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What is a Rigger in an Animation Studio?

ben marvazi 2020

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"Riggers are the puppeteers behind the scenes, giving soul to the digital creations."

John Lasseter

Creating animation is a meticulous process involving many talented individuals working together to bring characters and their worlds to life. Among these talented professionals, riggers hold a special place. 

However, you might find yourself wondering, "what is a rigger, and what do they contribute to the animation process?" Let's dive deep into this essential yet often-overlooked profession within the animation industry.

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What is a Rigger? Breaking Down the Basics

what is a rigger? they create characters from the skeleton up such as this man character

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In simple terms, a rigger in an animation studio is a digital artisan responsible for preparing 3D models for animation. This preparation involves creating a series of joints and controllers, essentially a skeleton – known as a rig – that can then be manipulated by animators to bring the character to life.

Think of the rig as a puppeteer's strings, controlling a puppet's actions and emotions, translating the animator's vision into the character's movements.

Diving Deeper: The Essential Role of a Rigger

Understanding "what is a rigger" requires us to go beyond the basics and explore their indispensable role in the animation process. A rigger's responsibilities include:

1. Creating Rigs

two humans with 3d rigging skins on reaching out to touch one another and when they do the screen glitches

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At the core of a rigger's role is the creation of the rigs themselves. This task involves not just technical know-how, but also an intimate understanding of anatomy and movement to produce natural-looking animations.

2. Collaborating with Animators

human hands and a robot hand passes tools between one another against a pink background

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Rigging is an intensely collaborative process. Rigging artists need to work closely with animators, ensuring that the rigs they create are tailored to the animators' needs and allow for a smooth animation process.

3. Character Skinning

3d rigged skin of a cats head with big yellow eyes and its teeth sticking out as it head rotates


The responsibility of a rigger extends to skinning as well. This refers to the process of attaching the 3D model or mesh to the rig, ensuring that the model deforms correctly and realistically when the rig is manipulated.

4. Problem-Solving

a green character working on its computer with the clock in the background ticking over really fast and the sweat drips down the characters face and they start to look stressed

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Rigging involves a great deal of problem-solving. Rigging artists often have to address and fix issues that arise during the skinning process or during animation, ensuring that the characters can be animated as intended.

Mastering the Art of Rigging: Skills and Tools

man character at his desk working on coding on his laptop

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To fully answer "what is a rigger," it's important to discuss the specific skills and tools that are essential for this profession. Riggers must have a strong understanding of anatomy and movement, as they need to create rigs that allow for realistic motion. They also need a keen eye for detail, excellent problem-solving skills, and the ability to work collaboratively.

In terms of tools, riggers must be proficient in 3D software such as Autodesk Maya, 3DS Max, or Blender, to name a few. Knowledge of scripting languages, like Python, can also be a huge asset, allowing riggers to create custom rigging tools and automate parts of the rigging process.

The Rigger's Place in the Animation Pipeline

3d rigged white rooster pecking at the ground against a white background


After the design and modeling of a 3D character, the model goes to the rigging department. The riggers then take the static 3D model and turn it into something that can be animated. Once the rigging process is completed, the character is then passed on to the animation department. 

It's here that the character truly comes to life, with the animators manipulating the rig to create the character's actions and expressions.

Qualifications of an Animation Rigger: A Blend of Artistic and Technical Mastery

a graduation hat being thrown up into the air against a green background and landing level again

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An animation rigger often requires a balanced mix of artistic understanding and technical proficiency. Most entry-level rigging positions would require a bachelor's degree in animation, computer graphics, or a related field. 

A solid foundation in anatomy, both human and animal, is essential to understand the mechanics of movement. Technical skills in 3D modeling software, such as Maya, 3DS Max, or Blender, are necessary, as riggers use these programs to create their rigs. 

Proficiency in programming languages like Python or MEL is also highly valuable as these can be used for creating custom rigging tools. Additionally, many employers look for previous experience, which aspiring riggers can gain through internships, portfolio work, or collaborative projects. 

Ultimately, strong problem-solving abilities, attention to detail, and the capacity to work collaboratively with a team are essential qualifications for a successful career as a rigger in the animation industry.

Why Rigging Matters: The Impact on Your Animation Career

a tree branch type character with legs and arms waving his hand with a smile on his face standing against a purple background

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Understanding "what is a rigger" provides a glimpse into a crucial part of the animation industry. Rigging is a specialized skill that's in high demand, as every animated project needs skilled riggers to create the characters and environments that audiences love.

Not only can mastering the craft of rigging provide a competitive edge in your animation career, but it can also open the door to a wide array of opportunities within the industry, from working on animated films and TV series to contributing to the development of video games.

Beyond the Studio: Rigging and the Future of Animation

virtual reality of a hand holding a map on a walkway to an island in the ocean

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The role of a rigger is not confined to animation studios alone. As technology advances, the demand for riggers is expanding into new areas. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) experiences are increasingly relying on skilled riggers to create immersive environments and realistic characters.

Understanding "what is a rigger" in the modern world means recognizing the potential for exciting opportunities in these emerging fields.

Understanding the Craft of “What is a Rigger in an Animation Studio”

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Learning about the role of a rigger is just one step on your journey into the vast world of animation. It's a profession that demands both technical and creative skills, making it a perfect choice for those who want to combine their love of art and technology.

Our Animation Business Accelerator Program is designed to provide aspiring animators with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed. We are here to answer your questions like "what is a rigger" and many others, to demystify the animation industry, and to guide you on your path to becoming a professional animator.

Sign up for a free strategy session. Here, we go over why you're not achieving the level of success you desire and get advice on what steps you need to take to live your dream life. Plus, be sure to check out our blog on "How to Start an Animation Studio" for further insights and tips.

Embark on your animation journey with us, and let us help you transform your passion for animation into a successful career. After all, the world of animation is awaiting your unique touch. Let's create magic together!

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