In this post, I’ll share the secrets to how I built the Space Helmet Rig as seen in my super-short animation, The Spaceman.
I’m using Toon Boom Studio for my 2D animation work. However, the rig is generic enough that you should be able to build it using your favorite 2D vector animation tool such as Toon Boom Harmony or Anime Studio.
I’ll summarize the basic requirements for using my 2D cut-out puppet rigging techniques in a future post (stay tuned!).
The Space Helmet Rig allows you to animate your character wearing a helmet and doing a smooth head-turn.
This short demo video gives a good overview of the helmet’s features and capabilities.
The Ingredients (Drawing Layers)
As you can see from the Space Helmet Rig demo video above, you only need a few drawing layers using simple primitive shapes to create the space helmet rig.
Here are the individual drawing layers. Obviously, the gradient-style shading is optional.
The HelmetBase drawing layer is actually a rectangle. I edited the long sides using the Contour Tool to get the curves.
The visor is made up of 2 semi-circles. They actually were from a single circle drawing, which I cut into 2 halves. In Toon Boom Studio, you can do this using the Scissor Tool.
The CameraB2 layer is an oval (a stretched circle):
The HelmetBack2 and HelmetBack3 layers were created using the same process as how I created the visor layers.
So you only need to draw ONE rectangle and a bunch of circles. How easy is that?
The Steps (Rig Assembly)
The first step in rigging your space helmet is to set the proper hierarchy as follows:
Basically, we place all the drawing layers under a Master Peg element, Helmet-P.
This allows us to keep everything together as a whole helmet unit as we move the Master Peg.
The Camera unit moves slightly differently from the main helmet. We need to put the CameraF (camera front, or lens) drawing and the CameraB2 drawing under CameraB1.
Positioning the Layers
If you’re using Toon Boom Studio, it’s time to switch to Camera View to complete your helmet rig.
You’ll probably see something like this at first:
Most of the helmet parts are already in their correct places for the Front View pose.
Use the Transform Tool to move the Camera Unit’s parts into place. It should end up looking like this:
If the Camera Unit’s base (CameraB2) is stuck in front of the visor, we need to move it to the back.
The same goes for any other layers that are not ordered properly in terms of their z-depth.
In Toon Boom Studio, the easiest way to do this is by switching to the Top View or Side View.
Refer to the How to Find Drawing Layers blog post to see my recommended technique for positioning art layers along the z-axis (i.e. z-depth positioning).
Setting Key Poses & Key-Frames
Once you have the elements/layers positioned for the helmet’s Front View pose, add a keyframe (press “I” in Toon Boom Studio).
Now go to another frame on the Timeline and set another pose, such as the Left Profile View pose.
You will want to extend the rig’s exposure to a higher number of frames. In my example, I used more than 100 frames.
At minimum, create the 3 critical keyframes as listed below:
- Left Profile View
- Front View
- Right Profile View
Once you have these keyframes added, save your rig to your assets library for future reuse.
Refer to the demo video to see how the visors are posed. It’s actually by stretching or squashing the semi-circles (Visor1 and Visor2). This results in a wiping motion of the visor and reveals the helmet’s back layers. This then creates the illusion that the helmet is turning or rotating.
As I like to remind people, it’s a pretty simple trick once you know the secret. Just like with magic tricks!
How to Use Your Space Helmet Rig
Using your space helmet rig is pretty easy.
You select the poses that you want for the helmet in your animation scene.
The helmet can remain static throughout the scene.
Alternatively, it can rotate or turn.
Whatever you want to do with your puppet, select the helmet’s pose, add a keyframe so you can copy and paste it at the exact time you wish to show it in your scene.
Simply copy the cell with the keyframe that you want and paste it into the cell at your target frame number.
Here are some variants to the basic space helmet design.
With a few more additional rigging elements, plus several more keyframes, you can create a full 360-degree turn:
How about a space trooper’s helmet?
Play with the basic rig. Experiment with additional poses and elements. Let me know if you need help!