Tuesday, 02 April 2013.

Interview with iAnimate Rigging instructor Jonah Austin

Rigging and Animation

We had the opportunity to chat and learn a little more about iAnimate Rigging instructor Jonah Austin.

JonahAustin blog-interview

Hey Jonah, tell us about your experience on Beowulf and Benjamin Button as a technical animator and what led you to those great production.

Yeah, well first I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I focused on experimental and traditional animation.  I took many figure drawing and anatomy classes which would be crucial later in my career. Then I moved to LA to study at Gnomon School of Visual Effects to learn Maya. Fortunately I had a great instructor, Rick Grandy, who turned me onto rigging. I had no idea what it was, but the dual technical and artistic aspects of it intrigued me. I worked hard in class and got my first job at Sony Pictures Imageworks as a technical animator (rigger). First I had to learn MEL scripting in about a week. I had very little scripting experience but the senior guys helped me a lot and I picked it up out of necessity.  While there, I was also trained in Sony's proprietary facial rigging solution. That’s when I became a facial TD on Beowulf, which was a great education in the Uncanny Valley. After that I moved to Digital Domain and work for Steve Preeg on the Curious Case of Benjamin Button for 2 years.  That was an amazing experience with amazing results. I feel like that was probably the most elegant rigging solution in production. Then I transitioned onto Tron:Legacy and rigged over 80 assets from Rinzler's digital double to giant floating rocks and everything in between.  It was on Tron that I switched from rigging to animation, it led me to land a Lead Animator position at MPC (The Moving Picture Company).

Do you feel those technical skills are important for animators, and can this work still be creative?

For sure! The technical background that I have has been fundamental to my success as an animator.  I am able to use my rigging knowledge to get the most out of a character rig.  I'm able to debug any aspect of the rig so I never have to wait for help if something goes wrong.  Knowing MEL, I am able to create tools for myself that speed up my workflow tremendously.  Working in a modern feature film pipeline can be a very complex process for an animator who doesn't know how the system works.  There are many proprietary tools at the different studios which can be quite unintuitive.  I feel like being able to read the code gives me a greater insight into how a tool works.  Also my artistic skills make me a better rigger.  Knowing the needs of an animator I can design my rigs to be more animator friendly.  My drawing and anatomy classes in art school were critical in understanding how body mechanics work and how a rig should move.  My favorite part of rigging is creating the deformations of a character.  I get to use my creative eye in sculpting these characters in motion.  Rigging is fascinating as there is always a new challenge or puzzle to figure out.  I think the reward in figuring out a new technique or making a complex system work is as rewarding as creating a great pose or performance with a rig.

What qualities are required to succeed in this field of expertise?

To be successful as a rigger takes patience and creativity.  The technical parts are all skills you can learn.  When I started I had very little technical experience.  Being patient I was able to keep trying no matter how many syntax errors or flipping constraints I had.  It feels great once you get an IK system to work properly or you create a great looking deformation.  The rigger brings life to a static model which is essential part of the pipeline.  

Did new technologies affected your work over the years?

Since technology is constantly changing, a rigger has to learn new skills all the time.  I'm working in a Unity pipeline currently and it's been great coming up with new solutions to the unique challenges of changing media.  More and more CG representations and avatars are entering our lives and it's great to be a part of the process.  The role of the rigger will only get more essential as better looking characters and processor speeds allow incredible deformations.  Just this week, Paul Debevec and ICT debuted an amazing CG human which renders in real time! Pretty cool stuff.

Any word for students who might be interested to have more information about your rigging workshop with iAnimate?

Having experience in animation and rigging gave me great perspective to build those workshop. Obviously my experience on Beowulf and Benjamin Button as a facial technical animator also helped me to build the facial rigging workshop.

For more information just follow the link to iAnimate rigging page: http://www.ianimate.net/workshops/rigging.html

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