Lindsay Knowler on rigging the world’s most flexible arm


Lindsay Knowler on rigging the world’s most flexible arm

Lindsay Knowler is an 2D rigging expert, trainer and pipeline consultant. Lindsay focuses on helping animators build the skills they need to succeed and works with studios to optimize their 2D pipelines.

Lindsay sat down with Toon Boom Animation’s Lisa Feigl during the 2023 Animation Trends Event to demonstrate her process of rigging an arm in Toon Boom Harmony Premium. Rigging an arm is a fundamental exercise for learning how to create and work with character rigs.

In the Q&A session after the demo, Lindsay offered advice for animation students and artists interested in rigging. The following interview is a transcript adapted from our live conversation.

Livestream interview from Toon Boom Animation’s Animation Trends Event session with Lindsay Knowler.

What do you like about rigging [for 2D animation]?

Lindsay: What I like about rigging is that it’s rare that something’s the same. That’s what I like about this arm – it’s just a really good base to build things onto. When you get into rigging and you get to work with character designs, you’re really bringing those character designs to life. 

So what I love about rigging is looking for those small details. How do I bring life to this character? How can the animator bring life to this character? Because if the animators see something that I don’t, and I don’t give them that ability, we can miss bits. A lot of the little details when you’re watching cartoons, that’s really where the magic is. So I like to bring and put as much of that out there as possible when working in cartoons. That’s definitely my favourite part – the little details.

What are your top pieces of advice for anyone who’s working on rigs?

Lindsay: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Rigging is all about making mistakes, fixing your mistakes and just getting comfortable learning what those mistakes are teaching you. That’s what rigging is. And I find that that’s probably the thing that stops people or holds them back. There’s a bit of fear to get into that node view because they don’t want to make a mistake. But where all the mistakes are, that’s also where the magic is. 

So I’d say get in there and get your hands dirty. It’s why I’m using groups, why I’m setting it up like this, to kind of help people navigate through. Because if you can get comfortable in this tutorial, you’re going to be very comfortable working within node views and networks and getting into bigger and bigger scenes. 

What else? Clean networks! Clean drawings. You want to watch out for digital clutter. You don’t want to have too many contour points. 

Livestream rig-along hosted by Lindsay Knowler, adapting May Wa Leng‘s ‘Kadence the carrot’ design to a 2D rig.

Where did you learn the most? Do you find you made most of those in school? Or was it afterwards? 

Lindsay: Every mistake I made was on the job. That’s where you make the mistakes. We didn’t learn too much rigging in school. And when I learned rigging ten years ago, there was nothing online. And so it was, “Ask the person next to you” and “figure it out for yourself,” and “hit your quota by Friday.” 

You want to get home. So that’s very motivating.

What would you recommend to people who are new to the industry and would like to become a rigging artist?

Lindsay: Animation demo reels have been around forever but rigging demo reels are now around. So if you wanted to get into rigging, I would say create a rigging demo reel as best you can. What that does is it gets you past the HR department. They don’t know the technical side, so it’s going directly to the supervisor. 

So If you want to bypass a lot of those gatekeepers, a demo reel for rigs is pretty good. And if you can’t do that, if you’re already in the animation industry, I would say talk to your producer and get transferred into the department. 

Livestream rig-along hosted by Lindsay Knowler, adapting Brett Geister‘s ‘skeleton in a cardigan’ character design to a 2D rig.

Do you have any advice for creating a demo reel?

Lindsay: Yeah, if you’re putting a demo reel together, I think that showing how flexible the rig is can be good. You want to rig as similar as possible to the area of the industry that you’re trying to get that job in. So you kind of have to have a little bit of insider information. 

That’s where you get online and you can ask people, or you can watch people’s videos. I think people are pretty open about where they work, which is a good way to judge.

Do you have any tips on networking? Are there specific platforms you use? 

Lindsay: That’s a tough question. I think that for networking, social media is probably the best. I think it’s easier than ever to reach out to artists working in studios. 

People can be a little bit more uncomfortable with making moves like reaching out to those artists. That’s the harder move for me to make. But I think that’s a really good one. Because you might be able to get direct feedback about the style and what’s happening in that studio. Not everybody can give you that time, obviously. And you don’t want to be too pushy, in terms of getting advice, because that’s not how you’re gonna get into the animation industry either. 

Also for networking, this book was recommended to me by someone who worked at Bento Box. It’s Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive by David B. Levy, which is a fantastic read. [You can read Toon Boom Animation’s interview with the author here.]

Livestream rig-along hosted by Lindsay Knowler, adapting Luis Gadea‘s ‘Girl_07’ character design to a 2D rig.

What other books and communities are out there?

Lindsay: There’s also Joshua Pinker’s book, Your Animated Journey. Another book that I really liked was Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace. Maybe that is more for supervisors, but this is a fantastic read on how Pixar runs, how to talk to artists and how to work together.

Now that more artists are either working remotely or hybrid, is there anything you’d recommend for supervisors? 

Lindsay: That’s a tough question for supervisors. I recommend really getting to know your team. Really getting to know how your individual teammates run, how they function and, and checking up on them. I think that’s the best way to consistently hit your deadlines and to help them progress in their careers. 

It can be very challenging. I think that was the hardest part of the pandemic — connecting with your colleagues through these screens. We really had to learn how to do that all over again. 

And you want to make sure that you’re including your whole team in any decision that you’re making. So you always want to make the decisions in their best interests so that they can do the work for you. That’s number one. Learning how to do that is the hardest part but it’s definitely possible. 

What’s next for you? What are you thinking of doing for the next couple of months?

Lindsay: Oh, good question. I’m working with studios, helping them optimize their pipelines. I also work with supervisors, to help them get to know their teams and help them realize how to get in there. A lot of times people don’t want to feel like they’re put on the spot. 

How do I help people go to work and remain happy so that they can do their best jobs? I think that’s probably my biggest goal. And everything kind of revolves around that right now.

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