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Blog Post interview Leadership rigtip

Get to know: Nina Fricker – Lead Technical Animator at Insomniac Games

Get to know: Nina Fricker – Lead Technical Animator at Insomniac Games

https://www.linkedin.com/in/nina-fricker-9182921/

Let’s start off with some questions from our friend Izzy Cheng

Hi Izzy!!!

What is some advice you’d give to people getting into Technical Art or Technical Animation?

AH!! Where to start?? This is a topic I could talk about a LOT.

The main advice I give to aspiring character TDs is to work with a modeler and animator on some characters. This has a numerous benefits. First, the group will push each other to be better at their craft. The rigger is going to find areas where the model needs improvement to get good deformation. The animator is going to find problems with the rig that will require better weighting and controls from the rigger. Everyone can help critique performances. Find people who will really push quality. Ideally at the end of all of this, all three will have great demo reel pieces that each individual wouldn’t have been able to achieve on their own. Another benefit is that you’re basically emulating production. This is how it works in a studio, so getting this kind of experience, and more importantly, getting comfortable and adept at the iteration cycle between departments shows companies that you’re production-ready! Find a way to highlight this collaboration on your resume and demo reel. I’d love to see examples of how the iteration loop between everyone improved the end character and performance. Make sure to talk about this in your interviews! Let people know what animators hated in your rigs, and how you addressed their concerns. It eases my mind, as a hiring manager, to know that you’re comfortable receiving and responding to criticism.

As a veteran in the game industry, what keeps you from burning out?
I have a lot of interests outside of work that keep me balanced. I love to work out, cook, learn, garden. Work/life balance is really important in order to sustain a long career in the game industry. I have been incredibly fortunate to work for studios that take good care of its employees.

Do you have a favorite project you worked on at Insomniac and why?
Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus

This was my favorite because it was the project that I felt like the North Carolina studio really hit its stride. As a group we had gone through shipping a few titles together, and had learned to work and collaborate with each other incredibly well. In addition to the working relationship of the team, the project had a really fun plot line and character line up. Into the Nexus had two awesome female characters (Talwyn & Vendra) which was a great new challenge for me. They both had to deliver a wide range of emotion. The animators on the project brought out some spectacular performances from them which I’m still very proud of to this day.

What traits make a good *Lead* Technical Animator?

To me the most important trait of a good lead, regardless of discipline, is that your focus is on making your team successful. Going from an individual contributor to a lead required a major mental shift in what being good at my job looks like. This didn’t come easy after almost a decade of straight-up production work. I still struggle with not being able to do as much work myself. As with all aspects of my career, I’ve received wonderful guidance and mentorship from so many people at Insomniac. They’ve helped me realize that I make a big impact as a force multiplier through leading. This came in the form of CONSTANT reassurance that the success of my team was first and foremost and that my feeling of not doing enough showable production work was a normal reaction. It’s become very fulfilling for me to see the amazing things the folks on my team accomplish.

Great Questions from Izzy, thank you for that, now let us get to some of our own.

Were you always into computer graphics and games or how did you find your way into the industry.

I pretty much decided that I wanted to work in 3D when I was 12 years old. This was when I saw Jurassic Park in the theaters (yes, I’m old). The “Welcome to Jurassic Park” scene where we first see the brachiosaurus blew my mind. Eventually I saw a “making-of” for the film and fell in love with the magic of bringing digital characters to life.
Just a couple years later Toy Story was released in theaters. A full CG animated film. Once again, mind blown.
Around this same time, I had a wonderful teacher in middle school who taught AutoCAD to 7th and 8th graders. Back in the early/mid 90s, this was basically unheard of. Having access to his high-end Linux machines and learning this sophisticated software gave me confidence that I could make things on a computer and learn complicated concepts. I give him a lot of credit for my comfort level with technology at a very early age.
At this point I set a life goal of being a VFX Supervisor at ILM. Granted, at the time, I had absolutely NO idea what that meant. It was just a job title that I saw under the names of people in behind the scenes pieces, so I thought that’s what I was going to be when I grew up.
While in high school, a good friend of mine showed me how to use trueSpace 2 and Bryce 3D. We got both installed on my home machine which freed me to start tinkering around on my own. Also in high school, the cincher of my career direction came out in theaters. The Matrix. Up until then, being techy and computer obsessed was just nerdy. The Matrix was not only technologically inspiring, but it made me feel like being techno-savvy was super bad-ass! I very much wanted to be part of the vfx/cg animation world.
The combination of all these things led me to Full Sail to study Computer Animation. I wanted to get into a job where I was working on 3D characters as soon as possible. It wasn’t until I got to the Character Setup class that I learned that rigging was where I wanted to go with my career. This is also when games as a career started to surface as an option. I didn’t much care which area of entertainment I went into as long as it meant I could work on 3D characters.

Can you share your learning curve and experience over the years as a TD going from finishing school to getting your first job?

The transition from school (where I had both Rigging Dojo founders Brad Clark and Chad Moore as instructors) to my first job lasted roughly 3 months. In this respect, I consider myself INCREDIBLY fortunate.
While still in school, during my rigging class, I had a lab instructor who left towards the end of the course to work at a company called Turbine. Since rigging was something that really sparked my interests, I kept in touch with him throughout the rest of my time at Full Sail. I’d send him my group project rigs and he was gracious enough to give me feedback and advice when I ran into technical issues. Not long after I graduated, this lab instructor turned mentor was looking for an entry level rigger to join his team at Turbine. Thankfully he saw some potential in me and hired me to fill that position!
In my first couple years at Turbine, I learned a ton about the ins and outs of production. There’s so much more to being a developer than the specific craft you’re trained in. It was quite intimidating at first to learn all of that and a game engine. At Full Sail, we didn’t get any exposure to engines or production pipelines. I get the impression that has changed at most schools, and both are now a regular part of 3D programs.

What does your day or week look like now that you are on the Tech Animator side vs. more of a rigging or pipeline TD?

Tech Animation at Insomniac means supporting the rigging pipeline and Maya tools for artist, primarily animators and riggers, but in some cases other departments as well. As a lead, my main responsibilities throughout a week involve jumping around to a number of different things. Depending on what’s going on and where we are in production, things can change week to week. Here are some of the things that I do regularly:
Meet with various feature teams to evaluate progress, plan goals, collaborate on a plan of execution for the next set of goals, etc. It’s in this area that I get closest to our games. The work is very close to the heart of what our audiences will experience.
Meet with the riggers on my team to discuss their goals, both short and long term. This is also where I get feedback from them on how things are going on the team/project/studio.
Provide rigging support for projects. I generally try to stay out of important tasks because the amount of time I can spend on production work can vary greatly day to day. I’ll take on smaller rigging tasks when they pop up. This helps the people on my team stay more focused on the larger things they’re working on. I also really enjoy working on prototypes for a new idea.
Fix bugs both in the game and in our tools.
Work with other leads and the project manager to schedule. Because production is constantly changing and evolving, we evaluate and adjust on a weekly basis.
Collaborate with the character TDs in both studios on direction of our tools.
Participate in code reviews.

Can you talk about developing for VR projects vs. a more traditional game and some things you learned or overcame that might have been a surprise?

As a studio working on our 4th VR title, we’ve learned an incredible amount about developing games for VR. To me the most surprising aspect of working in VR is how easy it is to trick your brain into accepting what you’re seeing is real. Back on Edge of Nowhere development, we had areas of the game where you’d walk along cliff sides that overlooked steep edges. My hands would get really clammy and sweaty every time I ran across them. I truly believe that VR is something you need to experience first hand to really understand it. It’s a very visceral experience to have your fear of heights triggered just by playing a game. It’s an exciting medium to play in and we’re pushing the boundaries exploration in VR with our latest title, Stormland.

This is a behind the scenes teaser (I make a brief appearance):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gla5gObbERs

And here is our trailer!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJBXA8gN-5k

At Rigging Dojo we get a high percent of female students and some of our most successful students have been women, what has your experience been as a female in Tech and games?

I am extremely fortunate to have spent so much of my career at Insomniac where gender is a non-issue. My leaders and colleagues create a safe, professional and collaborative culture in which everyone is able to thrive. It’s not something I take for granted. What I find the most troubling is that women still only make up a small percentage of the industry. I think we’re hovering somewhere around 15-20%. I thought after 17 years I’d see a more balanced population, but the increase has been meager at best. This makes me sad, and it’s why I got involved with a mentoring program. The least I can do is play a small part in helping more women make their way into this line of work that I love.

You have been a mentor for artists like Izzy who we just interviewed, do you still do mentoring and what was that experience like?

Izzy and I were paired up through a mentorship program called Game Mentor Online which is unfortunately no longer running. It was an excellent program started by Women In Game International that I really enjoyed and wanted to continue with. Since it never came back online, I haven’t been actively seeking a mentoring program, but I would like to find one that has a similar structure and vibe to it. I miss it, and as mentioned above, it’s a way for me to help women break into our industry.
As a side note, Izzy was WELL on her way to a budding career as a Character TD when I started working with her. She’s incredibly smart, hard-working and relentlessly learning new things. I’m so incredibly proud of her! <3

If you could give your past self any advice on working, life and the games industry what would it be?

There was a long time where I was very self conscious and fearful of not knowing things. If a topic came up in conversation that I didn’t understand or wasn’t familiar with, I’d just listen and try to figure things out. It really weighed on my self esteem. On the outside I’d nod along like I was keeping up but, internally I was upset and convinced that I was stupid. I felt like a fraud and that soon I’d be discovered and fired. Eventually… we’re talking years… I had a bit of a mental shift. There came a point when I got so tired of feeling so terrible about myself despite my career still moving forward. I can’t remember the catalyst, but I started experimenting with speaking up. I tried it out a little, here and there, and saw no perceivable adverse effect. As time went on, I got more and more comfortable with putting myself out there and asking questions when something was raised or referenced that I didn’t know or understand. Now, I’m on the complete other end of the spectrum. I ask about anything I don’t know. Completely shameless.

There were a few surprising things that came from this 180 (okay, maybe not THAT surprising, but it was for me)…

1) Nothing bad ever came of it. Not once. No one ever shamed me or made fun of me or thought less of me. In most cases, people have been happy to explain and help me.
2) I learned a lot from my peers. So often people we’re more than happy to take the time to teach me.
3) A lot of people were in the same boat. So many times I’d hear echos from others of “oh yeah, I don’t know either”. There are even times when people who seemingly appear to nod like they understand will admit they don’t when the topic is cracked open! Why do we do that?! I think that showing vulnerability is difficult and uncomfortable, so we tend to do what’s more comfortable. We nod and pretend to know.
My advice to my younger self would be: Let your vulnerable and authentic side show. It’s okay to be imperfect and not know everything. We’re all in good company. Give your peers the benefit of the doubt that they’re more helpful than harmful.

Last question – what book are you reading right now or last finished?

I usually keep both a fun book and informational book going at once.

I just finished Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version. Now I’m looking for something to read/listen to next. Any recommendations?
On the informational side, I’m reading Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz. It’s an interesting dive into the psychology of being wrong. This kind of stuff is fascinating!

How can people best find you online?

Twitter would be the easiest way, although I don’t post too often: @NinaFricker

 Thank you so much for taking the time for us.

You bet! The pleasure was all mine!

p.s. Want to see someone interviewed, let us know so we can talk with them! Our next interview will be with Sophie @ Insomniac Games California

A character TD/rigger on the awesome  title! Congrats!

Then next after her in our women in Tech Art series will be Julia Bystrova, Lead Character Rigger at Tangent Animation who just finished up work on the all Blender CG film from Netlfix called “Next Gen” by  http://www.tangent-animation.ca/ 

We hope to have more Blender training available this coming year as it expands and matures its animation and rigging tool set along with major UI improvements (Blender Rigging for Netflix Next Gen )

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Blog Post interview Microcast

Blender Rigging for Netflix Next Gen

Like many people, we took notice of the work for the new movie coming out from Netflix called “Next Gen” by  http://www.tangent-animation.ca/ 
Today we talked with Rigging Lead David Hearn (https://www.levelpixellevel.com) about rigging and about working with Blender on a large scale production. (We were also joined by friend and Blender master Charles Wardlaw )

Interview:

Listen to the interview podcast here, or on our microcast TechArtJam.com
Check out the trailer:

Next Gen
Be sure to check out the great Blender Robot projects that David has posted on his blog. Here is one of the latest “Machine Making Ep 6”
Main goals of this Machine:
  • To model and rig a full robot in Blender 3D
  • Build a double-jointed leg system using IK
  • Add an interesting city background and push the final composition.
  • Download the asset here: https://gum.co/LpTEb
  • Full Animation Test: https://youtu.be/WUj4sFzvGpU

https://www.levelpixellevel.com/machinemaking/machine-making-episode-6-full-robot (check out the full blog post for more behind the scenes)

Blender Rigging Features:

First check out the latest build Blender 2.8
https://www.blender.org/2-8/

Check out the features by yourself by playing with these files provided by the community.

Great Rigify Addon – Great place for beginning rigging in blender
Blen Rig – Auto Rigging Solution
Great place to start rigging in blender:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0U3NjTvwdWI

Blender Bendy Bones Example
Blender 2.8 New Armature Display settings
Blender 2.8 new collections and groups
Blender 2.8 Animation + Eevee
Great Intro To Python In Blender
Learning Blender:
Free Blender Models
Categories
Blog Post interview

Get to know: Isabella Cheng – Technical Artist at Survios

Get to know: Isabella Cheng – Technical Artist and Rigging Dojo Alumna

Isabella Cheng Technical Artist at Survios

Isabella Cheng
Technical Artist at Survios

Let’s get started with a bit of background about you, were you always in to computer programming and tech?

I was always into games and computers. I went to school at USC for Computer Science with the notion that I’d be a game programmer. Turns out I really like working with artists and I happen to also be artistic, so I applied my skills as a Technical Artist. My first industry job out of college was pipeline scripting for mobile games. But then I discovered the ?magic of rigging ?and working with character art, and thought, “Hey I think I can get pretty good at this.”

Can you share your learning curve and experience over the years as a TD going from finishing school, finding Rigging Dojo and getting your first industry job?

Personally my transition from mobile pipeline stuff to rigging and Unreal felt almost like a career change. When I was first dabbling in rigging on my own, I had no idea what I was doing. I was self teaching myself using tutorials online but they weren’t enough to help me really grasp the core concepts. I heard about Rigging Dojo and signed up as soon as I could, and a couple months in Rigging 101 filled the gaps I was missing. I used what I learned from Rigging Dojo on a couple side projects, and finally landed a job at Survios rigging and scripting for VR games.

Walk us through what your day or week looks like. How much time coding or pipeline work vs. rigging and character work are you doing for example.

I do a whole variety of things, and it really depends on the needs of our projects. There was a huge need for pipeline scripting when I joined, so a lot of my time was spent building pipeline Maya tools that help our artists and animators. But when a project ramps up with a lot of characters, I fill that role as well. I could be spending a whole week on one task. Another day could be that I’m rigging a character in the morning for one game, and I’m scripting a tool in the afternoon for another game. To my surprise, by far my favorite part of my job is working on motion capture and the mocap data pipeline, it’s incredibly rewarding to take a human performance and see it on a 3D character.

Image of Sprint Vector by Survios

Image of Sprint Vector by Survios

 

Was there already a pipeline in place at the studio you’re at now or did you have to help build it? What was a challenge or improvement that came from that process?

There was a rigging pipeline in place before I joined using an auto-rigger. After I joined, the characters for our games got more complicated, and I helped build out our own inhouse rigging tools. The rigging and animation team never stops improving the pipeline. The biggest challenges I continue to face is balancing time in R&D with actual development. Luckily my team is given time to research the best solutions to solve character and animation pipeline issues, but it’s challenging to begin trying something, not knowing exactly what to expect. But this is also what makes my work exciting and rewarding.

Let’s talk tools, are there publicly available scripts or tools you like to use when rigging?

Absolutely! First and foremost we use the Unreal A.R.T tools because Survios is an Unreal house. I use ngSkinTools personally for skinning weights, even though my coworker hates it ?

I came across Studio Library for our animators and it’s been great. But if I don’t find a tool that suits my needs, I tend to either find something close and modify it, or build it from scratch.

How much stock Maya vs. custom inhouse tools or maybe runtime rigging in Unreal are you using?

For player movement, we have a system in Unreal that handles our character movement in VR that is completely custom inhouse. Unlike traditional games, our animators don’t necessarily animate everything for the player character because locomotion is being tracked by the VR controllers and head mount display. For other NPC characters, we are using the stock Unreal rigging stuff given to us. On the Maya side, we use a combination of stock, third-party and custom inhouse tools. The problem with having a ton of custom inhouse tools is we can’t migrate our tools as fast as new Maya versions come out.

Anything you wish would get fixed or changed in the software to improve production work and make it easier?

Right now his tool is in Beta, but I hope Jeremy Ernst releases his second version of the rigging tools soon!!

Do you see any major changes to how you are working now with Unreal and character rigging?

I definitely see major changes working with Unreal, it’s a whole other beast. One of the biggest considerations we take creating characters is how easily we can reuse animations and what that implies in Unreal. Unreal can retarget animations from one skeletal mesh to another. But that means if we want to fully utilize our animation budget, we have to make sure a number of characters are not wildly different where we have to create a whole new set of animations for one character. This mindset starts all the way at the character concept phase. Of course, these decisions are project-specific, but we only have 3 animators, 2 riggers and 2 character artists! As riggers we have to decide the best way to build the skeleton that will work for a variety of characters, and when brought into Unreal, making sure the animations don’t look and retarget terribly.

Having first worked with Unity and now Unreal what are your thoughts on learning them and any tips or gotchas you could share?

Learning Unreal is really fun, and being familiar with Unity made it a bit easier. The gotchas for me are the Blueprint system in Unreal and animation retargeting.

With the animation retargeting on skeletons instead of a “rig” like in Unity, are there any things you know to help out that process or have looked into to improve the retarget results?

Since we are conscious about retargeting and reusing animations across multiple characters, we make sure our joint orients and positions across our characters that share the same skeleton/animations are similar enough that the animations won’t look terrible in engine. For retargeting in general, I have just started playing around with MotionBuilder, and I’m super excited and impressed with the results I’m getting!

What have you found , training wise to have been the most helpful to you growing as a character TD? Any last tips or advice you can give to someone that wants to improve their skills as a TD?

Rigging Dojo, duh! The community that surrounds rigging is actually super cool and friendly, which makes finding resources very easy. So feel lucky as a growing character TD you chose this path, and don’t be shy to reach out!

If you’re working on your demo reel, find a model you think would be a fun challenge to rig, and try it! And +100 points if you find an animator to test it for you and give you feedback, and they could use it on their portfolio. It’s a win-win.

Want to really improve your skills as a TD? Go and take the online anatomy class by Scott Eaton. It is amazing, period. I’m in the middle of it right now, but it’s already helped me understand the puzzle pieces of the human body. Which makes me a better rigger!

At Rigging Dojo we get a high percent of female students and some of our most successful students have been women. If at all, have you faced issues or challenges that male peers might not have?

I can fortunately say that I have not faced these sorts of issues. I had pretty much the same challenges, and luckily at Survios we maintain a really collaborative and inclusive culture, and I’m not treated any differently than any other game developer because of my gender.

That is great to hear that and also a nod to the studio you work at for making it a balanced environment.

Now that you’re working vs. fresh out of school is there anything that you see missing in current TD skills or reels? Could be advice to your past self making a reel.

I didn’t come from an animation background, so sometimes I feel like I’m a mechanic that doesn’t know how to drive a car. I’m learning a ton from the animators I work with at Survios about their creative processes. As a rigger it’s been a learning experience working with them first hand and balancing their wants and needs. Advice to myself (past and present) would be to take some animation classes and try to animate things myself in order to better tap into an animator’s mindset. I wouldn’t necessarily put my animations on my reel, but I would learn some valuable things about what animators expect out of a rig, and those choices are important for a portfolio.

Last question – what book are you reading right now or last finished?

For my class we’re using a book called Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth by Andrew Loomis. Beautiful drawings and approximations of the human body. I’ve never taken art classes so this pretty much blew my mind.

The last book I finished was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick. Because Blade Runner.

How can people best find you online?

You can follow or message me on Twitter @izzyccheng, email me at [email protected],  Or if you join the Tech-Artists.org Slack channel, I’m on there as well!

Thank you so much for taking the time for us.

Thanks for the interview!!!

 

Categories
Blog Post interview rigtip

Get to know: Stephanie Wagner – Rigging TD MPC

Stephanie came to us already very talented and skilled and went through our Python 101 course. We are happy to have been able to contribute to her training and help make her even more efficient. Join us in our interview with her and if you want to read about another talented character TD check out our past interview with Gio Coutinho – Rooster Teeth Productions

Welcome Stephanie Wagner Rigging TD  MPC  and Rigging Dojo Almuna.

 

 

Let’s get started with a bit of background about you, and what led you to computer graphics and rigging as your specialty?

I have always had a technical and artistic curiosity. I created my first website when I was around nine years old and played around with Ubuntu Linux in my teens. One day I was watching a video game “making of” and was fascinated by a cgi arm in motion. After watching a ton of videos and reading up on the subject I applied and was lucky enough to get an internship at a motion-capture company called metricminds where I learned a lot about the animation pipeline. I also enrolled into the Games Academy – art & animation class where I was involved in rigging and animating characters for student projects.

At first I found it challenging to learn rigging but it quickly became the field I felt most passionate about. I really enjoyed the structural, problem solving element of rigging and loved the feeling when it all came together.

Can you share your learning curve and experience over the years as a TD, from starting out to working on new tech and across different studios.

During the first weeks working at MPC I was determined to learn as much as I could about working with the pipeline and understanding procedural rigging. I also needed to learn a lot more about anatomy since I was responsible for a muscle digital double rig. I tried to ask as many questions as I could to get myself up to speed and found this was the best way to improve. Working closely together with a lead really helped with learning the inhouse tools, improving my anatomy knowledge and my workflow in general. I enjoyed deformation rigging the most and specialized more in this field. Over time I became confident placing anatomy, using deformers and setting up simulations which has become my strength and passion. I really benefit from sharing knowledge and brainstorming with colleagues which I find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a TD.
In general Every studio has a different approach and a different tool set available to their artists. Overall it does not take a lot of time to start working using inhouse tools and conform to a new rigging pipeline. Being exposed to various tools helped me grow as a TD and broadened my skillset.

 We talk a lot about model topology and the default pose to rig, do you have a preference?

A relaxed and symmetrical pose is preferable meaning slightly bend legs, arms and fingers. However if I get a model in a different pose I like to adjust it to my needs and rebind the skinCluster in some cases. I also like to adjust the topology if I have to or add some more details to certain areas such as armpits.

If you adjust the pose do you then have to send it back to modeling? What is the back and forth process look like then with the other department?

Usually I receive very good models to begin with and the changes are very minor. The model in it’s default pose is usually matched to reference from the client and can’t simply be changed. Adjusting the pose in rigging – to create a perfect tPose for example – is not a change that needs to be picked up by modelling since I can save different poses in the rig itself.

If anatomy or topology needs to be adjusted in the beginning of a project I can always propose reasonable changes and get the model updated by modelling. Towards the end of a show it usually is much quicker to adjust the model in the rig directly and add the changes as a front of chain blendshape.

Deformations are always a balancing act between character design, topology and animation needs.  How do you approach skinning and final deformation work?

It’s essential to get your pivots right. I usually lay out my joints quiet roughly and do a test bind to find the right placement of the joints. I also like to place actual skeleton geometry in my rigs to find the best joint position.
If I am skinning a character for an animation rig I take a bit of an old school approach. Classic linear bind, 1 max influence set to interactive skinWeighting. I block in all the weights from the core to the limbs. Afterwards I set my max influences to 2 to 3 and use the paintWeightsTool to smooth the skinning. For polishing I set the max influences to 20 and use the weightHammer. I try not to use too many helperJoints to keep the animation rig as fast as possible.

For a simple deformationRig I like to add some helperJoints to the rig. On top of that I sculpt correctives for better volume preservation and to create more interesting deformation. It does not take a lot of time to slide the topology around, move some edges out to create wrinkles and sculpt a bit of a flexing biceps shape for example.

If I had to do a setup in vanilla Maya I would create a shape in the default pose, do a blendShape and control the envelope with drivenKeys. To make it more interesting I would apply a cMuscleNode and add some relax, smooth and slide attributes.
Most importantly for rigging deformation is having a bit of animation going on. A simple technical workout (elbow rotate in/out) while skinning or sculpting gives you a perfect idea of how the character is deforming in motion and if your weights/shapes are holding up between poses.

You have done a large number of really great creature and animal muscle systems, can you talk about the process and what non-software specific tips readers could use to learn or prepare for a job doing that.

Besides working with great tools and technology It mostly comes down to a good foundation, experience and an eye for deformation.

A foundation can be build up by studying anatomy, drawing muscles on top of a character – this will tell you a lot about muscles in motion. Looking at characters in (slow-)motion to learn about shapes of muscles, what they look like flexing. You slowly develop an eye for deformation and why some CG feels good or wrong. Sculpting can also be very beneficial to develop a sense for volume and proportion. Practicing will make you more confident and only benefit your work.

If you want to dive into deformation rigging I would recommend to take a certain body part, e.g. the arms and really try to understand the human body in motion. Just to get some questions out there: where do I need to connect the biceps muscle to create a nice flex? Why is there a dimp in my shoulder when I lift up my arm? How do the ulnar and the radius function? How does the deformation of the lowerArm change when I lift my finger up?

Great references:

  • Planet Earth 2
  • Animal Anatomy For Artists by Elliot Goldfinger
  • Human Anatomy For Artists by Elliot Goldfinger
  • Anatomy For Sculptors by Uldis Zarins & Sandis Kondrats
  • Bammes

 

Can you talk about your approach tacking on a character from scratch vs. taking over a character from another artist.

If I get the chance to do a character from start to finish I firstly take the time to roughly plan my schedule for each step required (jointLayout, skinCluster, muscleRig, correctives,…), look at reference and mostly work with range of motion animation until animation picked up the character. I usually try to get the character deformation to 90% final as fast as possible to have enough time to polish and work on feedback from the supervisor or further animation requests. Doing the last 10% usually involves working on details and dynamics which really bring the character to life but take up a little bit more time than the other 90% in my experience.

It is rare to take on major fixed from other characters. My leads usually try to keep the same person on their task. If a person leaves or is busy on a different show fixes can always vary from changing constraints, adding more controls or doing  a simple model update. In vary rare occasions I have picked up a first pass deformation rig and reworked the muscleLayout up until the final deformation. From my experience TDs usually leave their work in a good place and it is easy to update/improve their work. Even though naming conventions might be different from artist to artist most of us have a similar work flow.

 

Code vs. Visual rigging systems- You took our Python 101 course at one point, do you still do much scripting as part of your daily job?

I mostly use scripting as a tool to make my day more efficient. I have a few lines of code for this and that, things I find myself doing a lot such as wraps, creating base meshes, clusters, etc. everything that saves me a couple of clicks.

I personally like to do scripted deformationRigs since it makes it easier to handle model updates or use the script to build a different character in the future. Scripting procedural props, facial- and controlRigs goes without saying in the companies I have worked for though.

Do you use any publicly available scripts or tools when rigging?

The first tool I download when I start a fresh Maya is “comet” – of course! If you don’t have it, get it. It is a life and time saver. Besides that I always found brave rabbit to be a great source for tools. I personally don’t use ngSkinTools but a lot of riggers really love it. Definitely worth a try.

How much stock Maya vs. studio tools are you using?

I am mostly using inhouse tools for rigging my characters (from orienting joints to final touches). That said I find myself using a lot of the maya modelling tools, transfer attributes, etc on a day to day basis.

Anything you wish would get fixed or changed in the software to improve production work and make it easier?

It would be great to see Autodesk reinventing/supporting a new muscle system. It can be very challenging to tackle cMuscle and there is only little help around on the internet and barely any documentation. The cMuscle binding is not very intuitive, cMuscle overflows the outliner nodes and the sculpting of a muscleShape is very limited.

Do you see any major advancement in rigging for characters in the near future or are the techniques mostly standardized now?

Knowledge is constantly being passed on in companies and there are a lot of ambitious TDs pushing the standards of rigging on a daily basis. SIGGRAPH is a great example for this.

I do think that the core process of rigging is mostly standardized now, but there is a lot of room for improvements. I think we are all aiming to create fast, intuitive control rigs and outstanding deformation. Understanding motion is challenging and I am very excited to see what will be achieved in the future.

What have you found , training wise to have been the most helpful to you growing as a character TD? Any last tips or advice you can give to someone that wants to improve their skills as a TD?

When trying to solve a problem I always go back to pen and paper and write down the issue along with solutions that come up on my mind. I find this very beneficial to staying focused and finding the easiest and fastest approach. This brings me to the best training you can do: ask questions. Ask yourself, the internet and colleagues. The Maya documentation is actually the best resource when trying to improve your understanding of Maya. Understanding what is going on in your rig is very rewarding when it comes down to debugging or improving on existing tech. It is very simple but in my opinion the most essential advice I can give.

I personally enjoy watching reels/tutorials on vimeo to get inspired by other TDs or just to see a different approach to an issue. I also like to watch documentaries about animals in my spare time to learn more about their movement/deformation.

Another helpful method is playblasting your rig in motion and taking a critical look at it – even better if you have real life footage playing along with it. If you have quicktime you can scrub forth and back through the timeline to see if the deformation feels anatomical correct. I often find myself playblasting and updating a certain area several times before I am satisfied with the result.

Lastly and more on a personal level. Don’t be shy – feel free to approach people online or offline to get advice. Be hands-on! If you don’t like the topology or default pose – change it. Be confident in your work, try not to be arrogant (it will make you easier to work with). Be passionate about the work you do and enjoy it.

At Rigging Dojo we get a high percent of female students and some of our most successful students have been women. If at all, has gender had an effect on your career and do you work with a balanced crew or is it mostly a male crew?

First of all I had the pleasure of working and meeting some amazing and very talented woman in VFX studios. No matter if it is production, a technical or artistic position – a lot of woman are not only good at their job but also very organized, friendly and easy to work with.

Nowadays there is already a lot of woman in VFX. However I would love to see more woman in technical and leading positions overall.

Even though the rigging department is mostly a male crew there is always more or less a handful of female riggers in the team. From my experience a lot of the girls showed a lot of interest in deformation rigging, but others were really ambitious about scripting and control rigging.

I think the position of a Rigging TD appears to be a very technical job until you take a closer look at it. It is a very versatile field in which – mostly if you are in a larger company – you can focus on a subject that really interests you. Some of these are more artistic than others, but scripting and coding can also be seen as a tool to create something beautiful. In the end the technical part of the job is very creative in itself.

Is there something that you see missing in current TD skills or reels?

First of all, I am very guilty of the following myself and I wish had known a few of these points when I put my first reel online 😉

Most rigging reels start with a tPose bipedal character, showing an IK/FK switch, moving the hip around and rushing through the foot poses often followed by three minutes of showing other characters with the same functionality. It seems like a good idea to show that you understood the basics of rigging but does not show anything out of the ordinary. Rather take the time to show that you have build a solid rig and/or found a solution for a specific issue.

I would much more prefer seeing a reel showcasing two to three of someones best pieces, all animated and presented well. A range of motion is quiet easy to animate and viewport 2.0 is a good tool to present a rig. There definitely needs to be enough time taken in the reel to see the deformation of the work and highlight one or two specialties of the rig or an autorigging tool.

Last question – what book are you reading right now or last finished?

I fell in love with Stephen King when I discovered his novel “11/22/63” and finished “Misery” a couple of months ago. After reading several of his books over the past few years I started “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman to give a different author a shot 😉

How can people best find you online?

It’s easiest to give me a shout on linkedin or vimeo, but for a general impression of my work it’s worth taking a look at my website: http://stephiewagner.weebly.com/

Thank you for your time

 

 

Bonus:
Production Discussion

What it was like working on “The Jungle book”

*check out the behind the scenes video to see some of the amazing work from the MPC team including Stephanie.

 

Working on Disney’s “The Jungle Book” was a great opportunity quiet early on in my career. I was lucky enough to work on the show from preproduction to final shot work. The big title of the movie attracted a lot of talent and created excitement within the team and across different departments. Every artist is really ambitious to deliver great and innovative work.

 

The rigging team on the show was amazingly talented and fun to work with. Instead of having one lead we had three leads looking after facial (Nico Sanghrajka), puppet (Andy Phillips) and deformation (James Hood) rigging as well as the character supervisor Ben Jones who had been working in the rigging department for many years himself. They all worked together very well, gave great feedback and kept the team focused.

 

One of the most challenging creatures I worked on was the Pangolin – such an adorable little feller. It was very important that the scales were set up correctly in the rig and not having to be adjusted in techAnim/creatureFX for every shot. In order to do this I am using an inhouse collision deformer on single-sided geometry on each scale and letting the lower plane collide with the ones above it. To create dimension I am pushing out the tip of the scale when the object is compressing. The double-sided geometry is wrapped to each corresponding geometry.

 

Breaking it down in a few steps makes it sound like a simple and straightforward set up but I remember struggling a lot with the skin showing through the scales in certain poses, too much volume being created in certain areas or scales breaking when the limbs were moving far forward.

A few days before the deadline I realized that I had to take a different approach. Instead of having the body drive the scales I needed to let the scales drive the body. I created a very smooth skinning on the entire body and wrapped the covered areas to the scales which works really well.

 

An other character I enjoyed working on and helped me become a better artist was the female white wolf Raksha, who raised Mowgli in the jungle. Working on a hero character is very exciting and it is key to not feel anxious or overwhelmed by the challenge. A hero will have a lot of screen time, close up shots and a wide range of motion. There will be a lot of focus and critique from the supervisors. As a Rigging TD you need to work very closely together with other departments to create something appealing for the big screen.

 

Doing the initial muscleRig was very straight forward, but the finishing touches took a lot more time and effort. Raksha is beautifully groomed so I created shapes to relax and flex her muscles along with wrinkles along the skin as well as skinSliding to bring the fur alive and make her look more believable. I was focused on having her skin feel very smooth and make the bones look very pronounced.

Looking back at my work now I regret not pushing the muscle dynamics and shapes even further to really draw the viewers audience attention onto her. Nowadays I know that it is better to exaggerate and then turn it down more when the first shot renders are done.

Can you talk about the difference between working on a massive VFX film like JungleBook and some of the other types of projects you have worked on?

On smaller projects it is very common to work close together with other departments, especially during the validation phase of the character proportions. Once I recieve a model I lay out a first jointLayout and skeleton geometry to check the overall anatomy and limb length. Afterwards I create a controlRig which I pass on to animation to do some testings and reference line ups.

While animation is working with the first pass of the rig I usually refine the skinning and adjust joint pivots. The skeleton geometry tells me a lot about the current proportions of the character and if it needs to be adjusted by modelling. As I said earlier I like to update the model myself as well and try to create a blendShape of the changes I am proposing or I do a drawing of muscles on top of the model to visualize the adjustments I have in mind. I think it’s important to communicate with modelling and animation a lot during this phase and spot every little issue that might come up in the future.

 

By the time shots pick up there are more and more requests from animation. The animation supervisors usually know what they are looking for. The demands of animation vary from character to character but most of the time their request are minor. Sometimes existing technology needs to be upgraded (a pathRig or extra controls for example) or it can be as simple as showing a different approach to an animator using the current rig. In general I always try to keep in touch with animation and help if there are any issues or requests, such as caching a rig.

 

If later on in the project modelling has to do model updates they usually try to keep the same topology and proportions. Mostly only volume or details gets slightly modified and can easily be updated in the rig. If the proportion are about to change it has to be discussed with animation since updating the joint pivot will affect every shot they have been working on.

In general – and a great part of the job – Riggers deal with many departments on a day to day basis almost towards the end of a movie. It might be a request from lookdev regarding the motion blur of a wheel, or a geometry cache that needs to be done quickly for grooming, a skinFix that can be done quickly in rigging instead of techAnim, and so on. Being hands on is very important but it is also fun to be a big part of the VFX pipeline.

 

 

 

Categories
Blog Post interview rigtip tutorial video

Get to know: Gio Coutinho – Rooster Teeth Productions character TD

We have been talking with Gio for a few months after Brad met her at his visit to Rooster Teeth and seeing her first rigging video, where she did an excellent job in quickly and clearly presenting the technique. She has since created a great series of videos for Autodesk Learning that cover a solid groundwork of foundation rigging techniques and tools in Autodesk Maya.

Here we are happy to share her work and some information about her with you all as a character TD you should know.

Gio Coutinho is a rigging artist at Rooster Teeth Productions. She’s done a variety of rigging work for the web series RWBY, RWBY Chibi and Red vs. Blue, and has also shared some of her rigging techniques and helpful tips on multiple Autodesk video tutorials.
Gio first got into rigging while attending the Savannah College of Art and Design for a degree in animation. Her introductory class on the subject gave her a fascination with the combination of technical and aesthetic art.
From the classroom, she moved to online resources (including the Rigging Dojo!) to expand her knowledge, which she put to practice on multiple student films and games produced at SCAD. The experience acquired through these projects led her to Rooster Teeth, where she’s made extensive rigging contributions, some of which she has shared with the public in the form of tutorials.
The tutorials showcase the Ruby rig used in the Rooster Teeth series RWBY to teach rigging tips and techniques in Maya, including information on blendshapes, rivets, skinning and set driven keys. They were all developed and recorded by Gio to share some of the rigging knowledge she has obtained as a rigging artist, and display how she has used that knowledge to make high quality rigs at Rooster Teeth.

 

Videos shared from http://area.autodesk.com/learning/series/rooster-teeth-maya-tutorials

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #1: Using Blend Shape for the ‘Breeze Effect’

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #2: Using Pose Space Deformers and Set Driven Keys for Easier Animation

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #3: Skinning Tips For Better Rigs

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #4: Skin Fingers Evenly in Maya

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #5: Using Rivets To Enhance Rigs

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #6: Corrective Blendshapes

You can find Gio on twitter @giofcoutinho

And subscribe to her YouTube channel here where you can find her first tutorials that first got our attention.