Visual effects (VFX)

Rigging technical director (TD)

Also known as: Rigging artist, TD rigging artist

Rigging technical director (TD)

What does a rigging TD do?

Rigging technical directors create digital skeletons for 3D computer-generated (CG) models. They program these ‘rigs’ or puppets so that they move in a realistic way. This underlying skeleton is then used by animators as the basis for their movements.

Rigging TDs typically receive a 3D CG model in a static pose, drawn by a modeller. They may also receive facial shapes and expressions of the characters. They then work out how the bones move when the character runs or smiles and create a computer programme that simulates that.

Animators test rigs and then give feedback to rigging TDs, who will complete any requested fixes and the process will continue until both parties are happy with the rigged models (the 3D puppets).

Rigging TDs can be employed by VFX studios or work as freelancers.

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What’s a rigging TD good at?

  • Programming and coding skills: have advanced knowledge of programming in C++ and Python with a very high level of technical ability, be able to use a variety of relevant software such as Houdini, Maya and Nuke
  • Working to deadlines: work within given time frames, be able to complete work under pressure, be organised
  • Collaboration and communication: be able to work with other VFX artists, use each other’s resources effectively and efficiently
  • Science: have a good understanding of anatomy, physics and how things move
  • Problem-solving: find solutions as quickly as possible to support the needs of modellers and animators, relating to the rigging process

Who does a rigging TD work with?

Rigging TDs work under the management of a VFX supervisor. They regularly communicate with the production management department and VFX supervisor about schedules and deadlines.

They also work with modelling artists to refine and improve upon the 3D models so they are best fit for purpose. And they work with animators, who test the rigs to check that they offer the right kinds of articulation and movement for the given project.

How do I become a rigging TD?

You need to have a few years’ worth of experience working as a VFX artist in order to become a TD, as it is a more senior role.

A good route into this role is to gain experience working as a modelling artist or texturing artist first. You might start off as a runner in a VFX company.

The role of rigging TD involves a mix of art and technological competencies. You need to develop both technical skill and an appreciation for existing VFX. Knowledge of scripting languages such as Python and C++ and the software Maya and Houdini is essential.

There are degree courses available in computer programming, computer science or animation, which would all provide you with useful experience and knowledge towards becoming a rigging TD.

At school or college:
You can take A-levels or Highers in art and design, graphic communication, computer science, maths or physics. Or you might want to take the following Level 3 vocational qualification:

  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Computing

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • Aim Awards Diploma/Extended Diploma in Games Animation and VFX
  • BTEC National Diploma in Digital Games Design and Development
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Visual Effects
  • BTEC National Diploma in Computing for Creative Industries
  • AQA Technical Level Entertainment Technology: Video Games Art and Design
  • AQA Technical Level Entertainment Technology: Video Games Art and Design Production
  • OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Digital Content for Interactive Media)
  • OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
  • AQA Technical Level IT: Programming
  • OCR Technical Diploma in IT (Digital Software Practitioner)

Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training. They’re a great opportunity to earn while you learn. NextGen Skills Academy offers VFX apprenticeships  for school leavers. These involve a lot of learning on the job working in a VFX company.

If you can’t find an apprenticeship with a VFX company, it might be worth getting an apprenticeship in a related industry, which could give you the experience you need to find your way into VFX at a later point.

These are the relevant apprenticeships that might be available throughout the UK:

In Scotland, you might be able to find degree-level apprenticeships through the following frameworks:

  • IT and Software Development (SCQF Level 10, Scotland)

Before taking any apprenticeship, check what you’ll be learning with your prospective employer and college, so you can be sure it will be giving you the skills you want. Go to how to become an apprentice to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region or approach companies directly.

Build a portfolio:
If you intend to get into this role through being a VFX artist, you will need to create a portfolio. Learn how to use, and then experiment with, VFX programs and create a showreel that you can show to admissions tutors or employers. Go to build your VFX portfolio to learn how. Watch ScreenSkills’ advice on VFX showreels. It’s really important to develop your appreciation for VFX. Make sure you’re familiar with what’s out there.

Get a degree:
A degree in computer graphics or computer science, or a related discipline such as mathematics, physics or information technology is relevant to this job. Or you might want to have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in VFX. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the VFX industry.

Network:
Get to know people in VFX by attending events. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest and knowledge in the sector. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.

Search for jobs:
Research VFX companies that you’d like to work for. Go to their websites and check if they are advertising for junior technical roles. You could also contact companies to see if you can do a work experience placement with them. Search job websites for listings. ArtStation is a good example of a site that includes job listings in animation, games and VFX (remember to filter its job listings by country). ScreenSkills offers some advice from professionals on how to approach animation and VFX employers.

You might also be interested in…

Being a creature TD, effects TD, layout TD, lighting TD or pipeline TD. Or being a technical artist, graphics programmer or another kind of programmer in the games industry. You might also want to be an animation TD or an effects (FX) TD in the animation industry.

Further resources