I participated in a FROZEN/Pirate Fairy Press Event – Disney provided transportation and accommodations; all opinions are my own. Read more about this event here and by following the hashtag #piratefairybloggers on Twitter.

Character TD Supervisor Keith Wilson explains the rigging process while CG Supervisor Frank Hanner looks on. Disney Animation Rigging Computer - #piratefairybloggers  ad

Character TD Supervisor Keith Wilson explains the rigging process while CG Supervisor Frank Hanner looks on.

When I hear the term “rigging” in regards to a movie, the first thing I think of are actors strapped into harnesses flying above the stage ala Tinker Bell. It turns out that when it comes to animation, rigging is actually the underpinning that gives a character his/her shape and allows them to move.

I found that out and so much more on a recent trip to Walt Disney Studios. It was there I got a chance to try my own hand at character rigging with the popular character Olaf from

.

Disney Character TD Supervisor Greg Smith, CG Supervisor Frank Hanner,  and Character TD Supervisor Keith Wilson

Disney Character TD Supervisor Greg Smith, CG Supervisor Frank Hanner, and Character TD Supervisor Keith Wilson

Disney Animation: What is Rigging?

Here’s how CG Supervisor, Frank Hanner, explains the process, “So without rigging our characters are nothing more than digital sculptures, they can’t move at all. So it really is the rigger’s job to bring them to life and they do that by building skeletons for the characters. They then construct a way to attach the muscles and the skin. And finally they build a set of animation controls that really allow the animators to push and pull a character around through a giant range of motion.”

CG supervisor Frank Hanner - Disney Animation Rigging Computer - #piratefairyblogger

CG Supervisor, Frank Hanner

While Hanner went on to discuss how rigging is done, I got to use the actual software used by Disney riggers to put my character in motion. To do so requires two very large computer monitors and some serious processing power. Much more than most of us ever have access to, but necessary to create the minute details we’ve come to expect from Disney animated films.

That's me in the pink working on animating Olaf. My Day as a Disney Animation Rigger - Olaf from FROZEN

That’s me in the pink working on animating Olaf. That hansom fellow working there? That’s James Zahn, THE ROCK FATHER – check out his take on the day by visiting  http://tinyurl.com/pjgagu8 (or click on the photo to be taken to his site)

While we were provided an easy character to work with, there were still hundreds of choices to make to create his movement. Every joint including his knuckles could be moved individually so that he could perform the exact movement or stance necessary to get the story across.

Disney Animation: Rigging – More Than Adding Movement

But rigging goes beyond simply making a character move. It’s also how hair and clothing gets its personality as well. Hanner went on to explain: “On the clothing front we have a really staggering number, I think two hundred and forty five cloth rigs. That’s two hundred and forty five unique simulated costumes. It is more than double the amount of all of our previous films combined…plus our sixty three hair rigs. Something that made the hair rigs particularly challenging is really that design and the intricacy with which they’re put together. We have a lot of braids, we have a lot of buns, and those are actually difficult to handle in CG, so difficult in fact we ended up having to create a new piece of software that we call Tonic really dealing with constructing our hairstyles.”

Disney Animation Rigging Computer - Hair animation #piratefairybloggers  ad

“We have a lot of braids, we have a lot of buns, and those are actually difficult to handle in CG, so difficult in fact we ended up having to create a new piece of software that we call Tonic really dealing with constructing our hairstyles”

He goes on to share,  “Funny little tidbit on Elsa. She has four hundred and twenty thousand hairs on her head. That’s about four times more than an actual person has. The average person only has about a hundred thousand hairs.”

The rigging process is laborious. For every five to ten seconds a character is seen on screen, a rigging animator has spent about 1-1/2 to 2 weeks to produce it and while the animator’s of today have computers to aid in the process, according to the animators, we should think of their computer systems as a really fancy and complicated pencil that takes a long time to draw what the director and/or screenwriter requests.

Disney Animation Rigging Computer - my workstation -  #piratefairybloggers  ad

Disney Animation Rigging Computer – my workstation

Disney Animation: What Should I Study to Become a Disney Rigger?

So what kind of education do you need to become a Disney Animation rigger? Their backgrounds vary. Some attended liberal arts colleges, others specialized in animation, and some have a more technical background. Having this diverse pool of expertise to pull from gives them a wealth of knowledge to work with.

Disney Animation: My Final Project

Here’s my final animation. Obviously I won’t be hired by Disney any time soon for my rigging skills, but it was a lot of fun bringing Olaf to life.

My Day as a Disney Animation Rigger – Olaf from FROZEN 
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Have you ever wanted to be a Disney Animator?

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