik manual for more information on naming conventions. Once each layer is correctly targeted, the program will crunch through all of your data and spit out a character rig. Don't worry if your computer seems frozen as this process can take some time, so go make a cup of tea or pet a dog while you wait for the program to finish.
Quality of Life Adjustment
Now that you have your rig controllers set up, check out a few of the controller options. One setting I changed on my rigs is the "autostretch" feature. By turning this off, each limb of my rig does not warp to create movement, and maintains its normal bounds while still moving as part of the rig. Another option is the checkbox for the Goal hand feature; this option, typically displayed under the autostretch feature, allows you to bind your hand rotation to the forearm piece or allow it to rotate independently. I typically keep the box checked, as that maps the hand rotation to forearm rotation and means that your hands stay aligned to your forearms unless you deliberately modify the rotational value.
That's all you need to do to get a basic DUik rig set up in After Effects. The plugin has a wide range of features, many of which I'm still learning; it can also be rather finicky at some points, so a memory purge & restart can work wonders (although it's only fair that AE shoulders most of that blame). For anyone concerned with compatibility re:AE2017, @NicoDuduf has confirmed that DUik works the same way in Adobe's newest version of After Effects.
For more DUik in action check out my Senior Thesis for Colorado College!