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Character Rigger

Learn about the role, salary, software and skills needed to become a character rigger

Character rigger job description

A character rigger designs the skeletal frameworks and control rigs of animated characters, defining how they move within a frame of action. They 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, 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 Riggers understand the importance of expression and physical motion in character creation and how it affects the gameplay experience.

Role & Responsibilities

The role of the Character Rigger is to express the motion of animated characters, they ensure that all character movements and expressions operate within anatomical reality. Their task is to build a skeleton which will operate a character and bring it to life.

Although fictional, animated characters are often required to move according to the laws of physics and be anatomically correct. The Character Rigger focuses on making characters as life-like as possible. 

The responsibilities of a Character Rigger may include:

  • Liaising with concept artists and animators about the physical attributes and movements of characters
  • Drawing character sketches showing key movements
  • Articulating characters within environments, layouts and backgrounds
  • Creating joints and moving points to rotate and pivot
  • Designing, testing and maintaining character set ups
  • Ensuring character movements are fluid, free of glitches and believable
  • Writing MEL scripts to customize software to specific animation requirements
  • Working with animators to create user-friendly characters
  • Establishing logical system of file creation for use within the course of production
  • Developing tools and plug-ins to optimize animation 
  • Facial target modeling
  • Following established character setup procedures
  • Identifying issues and following through with enquiries
  • Testing rigs and ensuring they hold up in animation

Software and Other Tools Used

Character Riggers will primarily work within a computer environment. They may require knowledge of the following programs:

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

Skills Required

Character Riggers work in animation, video games, advertising, film and television, web design and any project that requires specialized design services. 

Employers may look for the following skills in a Character Rigger:

  • Solid knowledge of human and animal anatomy
  • Familiarity with mechanics and movement of active forms
  • Understanding of movement of limbs, the effect of weight, and the behavior of skin and flesh
  • Ability to express character and emotion through motion
  • Training in animation and/or character design
  • 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 articulate emotion through character facial and physical expression
  • Ability to create character gait, walk and body language
  • Good communication skills
  • Ability to take direction 
  • Adapting to and delivering changes to briefs
  • Highly organized, ability to work methodically

Average Salary

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, and the skills needed can be learned in an animation course

To learn more about this field, visit: What is Animation?

Animation courses taught by industry experts