Character Rigger

The role, salary, software, and skills of a character rigger

What does a character rigger do?

A character rigger generates the internal structural frameworks and controls of a 3D model, defining how an animator will be able to manipulate it. Their goal is to build a skeleton that will operate a character and bring it to life. Character and model riggers help to create believable movement that abides by the laws of anatomy, physics, and real-world experiences in a virtual environment. Character riggers can work in film, TV, and video games. 

In video games, for example, an animated character must move fluidly for enhanced gameplay. Facial expressions, gait, and physical idiosyncrasies are important visual cues in animation. They create engagement and recognition with the player, which aids in connecting with a video game.

Character rigger job description

There are two main roles of a rigger: rigging and deformation. Rigging generates the 'bones' and controls of a 3D model and deformation is the process of making the points of the model. These points follow the rig/armature in a smooth and believable manner which determines the ways an animator will be able to manipulate it.

They work closely with 3D animators to help fix any bugs, intersections caused by the rig, or 'unnatural' movements. 

Role & responsibilities of a character rigger in film and games:

  • Creating joints and moving points to rotate and pivot
  • Designing, testing, and maintaining character rig setups
  • Ensuring character movements are fluid, free of glitches, and believable
  • Writing MEL scripts to customize software to specific animation requirements
  • Establishing logical system of file creation for use within the course of production
  • Developing tools and plug-ins to optimize animation 
  • Facial rigs

Skills required to become a character rigger

Character riggers must have good technical skills and an excellent understanding of human and animal anatomy.

Film and game studios may look for the following skills in character riggers:

  • Familiarity with mechanics and movement of active forms
  • Understanding of movement of limbs, the effect of weight, and the behavior of skin and flesh
  • Basic understanding of animation to be able to test out their rigs
  • Working knowledge of the laws of physics - Newton’s laws, gravity, acceleration and the laws of energy
  • Strong skills in rigging tools and scripting languages 
  • Ability to create character gait, walk, and body language

What software and tools do character riggers use?

Character riggers will primarily work within a computer environment which requires knowledge of coding. 

Character riggers may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

  • UNIX operating system
  • MEL
  • Maya
  • Motion Builder
  • 3D Studio Max
  • XSI
  • C++
  • Java
  • Perl

How much does a character rigger make? 

The average salary begins at around USD $25,104 for an entry-level job, whereas a lead character rigger can earn up to USD $99,000. (Source: Glassdoor). The role of the Character rigger is a specialized one. Some of the required skills can be learned in an 3D animation course or a virtual production course.



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