Review: 4 Top Rigged 3D Models for Animation

April 18, 2022
10 min read

Looking for the best 3D rigs for character animation? You’ve come to the right place. A rig is the skeleton of a 3D model. All 3D objects that your character interacts with require some kind of rig, but character rigs are often one of the most complex parts of your animation process. 

We’re covering: 

  • The best humanoid rig for people who are new to 3D animation
  • The best rig for your animation showreel
  • The best overall character rig for Maya
  • The best overall 3d model rig for Blender

This guide only includes human characters. 

How to get the best results from a character rig

At any level of animation, you want to choose a rig that follows industry standards. If your rig uses strange connectors or logic, it might be really difficult to learn how to use other models. Any good quality rig needs to be skinned so as to avoid any mesh distortion such as pass-throughs. If at any point it does, you’ll want all those corrective controls and attribute sliders to help you out. An often-overlooked element when downloading pre-made assets: The 3D rig’s joint rotation order should be XYZ to allow for a full range of motion. 

A few more tips: 

  • Your human character rig should ideally have IK and FK controls (also known as inverse kinematics or forward kinematics), a control rig, and a few correctional attribute sliders. 
  • It’s good practice to only use rigs that have the T-pose as their default mode. This pose is standard for motion capture animation tools.
  • Rigs can’t just be switched between 3D software. Even if they are saved as a .fbx file, your rig might still have errors. For example, you can’t open an Autodesk Maya rig in Autodesk 3ds Max and expect it to work. For this reason, it’s best to use rigs that are built natively. 

Best for beginners: The Boney rig

Credit: Ugur Ulvi Yetiskin

The Boney rig is one of the best low poly models for you to get started with. It contains all the essential features of a basic character and has everything you need to practice animating human movement. Don’t be fooled by this character mesh’s simplistic design. The bone structure is fairly complex with free-floating bones and multi-bone limbs working together to provide IK and FK controls. Despite the complex underlying structure and rig calculations, the controls are rather simplistic, robust, and straightforward. The Boney rig is designed for practicing human body movement and does NOT include more complex elements such as facial features, toes, and individual fingers. The rig has a few extra attributes such as squash and stretch to allow for stylistic and expressive animation.

Why the Boney rig is a good option for beginners:

While Boney is one of many base models you can start with, its ease of animation really stands out. Visually, the rig’s wire shape controls are large and bold to enable easy selection for new animators. Your FK and IK controls are clearly distinguishable from each other and clearly indicate what they do and the left and right sides are conveniently color-coded. There are also convenient external controls that house the FK/IK blending feature. For beginners, the lack of computer graphics, easy controls, and basic setup means that you can truly focus on animation and animation alone. 

Boney rig compatibility & download

The Boney rig was originally built in Maya, but has been adapted into file formats for Cinema 4D. The C4D rig is slightly more simplistic than the Maya version. It’s free for personal use. 

Download the Maya version here for free

Download the Cinema 4D version here for free

Best choice for a student showreel: The Sam rig

Credit: Gabriel Salas

You can only use the Sam rig for non-commercial or educational purposes. This character mesh is useful to anyone in need of a realistic, Pixar-style 3D model. The Sam rig utilizes an Advanced Skeleton for its rigging pipeline making motion capture retargeting simple and accurate. It has every function and attribute that you expect in a complete rig. Sam’s skeletal system is surprisingly simple for the accuracy of animation you can achieve. Each limb includes three Advanced Skeleton twist bones to allow realistic mesh rotation at key points. The Sam rig’s character design is Pixar-esque, textured, and puts your great animation skills front and center. Even with Sam’s handsome exterior, you won’t find any render-heavy normal maps or texture files — it’s foolproof to use. 

Why Sam is one of the best animation ready models for student showreels and personal projects:

Sam provides comprehensive controls that greatly assist the animator in their workflow. There’s nothing special to say about the control rig — and that’s a good thing. The well-planned rig controls make animation as simple as it can be.

Sam rig compatibility & download

Works with Maya 2017 and up. Download it here for $15 

Best professional rig for Maya: The Miosha character rig

Credit: Alexandra Volkova & Andrey Lizunov

The Miosha rig is an expertly crafted, industry-level control rig that contains easy hair animation, and excellent motion control free of deformation, advanced facial feature controls and blendshapes, Her character design stands out from other cartoon characters.

As with most high quality rigs that use an Advanced Skeleton — Miosha is an excellent option for more detailed motion capture animation. With a vast number of corrective controls, you’ll find tweaking full body animation fast and efficient. Miosha has a complex rig that uses the Advanced Skeleton's default biped fit skeleton for its bone structure. However, the skeletal system has been modified to create a unique, extremely flexible control rig — a goal achieved with expertly placed twist joints. One of the unique features of the bone structure of this system of joints is the inclusion of breast and buttocks bones to better fit the female anatomy.

What makes the Miosha rig so special:

While the Miosha rig is considered to be quite advanced by most animators, a vast amount of effort has gone into making the rig controls easy to navigate, understand, and use. 

Miosha character rig compatibility & download

Works with Maya 2017 and up. Download it here. $25 for a student license. $600 for a commercial license.

Best professional rig for Blender: The Vincent Character Model

Credit: Andy Goralczyk & Juan Pablo Bouza

While the Vincent rig comes with a learning curve, it’s an excellent introduction to Blender’s comprehensive rigging controls. It’s one of the best free models that you can find. 

Vincent is a quirky, cartoon-styled character complete with hair, clothes, and even glasses. The skeletal system for the Vincent rig is minimalistic but powerful — you’ve got every option you need. Vincent has squash and stretch but excludes the bendy bones feature seen in some stylized characters. An interesting side note is that the pole vectors for the IK system are attached directly to the knee joints — this isn’t an issue but it’s a fascinating use case if you’re learning to become a 3D rigging artist. 

What makes the Vincent rig such a good option:

The main focus point of this control rig is the “Picker System”. It gives the user complete control over the character rig, allowing them to enable only the animation features they want for their project. Vincent has an excellent face rig that allows you to animate advanced facial expressions with little effort. On top of that, this rig is a great 3D tool that’s totally free to use, share and adapt!

Vincent rig compatibility & download

Works with Blender v2.8. Blender is free open source software.Get the free download here

Get a free ultimate guide on pre-rigged 3D models

Looking for more rig options, which ones we recommend, and more insights on the complex topic of character rigs? Get a free crash course in character rigs, how to use them, and which ones you should use for your project in this free, structured eBook.

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