How does rigging fit in the pipeline? Where does it sit and how does it communicate with the other parts aspects?
The pipeline is being upgraded and changed to fit the specific needs of each production company or team. But these changes are not in terms of the big scale of the process, but more to deal with smaller things. Therefore, generally the path an asset takes would be something like:
Pre-production > Modeling > Texturing > Rigging > Animation > Lighting > Rendering > Compositing
Building the shaders, kind of goes throughout the production as an asynchronous process, because it is not restricted by anything to start doing tests.
Bear in mind that even though these are sequenced in a proper production there is and there should be a lot of going back and forth to make sure we get the best of the asset. Obviously, more than one task can be worked on at the same time. For example, there is no reason to do some lighting when animation is in it’s blocking stage, or to do the texturing while rigging, etc.
So what about rigging?
Well, it fits nicely between modeling and animation. If you think of this sequence as a node in a graph or just a function, it would take model as input and spit out something that animation needs as output. Riggers tend to always look for clear and absolute solutions which would always be valid, but of course that would be too easy. And also very repetitive and boring for us. Do you want to be a node in a graph?
Now, how does rigging expand beyond modeling and animation though? Well, how do we make sure that the director will be happy with every shot? We can never be sure, but the best way to go about it, is to go back to the stages which have already been approved and get from them as much as we could. So we could go back to pre-pro and look at the character sheets. Does the character in the animation move like it has been designed to move? Do the character’s facial expressions match her character sheets? Do you see where I am going with this? We as riggers need to constantly look back at the pre-production and make absolutely sure that we are creating a rig which can fit the purposes of these designs. And if for some reason that is impossible, it is our job to bring it up, so it can be decided whether it makes sense time-wise to go back to pre-pro and fix it or we have to scrap that particular feature of the character.
Similarly, looking ahead a rigger should not only be looking at the animator. Way too many people look at lighting as just placing a couple of lights, setting some render preset and pressing a button. Of course, you are in for a big surprise if you try getting a lighting job with these expectations. Lighters tend to work with a lot of caches that may cause issues. They need to come up with clever techniques to overcome problems like for example on my film Naughty Princess the lighter asked me to make a small camera rig, so we can always keep the character in focus properly. Or another one we have used was to rivet a locator to the character so following her is easier. Often, deformation issues would come up in the lighting process and good communication is crucial to solve them quickly. Additionally, in terms of housekeeping, the smaller we can keep the file sizes the better for everyone else, as loading them can become painfully slow.
So there we have it. It would be stupid and unrealistic to think that rigging only takes models and spits out rigs for the animators, without thinking about whether this model is coming from and where it’s going. As I wrote in the “Why I Rig” post, one of the reasons is the fact that rigging has such a central position in the pipeline, that we have to communicate and make decisions for different aspects throughout the pipeline.