Why Your Animators Need to Know How to Rig

As a VFX Supervisor, Animation Supervisor or anything in between, you're going to have a team of talented individuals that are responsible for everything from modeling, animation to lighting and rendering. Part of your job is to ensure everything runs smoothly and deadlines are being met on time while still ensuring the quality is up to par. As you may have read in our article about how important it is to encourage a learning environment at your studio, having your team expand their knowledge beyond their day to day tasks can benefit the studio and team as a whole in more ways than one. Yes, it's still vital that your artists hone their skills in the jobs they are assigned within the pipeline, but it's in our nature to want to grow more, and enhance our knowledge, so this shouldn't be something that is stinted, but rather encouraged at your studio. In this article, we are going to dive a little deeper into this idea of a learning environment at your studio and look at a particular artist within your studio, the animator. As you're probably aware, the animator is typically an eccentric individual not afraid to act out their shots and dance around in front of the camera to ensure they capture the best reference possible. Like the other artists, they are extremely talented in their craft, bringing characters to life through movement. Despite working on a computer in complex 3D software, an animator is not necessarily tech savvy. As long as they know the button used to set a keyframe, they can create amazing character performances without knowing the ins and outs of the software. There is another artist that is very similar to the animator, yet extremely different, the rigger, or character TD (Technical Director). The rigger is also bringing characters to life; they are building the tools that the animators require in order to create the animations. Unlike animation, rigging is an extremely technical job within the pipeline, often having to create custom controls, muscle systems and more in order to provide the animators with what they need in order to move the characters. Because without riggers, the animators wouldn't be able to bring the objects to life. When you think about it, animation and rigging is actually pretty similar, you can't have one without the other. Depending on the size of your studio, often times animators will animate, and the riggers will rig, but this doesn't always have to be the case, and the more the animators know about rigging the more productive they can be, and the more riggers know about animation the more intuitive their control setups will be. Let's look at a few reasons why it can be extremely beneficial for your animators to know how to rig, even just a basic knowledge, and vise versa for the riggers.

Better Communication

Communication is key in any VFX or animation studio, after all, creating movies, games, commercials or whatever it may be, is a team effort. If your animators have even just a basic knowledge of what’s involved with rigging they can feel more comfortable and confident with approaching a character TD with a problem they are having with a rig, or a feature they would like added. Since riggers are creating the controls for the animators to use it can come in extremely handy if the animator knows rigging terminology, and how to communicate with the TD’s to collaborate on what the best setup is, and what they need in order to create the best possible rig.

Your animators should be able to work closely with the riggers and stay in close communication. Alternatively, a rigger should have a basic knowledge of character animation. What types of controls do animators want? And how can they create the most intuitive setup? Knowing things like the principle of squash and stretch, the riggers will understand the importance of having simple squash and stretch controls for areas like the stomach and head. Of course, they don’t have to be master animators, but even just understanding the basic principles can allow them to create rigs that every animator will love.


Create What They Need on the Spot

A production is a time sensitive thing; every task within the pipeline is monitored and given a timeline. Anything that slows down this pipeline runs the risk of creating a scenario that will cause the team to miss the deadline. Animators can often find themselves faced with a shot that the rig is unable to achieve, whether it’s an extremely cartoony animation that the rig just isn’t capable of achieving, or a facial expression that just can’t be perfectly posed with the current facial controls.

A scenario like this often means an animator may send the rig back for reworks from the character TD in order to be able to create the animation they need. In reality, the control may be something extremely simple and easy to setup with some basic rigging knowledge. However, sending a rig back for changes can quickly turn into a slow down in production or a halt altogether.

If your animator knows some basic rigging principles, they may be able to create the adjustments themselves and won’t have to send the rig back for fixes. For instance, they may be working on a dialogue shot where they’re experiencing some strange deformations in the face area when they try to hit a particular pose. Instead of stopping altogether and requesting the rigger to adjust this area for them, they can quickly evaluate the situation and create a very simple skin cluster to address this issue.

It’s a quick fix for a very specific situation that can be accomplished quickly with some rigging knowledge and there is no need to halt the production or spend time waiting for the rigger to complete the changes that were requested by the animator. This in turn speeds up the production.


Smaller Teams

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits for your animators to know how to rig, or vise versa is the fact that it may greatly reduce the man power required to complete a production. Instead of having a separate team of animators and a separate team of riggers they can all be under the same roof, and the person creating the animations may also create the rigs. This means significantly less money spent on having to hire both riggers and animators to complete production.

However, this can really depend on the project, as some require more complex rigs that have to be created by rigging specialists. But, you can take it by a case by case basis. Maybe a production requires more rigging, so you can have your animators jump on the task quickly, and get back to animating. The alternative may also happen, a production may require a significant amount of animation that may not be able to be accomplished in time for the deadline, a rigger that knows animations can lend a hand as needed to meet the deadline.


Have a Better Understanding of Anatomy and How Things Move

An animator that also knows how to rig can gain a stronger understanding of anatomy, which leads to more convincing animations. After all, rigging is the process of setting up virtual bones, so you need to have an understanding of anatomy and how things move in the real-world, like joints, muscle groups and more. If your animators understand rigging, even just a basic knowledge, it will give them a stronger grasp of anatomy and allow them to understand how the human body moves which will help them to animate more believable and realistic movements.


With all this said, it doesn’t mean you need to have your animators spend hours and hours learning rigging workflows and how to setup a production quality rig. Just a basic knowledge of the principles can help them troubleshoot problems in the rig, and even setup basic controls on the fly when a shot calls for it. The same goes for rigging artists, building their skills in animation can allow them to understand what animators want in a rig. If they’re ready to dive in and begin learning be sure to have them check out Introduction to Rigging in Maya.