The rigging department is probably the most known department for the Technical Director role. They are the glue between the model and the animation. Together with the modelers they create the 3D puppets that are brought to life by the animators.
1. What is a Rigging Technical Director?
A Rigging Technical Director is responsible for creating, managing, and delivering high-quality assets for the animation department. Rigging is the process of giving an asset (character/prop/vehicle/...) the ability to move, combining anatomic and technical skills, placing joints, skinning (binding the actual 3D mesh to the joint) and deformations. The output is a model transformed into a 3D puppet ready to be animated. Understanding the model and the way it will be animated is key to deliver the right rig.
A Rigging TD has a technical understanding, anatomic knowledge, software expertise, and can recreate real-life structures in terms of deformations and behavior in general. Coding skills round up the work with interconnections and production automatizations.
The rigging department is the bridge between the modelled asset and the animated asset in shot.
2. What does the Rigging Technical Director actually do?
Rigging TDs often work with a combination of Maya, a studio rigging Framework, a script editor (Sublime, VSC, …), and coding documentations (Python and Maya API). A typical day is mostly spend on improving the quality of the existing character or asset rigs, coding helpful tools, and finding solutions to deliver special movement options for the animators. This process is called "triage" which is a way to chase requests, bugs, and improvements. A rig is created and optimized over time to fulfill the needs of the production so publishing and republishing dozens or even hundreds of versions (of especially hero rigs) is common which makes the process of rigging iterative. Scripting is often used to ease the burden of rerigging, making updates, automations and to create more complex and interdependent rigs.
Typical rigging requests are rig optimizations to make them work faster in the viewport (less stuttering when moving), adding new controls and control options for animation, fine tuning the existing options and fixing broken elements that don't perform as expected.
3. How to become a Rigging Technical Director?
The requirements for a Rigging TD are dependent on the specialization you're striving for. Having a good understanding of how to create and manipulate 3D assets, being proficient in Maya, solving technical issues and being able to rig and skin a character and prop are the key elements to rigging. Additionally scripting languages like Python open up a wider range of solutions for unknown problems, especially when you're facing difficult issues or automatizations and are often stated as a requirement. A great way into rigging is also to start in the modeling or animation department since they provide the key elements for an effective rig.
Creating believable CG characters and assets
Technical and visual problem solving
Effective communication (especially with modelling and animation department)
Knowledge of anatomy for bipeds and quadrupeds, skeletons, and muscles
A good understanding of IK, constraints, and deformers
Software: Maya (most common)
Scripting: Python, MEL
An effective Rigging Technical Director understands the tools that are used in the production and is able to create new ones. Check out this Python for Rigging masterclasses:
A Rigging Technical Director is the glue that connects the lifeless geometry with dynamic animations. They add structure and the possibility to move a model and help the animation department to express their and the directors vision. To rig means to support artistic work with a technical structure.
The fascination of being a Rigging Technical Director comes from being a technical problem solver and to find solutions for the asset so it moves in a way that serves the film or game. For that a Rigging TD has to understand how the real world works and to mimic that in a 3D software (mostly Maya). As with all Technical Director roles communication is key since the job is to support the animation department while being able to create fast iterations of the production rigs.
We hope this introduction brings some light into the role of the Rigging Technical Director and allows you to plan your own path to work with them or to become one. Let us know about your experiences.
Thanks for reading,
Wesley Schneider (Sr. Rigging TD at DNEG) & Alex
PS. Learn more about the TD role? Check out my Free 7-Day TD Bootcamp: Technical Director.