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Carey Bryson

Wreck-It Ralph: Rigging

By February 27, 2013

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Did you know that CG animated characters are kind of like puppets? On my recent trip to Disney Animation Studios to learn about the making of Wreck-It Ralph, we learned about a step in the animation process called rigging. After the character has been developed (see Ralph progression images) and modeled, the filmmakers have a 3D version of the character, but it can't do anything, so it's not ready to sent to animators yet. First, the virtual "puppet strings" have to be added to the character, and that is called "rigging."

Rigging a character is what allows the character to move -- from the smallest lift of an eyebrow to things like running or jumping. Think of all the muscles in the human body, and all the tiny little movements just the human face can make. Also, think of someone who has had Botox and can't move the muscles in their face naturally at first. It looks weird, right? Something seems not right about it. Well, in order to create convincing characters, animators have to make sure the character is rigged so that his movements look perfectly natural and his facial expressions look genuine. It's an involved process and must be unique to each character, because if the rigging gets too complicated, the character is much more difficult to animate. So the filmmakers must decide exactly what a character needs to do and the types of expressions he will make, and they they rig the character with movement points so that animators can animated the face and body as needed.

The photo above is an already rigged Ralph, which I got to try animating. In order to make Ralph move, I had to click on the little circles and tell each part of the body what to do. I tried to make Ralph do the Saturday Night Fever dance. But, I couldn't just click on the arms and drag them around with the mouse. I had to animated each part of the arm and tell it what to do, because otherwise the movements wouldn't look natural in 3D. My Ralph's movements didn't look too natural anyway, but trying out the animation step proved how difficult it is to do and gave me a new perspective on the work that we take for granted as we sit and watch characters in a movie move around on screen like they were filmed doing those actions in real life.

*Wreck-It Ralph is now available through digital download, and the Blu-ray and DVD will be released March 5.

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Disclosure: Disney provided travel and expenses for this press trip. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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March 4, 2013 at 8:58 am
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