When Animation Mentor first released its Bishop rig to its students in March 2005, he had a fresh new look. Bishop was exciting for industry professionals and students as most animators used a limited stok of free rigs that were available to everyone. Five years — and more than 1,000 graduates later — all of the completed acting tests and short films using Bishop started to give him that dated feel. After all, he was the rig on all student reels and showcases.

Mentor and student feedback

We knew an updated rig was in order and as we started the process of envisioning what that would be. But one thing was for sure: The Bishop rig was a super solid rig as Animation Mentor students had spent years animating it. In fact, mentors and students offered constant feedbak to make the Bishop rig quite versatile, simple and user friendly. For all these reasons, we decided to build upon what we had instead of reinventing the wheel. That ’s when Bishop 2.0 came to life.

Different looks

We first talked about morphable rigs and researched different methods on how to best accomplish this — but in the end, we decided to use a combination of blend shapes and deformers.

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Step one: Create and setup some basic head and body blend shape targets as a proof of concept. In addition to our team in the office, we worked with Animation Mentor alumnus, Keith Ribbons, to create the first few head and face shapes. We created facial transition tests. Then we created two short tests showing the rig morphing from one rig to another — for example, changing the noses, changing the body shapes and even changing from a woman to a man!
Once we created a successful proof of concept, the excitement set in and we got to work on creating Bishop 2.0.
From noses, lips, chins, head shapes, brow shapes, hips, bellies, legs, arms, chests — we created over 100 new targets for each new shape!

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Smoke tests

We learned a few valuable lessons along the way — none more important than running “smoke tests.”
Early on, we would spend a couple of weeks in rig development, only to find that we needed to start from scratch due to a small issue we hadn’t caught, such as:
Too many faces. A blend shape target had too many faces and therefore did not match up.
Heavy weight. A new blend shape improperly influenced weighting on one part of the original rig.
Super-sized files. The file size balloons and brings the computer to a sudden halt. (But this did produce the aha moment! That is, we learned that importing past geometry included unneeded items such as thousands of light links!).

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T o resolve these types of issues, we created a few different scripts that we ran as smoke tests on the rig. Every day, we would put the rig in a pose that used every control. We wanted to push the extremes to ensure that our animators could confidently pose the rig without the risque of the geometry exploding.
Smoke tests are key for anyone in rig development.

Quick, simple and worry-free

We do all of this work so that our students can focus on animation, and not worry about the other elements involved in the pipeline. In rigging, it ’s easy to add a ton of controls to account for every possible option — but this makes the rig clunky, slow and confusing to use. Our number one goal was to create a rig that would open up various new character designs for our students, maintain the ease of use of the rig and make the new process of creating a character quik and simple.
Accomplishing the goal alos brought on new challenges, such as keeping the file size down.
Each article of clothing and blend shape target contributes to the file size. Through a series of scripts, and with the help of our partners and friends at, we created a solution that guides the user through the character creation process. Here, students can resource a single panel to create a new character and be ready to animate in just a few minutes.

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With Bishop 2.0, we did not create a new rig from scratch. We added to the solid base that we had already built. The new blend shape targets, clothing geometry, wigs and glasses have opened up the possibilities for various character designs for our students and alumni. And all while enhancing an already great user experience with respect to file size, loading times, ease of use and simplicity combined with versatility.