Beginner tutorial: Character (rorbot) mod from scratch, in Blender

Step 20 - Move the bone

Use grab mode, the same way as with verts. Position the bone so that the root of the bone is where the character's pelvis would be.

20 Blender editmode grab bone global Z.png
Step 21 - Set transform pivot

We want to scale the bone down, but not towards it's center as Scale mode would do by default, but instead we want the root of the bone to stay where it is and scalle the rest towards it. To do that, set Transform pivot in the top menu bar to "Individual origins".

21 Blender set transform pivot individual origins.png
Step 22 - Scale the bone, pivot at origin

Use scale mode as usual, Thanks to the pivot setting in previous step, the scaling will leave the base of the bone where it is, just scale the rest.

22 Blender scalemode bone, pivot is origin.png
Step 23 - Name the bone

Since there's going to be several bones, you want to label them well.

23 Blender name bone.png
Step 24 - Extrude another bone

Press 'E' to perform Extrusion operation - create new bone connected to the tip of existing bone. The Extrude operation will put you to grab mode with the new bone - position it at the head.

24 Blender hotkey E extrude bone.png
Step 25 - Rename the new bone

Blender automatically names it after the previous bone with *.001 suffix. Rename it to head.

25 Blender rename headbone.png
Step 26 - Add hand bone

For maximum simplicity, let's just add 2 bones for each hand and each leg. Blender allows skeletons to have separate bones, or bones connected with a gap.

26 Blender editmode add single bone.png
Step 28 - Rotate the hand bone

Press 'R' to activate rotation mode and move mouse to rotate. To rotate in exact steps, hold 'Ctrl'.

28 Blender hotkey R rotate bone.png
Step 29 - Add bones for hands and legs

Use the Extrude function to create bone for the lower hand. Select the 2 right hand bones and press 'Shift + D' to duplicate them, then place them at the left hand. Repeat to do the legs. Be sure to name all bones well.

29 Blender finished adding bones.png
Step 30 - Link the hand bones to the body bone

This process involves a pop-up window so there's more than 1 screenshots in this step.
We want the hand bones to stay where they are but move along with the body. In Blender, this is done by Parenting.
  1. Deselect everything using 'Alt + A'. Then select the upper hand bones first, and the body bone last. Then go to top menu and select Parent/Make.
  2. In the popup menu, select "Keep offset".
  3. Notice how there is now a dashed line from the hand bones to the body bone, and the Outliner window (top right) displays the bones as children of the body bone.

30A Blender parent arm bones to body bone.png

30B Blender parent arm bones, keep offset.png

30C Blender parent arm bones, done.png
Step 31 - Link the leg bones to body bone

Typically human rigs have a separate chest and hips bones, but for simplicity, we'll parent the legs to the body bone. The process is the same as in previous step.

31 Blender parent leg bones to body bone.png
Step 32 - Link the armature (skeleton) to the mesh (3d model)

This is a major milestone - until now, the mesh was just a still figure, but now it becomes a rigged puppet. There is more than one way to do this, ranging from fully automated to fully manual, and I'm going to take the manual route because it nicely illustrates how the system works.

Go to object mode, deselect everything, select the mesh first and the armature second, then select "Object->Parent->With empty groups" from the top menu.

32 Blender parent mesh to armature, with empty groups.png
Step 33 - Take a look at vertex groups

The principle of skeletal animation is that each bone moves a part of the mesh along with it. This means there must be some link between the bone and the vertices it's supposed to move. In Blender, this linking is done using Vertex Groups - for each bone, there's a vertex group with the same name. The influence of the bone is controlled by adding and removing verts to/from that group. Let's just take a look a the groups without modifying anything. Notice how selecting a vertex group in the Properties panel also highlights it in the Outliner panel.

33 Blender inspect the vertex groups.png
Step 34 - Assign verts to the vertex groups

Blender has a "select linked" feature: select one vertex with mouse, then press 'Ctrl + L' to select all other vertices which are reachable via edges. Let's use this to select the head vertices. Then, select the "head bone" vertex group and press Assign button. Repeat this procedure for all bones.

Tip: to see which verts are in a vertex group, deselect everything, select the vertex group and press Select button.

34 Blender Ctrl-L select linked, Assign verts to group head.png
Step 35 - Enter pose mode

This is the moment of truth - we'll test if the character actually animates. With the armature object selected, pick "Pose mode" from the top menu.

35 Blender enter posemode.png
Step 36 - Try posing the character

This is just a test to see if the character animates right. Make sure you undo everything using Ctrl+Z afterwards.

Use Grab/Rotate/Scale tools on the bones to pose the character. Note that moving the body bone moves everything else (since we parented all body parts to it), grabbing a headbone just rotates it (since it's attached bo body bone) and grabbing upper arms actually moves them (and they still move with the body).

36 Blender test posemode, undo by Ctrl+Z.png
Step 37 - Your first animation frame

There are 2 screenshots here because of a popup menu.

Rotate camera to side view and pose the character as if walking. Notice I tilted the body forward a bit and the head back a bit. When happy with the pose, insert an animation keyframe using the top menu. Alternatively, you can press 'I' (for Insert) hotkey. In the popup menu, select Location & Rotation.

37A Blender create walk pose, add keyframe at position 0.png

37B Blender keyframe select PositionAndRotation.png
Step 38 - Second walk animation frame

Walking has 2 major "moments": one where right arm and left leg are at the front, and second where it's opposite. We captured the first moment in the first keyframe, now we need to capture the other moment. Move the slider in the Timeline window to frame 20, and rearrange the character to the new pose. Notice I tilted the whole body forward even more and also tilted the head forward a bit. Then, capture the keyframe like before. Blender will automatically fill in motion between the keyframes, this is called "tweening" in general animation.

38 Blender timeline next walk cycle keyframe pos20.png
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Step 39 - Capture a frame at position 1

Now, we want to close the loop by returning from the current pose back to original pose. However, we can't just copy and paste the first keyframe because that would add a slight pause to the movement. We need to make the the final keyframe to be just before the initial pose. To do that, let's capture frame at position 1 and copy it to position 39. Move the slider in the Timeline window to position 1, right click the window and select "Insert keyframes".

39 Blender timeline insert keyframe pos1.png