Considering that my career can easily take over most of my time for the next 20 to 40 years, I believe having good reasons for getting into it is essential.
Even though I do not plan to be doing it for 20 years, I do feel there are some quite strong reasons for my being a rigger in the animation industry. From talking to rigging people I know I gather that some of these reasons are shared among most of us, so do not be surprised if you find them quite obvious.
Nobody else wanted to do it
I think most of us have a story to share on this one, so here is mine. During the second year at university we had a group project aimed at creating an animated short. We had to pitch ideas and request additional members with specific roles. So in my pitch I outlined that I intend to direct and take on modeling and lighting, and that I will need people to do pre-production and texturing, animation and techy stuff – rigging and water simulations. Then when my pitch went trough and I was assigned some teammates I realized I am the most technical person in it, so if I wanted to see my film come to life I would have to rig and run the water sims myself. That’s how I became a rigger.
Now, I was not psyched at all but I was sure I am going to do it, and do it as best as I can, as again that was the only way to realize my idea. From talking to some people who do rigging it seems like this is the most common way of getting into it. What we did not know, though, was that we are going to love it. I downloaded all the tutorials on rigging I could get my hands on (the university gave us access to digital tutors and lynda) and I got on with it. Very soon I was hooked.
Art and maths
Throughout my getting familiar with the process of creating computer animations, the concept of it being a combination of art and maths would keep coming up and understandably so. To add on that, I do find a lot of artistic beauty in maths and it is also no secret that art has greatly benefited from maths as well (rule of thirds, fibonacci spirals, etc.) Additionally, these two have always been my subjects of choice. Unfortunately, I am neither a great painter nor a great mathematician, but I find that exploring each of them individually or their combination gives me a great deal of pleasure and understanding of the world. What is more they converge incredibly well in some fields such as architecture and computer graphics.
Then there is always the discussion in the field whether you are more technical or more artistic as if one undermines the other. Either way, I find rigging to be the sweet spot between the two. We have to make rigs that perform as fast as possible and not break. On the other side we also need to provide the animators with the ability to hit the shapes and poses needed for the production. In other words I think a rigger should be spending half his time on the technicalities of a rig – how well it performs – and the other half on making sure the deformations as appealing as they need to be.
We can go as deep in maths and programming as we want to, or we can let maya handle most of it for us. Similar thing goes for the artistic aspect as we can ask for a very thorough pre-production and try to match that or get a design and explore it to see how it works. Obviously, anatomy is always a big thing in animation, so the more artistic training a rigger has, the better.
The most obvious one probably. I was never one of those kids who were opening up their toys or gadgets to see how they work. I wanted to be though, but it seems I was too easily distracted to keep at it. But then now, it is not unusual to find me awake well into the early hours trying to figure out a problem. I hate going to bed without having cracked it, even though in the morning I am at least twice faster at finding the solution. A couple of nights ago I stayed up until 3am to try and figure out how to make sure maya’s python interpreter would always take my latest code changes without having to restart maya or use python’s
Another big one was trying to figure out how to build and Ik/Fk matching function for the first time. I had some clues from a friend, but I still spent a long time on that one.
It is stupidly exciting though! Finding the solution to a problem is always an immense satisfaction. If I cant find the solution, I cannot let it go. My girlfriend says “I can hear you think!”.
Rigging lies in the center of the pipeline
It is always nice to see how much crossover riggers usually have in the other aspects. It is no secret that the best riggers are also knowledgeable in modeling and animation. Josh Carey from Reel FX said in an interview that being able to model and animate is one of the main requirements for getting a rigging job there.
As a rigger you would usually have to communicate with all other departments which puts you in a very central and responsible position. I crave these kind of jobs, you know ego and all that. I want to be responsible for a lot of important tasks, so I can always be pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
Additionally, people tend to respect riggers for this precise reason. What is more it, I found rigging helped me to stay on top of things more easily when I was working with other people on my two short films.
One could easily create rigs without writing a single line of code, but you will rarely if ever find such people rigging in the industry. It is just very very inefficient. In a production pipeline it is incredibly important to have a non destructive workflow, which could hardly be the case if not for programming. Imagine having to build an arm rig with all it’s bells and whistles – ik/fk, elbow lock, twist, stretch, etc. – manually each time you rig a character. Not only is it going to be incredibly boring after the 3rd time you do it, but also it is going to take a ton of time, that quite possibly you do not have. If you script it once though, you get it for free every time you need an arm. So obviously, most of the rigging workflows people are based around coding.
Why is that an important reason to me though? Learning the code is really an eye opening experience. It gets you thinking about being effective and efficient. It teaches you to break problems in smaller and recyclable chunks, which can be tackled one by one. The benefits of learning to program are a whole other subject, but I would strongly suggest to anyone excited about personal growth and development to consider learning some basic programming. After all, coding is the engineering of the 21st century and it is going to get even more beneficial as time goes, mainly because everything is slowly becoming programmable.
Disclaimer: This one is completely speculative, because it’s based on talking to my university teachers and my coursemates who are now working in the industry.
With the great responsibility from the Rigging lies in the center of the pipeline point, luckily comes another benefit. TDs of all sorts tend to be paid slightly better than some of the artists in other departments. Additionally, as rigging pipelines tend to need some getting used to, it does not make sense for companies to hire short term riggers. Therefore, we would usually get longer contracts which as most would know is very rare in the animation and VFX industry.
Now for many people this point would not matter, but for me that stability means that I can stop thinking about just surviving, but instead think about advancing and developing myself further in my areas of choice.
These are the main reasons for my deciding to get into rigging. Another one I did not include is rigging being so much fun in general, but I thought it is a bit vague, even though anyone who has ever played around with a good rig knows what I mean.
All in all, rigging has been an incredible journey for me so far, because it has taught me to think in a certain problem solving manner about everything in my day to day life. I am therefore very glad these reasons got me to apply for rigging positions.