Looking for an interesting enough topic to share and start a discussion over here, after all it has been a while, I remembered a few chats I've had with some colleagues lately about the future of rigging and I'm curious about your thoughts on this, se here we go... the future of rigging!
If you know me or have ever had a chat with me about this stuff, you will know that I have been thinking about this for a long time, there's even an old entry (a rigger's journey) touching a bit on this subject.
Actually, if you take a second to read my linkedin profile, you will see that one of the first paragraphs goes on me wanting to be part of upcoming changes to rigging (this text has been like this since I created the profile, many years ago).
I look forward to further develop my career as technical artist, I firmly believe that there is much room for improvement on our workflow and the current paradigm in my area of specialization, I want to be part of the change.
And it's not about big words, I really mean it! I'm certain that a revolution is coming, it has to happen, but I wasn't sure what the big changes will look like... until now.
So rigging tech hasn't changed much in the last 10 years, we have more complex assets to work with now, less time, but the tech itself hasn't changed much (other than OSD and some proprietary/patented tech). If anything it is more accessible thanks to the internet and online courses on the subject (not as many as animation or modeling, but you know, there are a few).
So where's the revolution?
Well, ir order to talk about the future we need to take a look at the past... 10 years ago, if you were able to rig an ik/fk limb you were set for success, todays standards, and expectations, are way higher than that.
Right now, riggers are a mix of things, you have to be a bit technical to at least automate things in order to deliver rigs on a reasonable time frame (the complexity of highend rigs demands automation, it's not optional anymore) and artistic enough to hack your way around in order to deliver belieable and appealing deformations.
Said that, riggers do not need to be engineers or sculpters, it's a weird middle ground, and that's exactly what I think is going to change very soon.
If we look at what happened to other areas, it's clear that after some time were artists hacked their way around the tech of the time to get a decent looking product out of the door, there's an inflection point where specialized developers have to step in allowing artists to be artists and engineers to be engineers, hacking stuff around is not enough anymore.
A perfect example of this is shading, some years ago shading artists use to program shaders in interpreted languages and somehow eyeballed surface effects until get with the desired look. Nowadays the complexity and expected quality of shading has forced to move the tech to specialized developers/engineers, we moved from a hacking a shader per lighting condition to photorealism, and the only way to get there was thanks to the split up.
I firmly believe that rigging has reached that inflection point.
I've no idea, all this is pure expeculation, but I think rigging will stop being a mix of things and will get a bit more serious in order to advance the tech behind it... We can't move forward at the speed assets are moving by using constraints and linear skin, or having layered rigs running at 6 FPS.
If you look at rigging openings on big studios you have a clear split between studios looking for artists with some technical skills (great sensibility to achieve appealing deformations, plus some scripting abilities to survive while using proprietary tools) and the ones looking for technical minded people with some artistic sensibility (basically engineers able to create the tech enabling modelers and animators to articulate the puppets in a believable way).
The split is happening and the gap will only increase until we reach the point where the artistic input can be done directly by modelers/animators (there will be an intermediate time where riggers basically assemble rigs from libraries and deal with tech annoyances, wait... that's now! :) )
If you are all about deformations and appealing, I highly recommend to move towards modeling (specifically sculpting), that's really the area where those skills shine (and will keep shining for a while)... Also being familiar with rigging requirements in terms of topology is a big plus!
On the other hand, if you are into technology, I think rigging will become way more close to software dev and knowing 4 things about for loops and variables will not be enough anymore, after all coding is the new literacy and knowing the alphabet will be considered the baseline for most areas sooner than later.
In order to really make this happen, we will need to step up big time and become a developer/engineer (I'm not talking about the degree, but the mindset), have a clear understanding of the main programming paradigms (OOP, pure functional), being able to design reasonable apis, understand data, being able to develop fast code by understanding the hardware (especially GPUs, parallel computing is already a big deal when it comes to deformations).
In short, not cut corners and do the work towards those topics (not dogmas, the real stuff), learn all the lessons we can from software development in order to not make the same mistakes.
There you go, that's my armageddon right there... Of course it will not be black or white, there's a lot of room for all kind of skills on studios of all sizes, but if you really want to have an impact I think the changes are right there around the corner and now is the best time to start shaping your career towards what really moves you.
What do you think? Am I crazy? Please let me know in the comments below :)