Rigging, as I have come to understand it, is synonymous in nature and purpose with the art of puppet-making. The role of an animator can be easily compared to that of a puppeteer, while the role of a character is comparable with that of a puppet. Character rigging is essentially a digitised, modern form of puppet-making.
The first step towards creating a successful, efficient character rig is to become intimately aware of the character’s animation requirements. It is extremely important for a rigger to be able to break seemingly large problems down into smaller, more manageable tasks. One of the most important resources for any rigger is accurate reference material. Reference material should be carefully analysed in order to realise possible solutions to any given problem. Rigging at its finest, involves solving only the problems which require solving. If a rig possesses levels of functionality which will never be seen by a viewer or used by an animator, the rigger has potentially wasted time, which is a precious commodity in the CG film industry.
Once a rigger possesses a sound understanding of the problem at hand, he/she can begin performing simple rig tests in order to validate, if, in theory, a solution is viable. It is important to realise that in many cases, a successful rig is comprised of multiple systems which are cleverly integrated. In light of this, it can be said that it is almost always beneficial to compartmentalise the various components or systems of a character rig, testing them one at a time. This will aid the rigger in maintaining an uncluttered, understandable and streamlined workflow.
If rig testing is complete and it is found that a solution is indeed viable, a rigger will typically test to see how well the solution can be integrated with other dependent or independent systems of the rig. A rigger may ask questions such as, “Are there any attributes or controls on the rig that are redundant?” “Are any forms of control missing?” “Is everything functioning as expected?” “Can my solution be simplified with little to no consequence?” At this stage, a rigger is expected to be able to reflect upon and critique his/her work. Requesting feedback from colleagues, co-workers and especially animators is always recommended.
With a refined solution in mind, our rigger is now ready to recreate the solution cleanly. The rigger must ensure that every node which he/she has created is properly accounted for. All components should be named correctly. Unused channels should be locked and hidden wherever possible. Rotation orders of joints and controls should be checked and changed as necessary to avoid issues such as gimbal lock. The solution should be recreated being as close to “bulletproof” as possible, meaning that it is stable and difficult to break, so to speak. Passing the clean recreation of the solution to an animator for further testing may prove beneficial. Occasionally, an animator may discover an overlooked problem with your solution during testing that could potentially spawn certain technical issues further down the production pipeline.
By this stage, a rigger should be able to reproduce his/her solution(s) quickly, efficiently and without having to give it too much thought. The rigger should now be confident in the knowledge that his/her solution(s) do, in fact, solve the problems in question. In this final recreation of any solution, a rigger is ensuring that that he/she is as comfortable with the solution as possible, so that if any problems do arise later, the rigger should have a fairly good idea of what the problem’s roots are.
Personally, the highlight of truly understanding my own solutions to various problems is being able to script the creation of these solutions. It is only at this stage that I personally feel I have understood my own work thoroughly.
- Cgtoolkit.com (n.d.) The Art of Rigging Vol 1. [online] Available at: http://cgtoolkit.com/book1/sneakpeak1.htm [Accessed: 18 Nov 2012].
- Jasonschleifer.com (2011) Animator Friendly Rigging | shhLIFE!. [online] Available at: http://jasonschleifer.com/afr/ [Accessed: 18 Nov 2012].