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Skin mesh, Bones and animation - Character animation for DirectX

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Hi, im a programmer so please excuse these newb questions. I have created direct3d software and can render the tiny.x model with animation. Now i have a question regarding animation. I know a model consists of bones - is it the job of the bones to deform the limbs at the joints such that the model's skined bends rather than cracks? I know from code each bone has a weight assigned to how much it can deform the skin, are these weights typically set in the software (such as 3dstudio max) or do they have to be added to the .x file by hand (after it has been exported)? Can bones be moved in code (i.e how do games like half life have animations but can move the head from side to side seemingly seperate to the main animation)? I need a simple animation of a character performing a sports activity that will be looped. The only thing i need to do is control the animation speed. Do i need to create a model with bones, or can i just go ahead and animate the mesh? Assuming model animations can be created without bones (as i believe i have read), what is the use of bones? To allow joints to be moved from code and still maintain deformation? Finally, are there any good tutorials on generating (or is it called rigging) character animatons in either 3dsmax or XSI and exporting to .X files? I can show and code but i lack understanding of modeling concepts. Thanks in advance, Chris

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