The phrase "Proxy Skinning" is only mentioned a handful of times that I've seen online however it's a really an under utilized process during the skin weighting process.
So what is Proxy Skinning?
It's really just a means to simplify the process; to remove extraneous information and work with a smaller subset of data. So in plain English, it's to break down shapes into it's simplest form and working with that. The great thing about this process is that it's not specific to a 3D package and can be done in any package that utilizes some means to apply skin weights to a mesh. However, here I'll be discussing this process in Maya.
How is Proxy Skinning helpful?
Lets use a production example. Let's say I was given a model that was very complex, high detail asset with small bits attached as sub-meshes. Generally, I'd either flood the mesh with just 1 joint as the influence and start blocking in weights or do a closest bind with a max influence of 1 so the initial binding is very blocked in. Then I'd go back and use selections or rough in weighting to get a decent bind. This process could be a bit tedious if again you have a fair amount of small details to consider. Sometimes these small sub-meshes that are on the main surface just need to follow the underlying surface so it can be difficult to match or extrapolate weighting from combined meshes. If we had a lower resolution mesh to work with it would make this process a bit more intuitive and would allow you to focus on the bigger deformations and let interpolation of the skinning data do the grunt work for you.
Let's say too that I had a bunch of assets that are similar in shape but some features are more detailed than others. I could build just 1 proxy mesh that captures most of what I need and use this to get me 90% of the way there in regards to a final skinning pass. This way I have a good base point to start skinning on a bank of assets with similar features.
In these 2 part videos I breakdown my process of setting this up and provide a few handy utility functions that help you as well when doing your first skinning pass. I hope you find these videos helpful to you and any feedback or comments are welcome.
Link to Code
Download the code and place into your Maya Python Path or here: