Cartoon Robots

Animation Master Character Rigging Basics (Part 1)

Section 7: A brief introduction to an Action window:

Now we need to talk about “Action” windows in A:M and how they are different than “Modeling” windows.

Then we will talk about why we’ll use an “Action” window to assist us when we begin to layout bones for a rig.

A bones folder

So far we have only been working in a “Modeling” window to learn about bones in this tutorial.

Remember that a Modeling window is only used to create a model and the bones that go into it.

For our purpose here in this tutorial, there is not much more that we can really do once we have positioned and laid out the bones in the way that we may want them.

There is another kind of environment in A:M that we can use to check our bone layout and take our rigging to the next step.

That environment is within an “Action” window.

We are going to cover Action windows now because from this point forward we are going to be depending on its functionality as we learn more about rigging.

If we don’t know how to use an Action window in A:M then we can’t rig effectively (or at all) in A:M.

So what is an Action window in A:M?

An Action window is primarily an environment where you can interact with every aspect of a model within the context of creating a reusable animation with it.

In order to reuse an Action or work on it later you’ll need to save your action.

You can interact with the model’s rig if it has one and you can interact with the actual mesh of the model.

(For example: You can use an Action window to create a walk cycle.)

Notice that I said interact with the model.

You can’t manipulate a model’s geometry or bones and have the edits become a permanent part of the Model file from an Action window.

You can, however, (and should) edit a model’s CP Weighting and Smart Skin data from within an Action window and the changes will be saved within the actual Model file itself. Editing CP Weighting and Smart Skin data in an Action window helps us to avoid making unintentional edits to other aspects of the Model.

In addition to what I just mentioned, you can also use an Action window to try out different bone hierarchies that you arrange in the PWS or experiment with constraint set ups.

That is what we’ll be using the Action window for in this tutorial.

Since this is part of a rigging tutorial and not an animation tutorial, we are only going to learn how to use an action window to help us set up a rig.

An Action folder thin the PWS.

Let’s get started now by learning how to create a new Action window.

In the PWS under your “Objects” folder there is a folder named “Actions”

(I’ve collapsed the Objects folder in the PWS for this illustration.)

You can create a new Action file by double clicking the Action folder.

(If you have more than one model file in the Objects folder of PWS, A:M will prompt you with a dialogue box asking you which model to use for the new Action file.)

Creating a new action.

If you’ve been following along with me then you’ll only have one model file in the PWS and A:M will automatically create a new Action file for the model in the PWS.

In the PWS, I have a new Action file now in the “Actions” folder and it references my model file that is in the “Objects” folder.

Your screen should look similar to the image on the left.

(Note: If you have been following along then you may have your model window still open at this time as well.  That is OK.)

So now we have a new Action window and yours will look very similar to the Modeling window that we were working with earlier.

There are a few differences you should notice between the Action and Modeling windows (not all of these are listed here):

  • While the Modeling window has “Modeling Mode” and “Bones (Editing) Mode”, the Action window has “Muscle Mode” (To interact with CPs on the model’s mesh) and “Skeletal Mode” (To interact with bones in a model)
  • Bones are not colored in the Action window like they are in the Model window. Bones in an Action window are generally transparent with a white outline. (In A:M v14, bones that have been keyed will have a blue outline.)
  • Manipulating bones in each environment is very different. Keep in mind the that “Bones” mode in a Model window is for layout and placement of bones.
  • Constraints can be assigned to bones and nulls in an Action window.  If you want to assign constraints while in your Model window you will need to do it by creating what is termed in A:M as a “Pose” (We will talk about “Poses” in another part of this series.)
  • Nothing that you do in an Action window will affect the actual model file.  Anything that is done in the Action window will be saved in an Action file if you choose to save your work in an action window. (There are exceptions to this: if you create a Smart Skin for a bone in the Action window, the Smart Skin data is saved in the actual Model file that the Action references.  The same is also true for CP Weighting.)


Actions in A:M are also related to something in A:M called “Poses”.  In A:M, a Pose is simply the name for an Action that is stored within the actual model file itself but there are important differences.

This is all that we need to about Actions for now before we move on to the next step.

Next: Section 8: Using an Action Window to Check Your Rig

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