Q&A: Using generic rigs

Q. I was wondering if you had any idea about how recruiters react when seeing generic rigs in the demo reels they receive. I heard that they lose interest as soon as they see animation created using certain “free online rigs”.

A. I’ve had this very conversation during a review because I had heard that same thing. Here’s what I said:

The reason why a person would react negatively to seeing a generic rig is because so much of the animation done with the generic rigs is bad. That’s because anyone can get them and animate. It has nothing to do with the rigs. It has to do with the expectation associated with that rig. I can guarantee that if a review board popped in a reel that started with a generic rig like the “blue guy” and then from frame one it instantly came to life and was well animated and entertaining, they would not only watch it, but they would have an even stronger positive reaction to it. That’s because it would stand apart from all the junky animation tests they usually associate with that rig. It would seem even more impressive because it would prove that good animation CAN be done with that rig – and that’s certainly something that reviewers don’t see every day.

So don’t shy away from generic rigs, but run screaming from doing bad animation with them.

16 Comments on “Q&A: Using generic rigs

  1. That definitely makes sense and it’s understandable that a prospective employer would be tired of seeing the same rigs over and over.

    I’m gonna state the obvious here but if you at least one original character in your reel, make sure it’s the first thing they see, that way they won’t feel bored to death if Generi (the blue guy) appears on screen all of a sudden.


  2. I’m gonna have to disagree with Carl about the reel suggestion. You don’t want to order your reel based on the characters in it. You want to order your reel based on quality. The very first thing needs to be the best thing on your reel. They have a lot of reels to go through and if it’s not worth their time right away, it’s getting the eject button. So if the best animation on your reel uses a generic rig, put it first anyway!

    And then put your second best thing last so you hook em again at the end. 😉

  3. I agree with Cristin.

    Hands down put your best stuff first. If you don’t hook them in the first 6 seconds you may lose ’em!

    Thanks for the advice Clay!

  4. I’m gonna agree with Cristen, and not just because she is my classmate at animationmentor.com 😉

    I think your concern should be quality of animation over anything else. Even flower sack animations can look stunning, and at one point, those were all over student reels.


  5. Obviously the animation is the most important thing but I disagree on one of Cristin’s points. Don’t save your second best for the end because the reviewer may not make it that far. You have to lead them along, so start with your strongest to hook them, follow with a couple things that aren’t going to turn them away, then get some back to the strong stuff and if you have some things that may not be the greatest but you’re still emotionally attached to, put those at the end. I’ve also seen a few reels where the person put their short film on the end. That’s a good approach, I think, because if the animation tests were interesting enough, the reviewer will want to watch the short. But, if the short is at the head, the reviewer has no idea of how long it will go and they may not be willing to take a chance on spending the time to watch enough to get a good impression.

  6. Sorry for not making myself clear enough in my post. You’re absolutely right about the quality Cristin, spot on. Again, I thought that since it was the rigs appearing in the reel that we are discussing I could go without saying that a reel should always order the clips from highest quality to low.

    So yeah, I thought that much what be obvious so I sort of left out saying that. Of course, if your absolutely BEST animation was made with a generic rig that doesn’t mean you should push it back in favour of an original character; let quality always be the deciding factor behind the order you show your animations on your reel. =)


  7. This is an excellent question; thanks for addressing this issue, Clay.
    Generic rigs are great because they allow a person to focus strictly on animation.. But, would having an original rig tailored to a specific piece give you an edge on your reel? Or a big enough edge? In other words, can a rig be on the same level as actor casting for a specific plot? If they’re truly “generic” they’ll ultimately work for any given situation, but I would start to look at them more as a swiss army knife.. it’ll get the job done, but it won’t be pretty..

  8. This is a more complicated question than it appears.

    On a basic level, if you can animate well no one cares if you use a generic rig. Rigging is a highly specialized art form, and few people can rig really well — even those with jobs. If you want to animate learn to animate well.

    Now, it is helpful to have a small working knowledge of rigging. And it should not take so long to build a better rig and model than what most schools provide. Usually they are quite awful.

    The problem is, whenever I see school models and rigs in animated clips that are obviously from some class assignment, rarely (and I can’t think of even one case) have they had any positive impact on me. They immediately alert me to sophomoric animation that I would rather not be faced with sitting through. They do breed an immediate snooze factor. But if the animation is striking, we can get past that. However, if you really are good at animation you’re going to have a lot of animation mileage behind you, and I doubt you’ll be happy or inspired to animate the same ugly rigs for that length of time. School rigs = school animation.

    If you’re animation level is maturing, you will find a way to get better models and rigs, whether you do them yourself or get them from a friend. For certain, your rigs will be basic, but a decent basic rig can showcase your animation skills. Don’t get too fancy. Keep it simple.

    Again, if someone took the time to build their own character and apply rigging, even if the joint deformations aren’t perfect, the animation can still sing. We don’t expect student level rigs to be perfect.

    Viewing reels is time-consuming, and usually the person reviewing has a hundred other things to do, so put your best stuff right away — you’ve got 10 seconds.

  9. If this was the case, they’d be getting sick of Bishop as well, yea? I guess my point is, if the animation is strong, use it, if not, lose it.

  10. With so many choices in the free rigs available, I am sure that you can definitely choose the rig that suits the animation that you want to do, thereby breaking away from the trend of doing animation with just the “blue generi” rig or “Bishop” rig.

    At the end of the day, the person watching it is not gonna care if you created your own rig or used someone else, because as a professional animator you are always gonna be using someone else rig anyways.


  11. I think its been said here already before, but just to touch on it again, I think its fine to use generic rigs that you can find online, I have been hired at a few jobs using nothing but the peter starostin rig for 3dmax, when you get hired as an animator, thats what you do animate, if you want to get a job as a character designer, or a character TD then build and design your own rigs. So possible employers may see the same rig over and over again, I actually think this is a good thing, then it forces them to not get wrapped up in its design and look but rather its emotion and acting and how the character is feeling.

  12. I think all the comments so far are on the money as far quality up front. Don Dixon does bring up a real good point that I agree with, though. I’ve looked at tons of reels and have seen the blue guy all over the place. When I do I just figure that this person is an animator and not a rigger. The fact that I’ve seen it so many times, both well and poorly animated, makes it more “generic” which helps me focus on the performance only.

  13. As an employee I think that the reels with generic rigs and/or openGL rendering are great to watch. It really helps you to concentrate on what you are looking for when you want to hire talented animators.
    In generic rig/openGL reels I don’t have to worry about being distracted by another things than animation itself.

  14. I know how frustrated and switched off I get while looking at the same old rigs on YouTube, floating around or moving like robots. That’s what it must be like looking through reels for recruiting.

  15. Well,

    Good animation is good animation. However, if one takes just that little bit extra time to customize the ‘look’ of the rigs, even if they are the free ones, it goes a long way i think. The animation mentor showcase is a good example of that. same rigs, colours and costumes changed (in a very basic way) and voila, it works! Ofcourse, the key is good animation.

    Even with so many free rigs, not all of them are strong enough. So, I usually end up with 4 or 5 rigs to play with. Still, with rendering tweaks, texture changes and simple prop additions, the whole thing can be made really interesting.

    my 2 cents.