Fluid movement of a character is a vital element in creating a dynamic game-play experience. The expressiveness of facial features, the way a character walks, holds a battleaxe or carries a rifle are integral to the enjoyment of a video game—visually and emotionally. The artistic talents and technical skill of a character rigger are employed in game design to animate realistic characters in a virtual world and enhance the immersion of a player into the game.
A character rigger designs the skeletal framework of a person, creature or moving object. He or she constructs a computer generated 3D wire frame of a character then positions joints and points of movement, like axis around which a limb can rotate and pivot. These points are manipulated to make the character jump, stretch, smile, or produce any other combination of natural movements—like a marionette. This is done using rigging tools such as Maya or Motionbuilder and MEL scripting to simplify repetitive tasks and create fluid pipelines.
The character rigger builds virtual character skeletons and control rigs, sets deformable weighting, applies skins, creates facial shapes, all which are later used by the animator to bring the character to life. The rigger will also write MEL scripts to streamline art production pipelines and develop new pipeline solutions to adapt to the changing needs of the animation team and keep up with workflow.
Skills & Education
A four-year college degree is a requirement of most big game development companies. A major in game design and development, computer science, animation or art is a good pathway to this position. You will be expected to have a strong skill set in the use of rigging tools, scripting languages (C++, Java, Perl) and pipeline development. Additionally, it is crucial that you have a strong understanding of anatomy and a great eye for expressive motion. Obviously, you should be an avid gamer and have a thorough knowledge of current game releases, emerging technology and evolving techniques in rigging and animation.
What to Expect
Character rigging is a solitary task, but requires considerable group planning at the outset. Front-end collaboration with animators and game designers is a necessity and will require excellent communication and teamwork. Beyond the job of building the character rig, your task is to make the animator’s job easier. As you pass on your work to the animators, you should aim for your rig to be user-friendly. Your colleagues don’t want to lose valuable time learning how to make your rig dance. Simple things like a uniform system for creating file names will save hours of work.
Most high-end game developers expect two to four years experience in character rigging for AAA titles or comparable experience as character TD. Expect to start as an assistant or junior animator or programmer in a smaller studio before working your way up to this position. Look for opportunities to build your portfolio, as this is the best way to prove to companies that you have the skill and talent to create their next breakout title.
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