The T-pose – all about this mighty blueprint

Have you ever seen a character in this weird T-pose with his legs together, the arms stretched out and a default facial expression? This pose is a vital step for any serious animation production. 3D animators and modelers will often use it as the base of their work and in 2D or stop-motion productions many model sheets depict characters in this way.

But why is it a T and not an X? Does it have to be so stiff and lifeless? Here are some facts, advice and warnings, so you can get the most out of this mighty blueprint.

When do you need it?

There are several possibilities where you need a character in T-pose:

– In model sheets they serve as a reference for construction – a blueprint. Have you ever seen the blueprint of a house?

It has no colors, lots of numbers and annotations and doesn’t look remotely as good as a photo of the finished house. It’s similar here. The stiff T shape is chosen to not distract from the visual construction of the character, it comes with additional info when necessary.

Sintel Model Sheet by David Revoy / Blender Foundation
  • Save
Sintel Model Sheet by David Revoy / Blender Foundation

Furthermore, symmetry speeds up the modeller’s task, the limbs are more accessible for the rigger. It’s a only a preliminary step in the assembly line.

– If you import a 3D or 2D rig, it will most likely be posed in a T or similarly default pose. This is because it originated from a T-pose model sheet, but it also serve as a handy fix point for your animation work that you can always jump back to. If you twisted your character’s arm in a weird way, most rigs let you use 0 as a transformation, rotation or scale value to return to its intended default position.

The Eleven Rig in T-pose from 11secondclub.com right after being imported
  • Save
The Eleven Rig in T-pose from 11secondclub.com right after being imported

Now, making accurate model sheets can be a very laborious task. If you do it right, it takes a lot of boring measuring work to make sure that every body part has the same position, shape and size in every view of the character. And you might wonder: Is it worth the effort? Especially in personal projects that you work on alone? Well, here is why you shouldn’t skip or do sloppy work:

The T-pose remembers…

What did you have for lunch three days ago?

Can’t remember? Thought so…

I am sorry to bring this to you, but we humans don’t have the best memory (of course robots and elephants can skip this paragraph). Even if it’s just you working on a personal film, you will forget details of the characters you created. You need a sheet to remind you of all the little decisions about the width of the toenail that you made a couple of months ago.

And if you work with others, a model sheet in a neutral pose is needed to communicate how a character is constructed to everyone who can’t read your mind (excluding telepathically gifted co-workers of course).

Never start out in T-pose

I confess, I have done it myself and I have seen it countless times in other projects: Many artists think they can take a shortcut and directly design their characters in a T-pose. This would mean skipping a healthy brainstorming phase (you should always do dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions, quadrofantastillions of scribbles and variations before nailing down a decision) and might result in the most generic and boring design.

The rigs for my Super Agents project and some of the (very ugly) stages leading up to the final design
  • Save
The rigs for my Super Agents project and some of the (very ugly) stages leading up to the final design

The T-pose is not a pose that comes from within the character. It’s a pose forced upon him for technical and reference reasons not a pose your character would ever get into. T-pose model sheets shall be the one and only exception, where you as an animator are ever allowed to do such a thing!

Instead, design your characters in poses that are natural and typical for them. Experiment with poses that show their attitudes, feelings, desires while you tweak the design. This way you will end up with a model that has the breath of life in it – maybe even still when stripped down to the T-pose later on.

Adapt it to your production needs

In the beginning I jokingly asked why it’s not an X-pose. Well, actually it could be anything that makes sense for your production.

It doesn't need to be a T, it can be something else...
  • Save
It doesn’t need to be a T, it can be something else…

Here are some factors that you need to consider when making a default model sheet pose:

– Make sure all informations important to you come across quickly. In 2D it might make sense to show one arm lifted and one arm close to the body, which enables everyone to estimate the arm length with one glance. Some 2D styles might use rubber hose bends, so you might want to show how exactly the arm is supposed to bend. Sometimes it’s helpful to show overlapping parts transparent or some in 2-positions. (Or of course you can always provide additional model sheets and annotations where details are necessary)

– In rigs the default pose of a model is an extremely important workflow decision. First of all it must be extremely clear to the modeller and the rigger so they can do their work effectively, but it also has consequences for animation. As I already mentioned: if the animator sets a value to 0 it resets this body part into the T-pose position. So this position needs to be set up as an extremely helpful starting point for any pose.

– Consider what technical limitations and requirements the T-pose has to meet. For example, many 2D and 3D rigging tools actually don’t like fully stretched arms and legs and prefer a slightly relaxed pose. Otherwise they don’t know in which direction the arms and legs should usually bend – also it allows the modeler to bring a natural flow into the geometry for a position that is much more likely to occur than an awkwardly stretched one.

A pose for rigging used by the software iClone by reallusion
  • Save
A relaxed pose used instead of the T-pose by a 3D software (source)

Features like flexing muscles also come with a bunch of technical requirements that might change the default pose and the model. Some riggers prefer a pose that looks like the character sits on a motorcycle to minimize stretching problems in the shoulder area. If the fold at the elbow joint is very complicated some rigs even store 2 versions, to make sure everything looks right for different directions.

These are just some examples. There are probably more cases where you might have to customize the T-pose, but you get the picture. If you work in a team, ask your team members what they expect from the default pose or where they could see potential problems to save so much hassle later on. Inform yourself what kind of pose your rigging tools can handle best.

A T-pose never comes alone…

Never forget that the model sheet is only one of many tools to support character creation. Feel free to modify and add to it whenever you have to. If the T-pose is not enough to depict a character detail, make a model sheet just for that detail (e.g. the clothing, the hand, a special kind of bend,…)

But most importantly: As we previously established, the T-pose is just a blueprint for constructing the physical anatomy of the character. It’s void of most of energy, attitude and rhythm a believable character should have, but of course you also need to capture and communicate this kind of energy.

As previously mentioned, you should already have discovered the character in action, while coming up with the design. Even when this step is done it’s helpful for you and the team to explore typical poses and facial expressions some more and maybe try to push everything even further to make sure that everyone knows what poses the character will be used for and can strive for the most expressive model, rig and animation.

Donald Duck model sheet from an old Disney production. Expressive drawings were added to the construction notes.
  • Save
Donald Duck model sheet from an old Disney production. Expressive drawings were added to the construction notes. (This depiction is for educational purposes)

What are your experiences with the T-pose? Do you have any tips and tricks for your fellow creators?

Similar Posts

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I hate how so many google image searches for character design bring up the tpose. It does not do a good job to indicate character design! Like you say it is not a good place to start but only later once you need more information.

Sabina K

Great article and great pictures. 🙂