Plamen Ananiev and Heather Vogel on rigging Goyle Girl


Plamen Ananiev and Heather Vogel on rigging Goyle Girl

Plamen Ananiev is a rigging artist and animator and Heather Vogel is a senior game artist and designer. Both are based in the UK. We invited Plamen and Heather to join us for our Rig Show & Tell livestream series on Twitch. In the series, artists walk through the process of building and designing their character rigs in Toon Boom Harmony.

In this instalment of Rig Show & Tell, Heather shared the inspiration behind the character Goyle Girl and her process that went into designing the character. Plamen shared details about his rigging process, and particularly his use of master controllers in the rig. You can read selected transcripts from the interview below or watch the Rig Show & Tell in its entirety on YouTube. 

Visit Toon Boom Animation’s YouTube channel to view our recorded livestream interviews.

What does a typical day as a technical animator look like?

Plamen: It varies a little bit depending on what studio you’re at. But generally, my day to day job is to wrangle the pipeline of the show, between animation, effects, and the comp departments. My main goal is to make sure that the project is flowing from one department to another in an orderly, streamlined way. I do a few other things on the side as well, for example, I help out the tech director with side rig testing. It’s a mixed bag of tasks.

What led to you designing the Goyle Girl character? Can you take us on a tour of the design materials?

Heather: It’s a bit of a weird story because this character wasn’t one we intended to animate. She was basically born of the lockdowns, when we couldn’t do much of anything and were always bored. I had two friends I was hanging out with, and we’d come up with this joke that one of them was the King of Streatham. He had studied model making and architecture, so while we walked around, he would point out that he wouldn’t have put those trees here, or that path there. 

The joke snowballed from there into us joking about needing someone to patrol the area for wrongdoers during lockdown. That’s how Goyle Girl came to us. Her name is basically just a shortened play on the word gargoyle. Goyle Girl goes around sitting on people’s walls, looking out for people doing wrong, like littering, or pigeons sitting in the wrong place, or old ladies parking in the wrong parking spots. 

And of course, Goyle Girl needed a lookout. I thought about what a hidden away kind of character would look like, one that isn’t noticed much. And I thought of flamingos! But those lawn ornament flamingoes. That’s how Goyle Girl’s sidekick Mingo came to be, and the gang of three characters was complete. 

Plamen Ananiev walks viewers through the features of the Goyle Girl rig made using Toon Boom Harmony.

What drew you to this character design?

Plamen: There were a few particular things that drew me to Goyle Girl over the other characters. She is a bit simpler in terms of silhouette, and she’s made up of fairly simple shapes. But at the same time, her design is super appealing. I knew she was perfect for what I wanted to do with the rig, like playing around with master controllers.

There were also stylistic aspects of Goyle Girl that I found really interesting. For example, she has a very sharp elbow that has no outline, unless the elbow bends and two colours overlap. That was an interesting challenge I wanted to take on. 

Which elements of this character design are you most proud of?

Heather: My favorite thing about her is her silhouette. She has a strong silhouette, which I think is really important for character design, because it helps to distinguish characters from each other. And, I love her costume. It’s super simple, and to be honest, not that amazing. But I wanted it to be that way. To have a bit of a homemade feel, as though she literally just grabbed things out of her closet.

Character designs of Goyle Girl, Mingo and the King of Streatham, shared by Heather Vogel during the Rig Show & Tell session.

Can you take us on a tour of the Goyle Girl rig, and highlight your favourite features of the rig?

Plamen: Sure! I’ll start by saying that I haven’t had the opportunity to use master controllers and sliders a whole lot, so I wanted to try that out specifically when building Goyle Girl. That said, I do have a bunch of old school panels floating around, just because I find them useful. And for some things, I find them faster than using a slider. 

In the control panel of the rig, there’s a general turnaround slider, which is pretty straightforward. Then I’ve split off her body as upper body, lower body and head. So basically, each of them will only do a turnaround for that particular part. 

My favourite slider that I created is the squat slider. I wanted to play around with this one just to see how useful it would be in a production. The slider moves Goyle Girl into a squat, but it also works with the turnaround slider, so she can squat in various turnaround positions. I’m not sure this will be useful, I just wanted to try it out.

Then we’ve got Goyle Girl’s head. There’s a slider for the mouth, for her eyelids, and for the pupils of her eyes. There are sliders to control each individual eyelid, and a slider that controls both.  

One thing I was struggling with was that if I adjusted Goyle Girl’s facial expression using the sliders, but then adjusted the keyframe to, for example, nudge the head a bit, everything would snap back to default. Which makes sense, that’s how master controllers are meant to work. To get around this, I created two almost identical master controllers. One of them doesn’t affect any of her facial features, or deformers on her face. I found this very useful when actually animating Goyle Girl.  

This rig also has a bunch of floating hands and feet. This is something I’ve done before in productions and I find it super useful for making sure something, like a foot, is really planted. I can switch on and off different feet, and kind of move the character around into different poses, without that foot ever moving from where it’s planted. I like having this option for hands and feet because keeping them planted is something I sometimes struggle with when animating. 

Another aspect of Goyle Girl I think is interesting is that she has some constraints going. Because her hair is so puffy, I thought it was a good idea to have a bit of a bouncy constraint to it. It works pretty nicely! You don’t have to do too much animation with other physical envelopes as well. 

Plamen Ananiev shared a peek at the Goyle Girl rig during the Rig Show & Tell session. Note the slider controllers for the turnaround, lower body and eyes.

How was this similar to or different from characters you usually work with in productions? 

Plamen: Goyle Girl was quite similar to the characters I work on in productions. In terms of the setup of the rig, everything is where you would expect to find it. The main difference with her was the use of master controllers, and actually, this rig would be entirely usable even without the master controllers. I think they just add a bit of extra usability to the rig. 

This rig took me a little longer than I would have liked, because there was a lot of back and forth with me working out the master controllers. But since I hadn’t worked much with them before, I was getting used to them. And I’m glad that I did them, because it was a great test for me to see if I can use them on productions.  

Heather: I work in games, and the process for us is a little bit different from how it’s done in animation production. In working with Plamen on Goyle Girl, the biggest difference was that I had to supply him with the rough character sketches for the turnaround, like the head tilts.

When I work in games, I have to create the final, finished pieces myself, all done in Photoshop. That’s why I’m very particular about naming everything. Everything has to be named so that when I hand the pieces over, there’s no confusion as to what they are. I create every single possible asset that the animator will need to animate the character, or things in the background.

Plamen, if you could go back in time to the start of making this rig, what advice would you give yourself?

Plamen: Definitely to prep everything before making master controllers. I was so excited to make them that I started on them before I’d properly done the groundwork. I was making the master controllers as I was doing the rig. This led to way more redoing, going back and forth, than there should have been. For example, I got excited about seeing her turn around before I’d put her lids in. That was a whole saga there.

Goyle Girl character sketches shared by Heather Vogel during the Rig Show & Tell session.

Heather, is there anything you’ve learned from the process of making these characters that has informed how you approach character design?

Heather: I tend to be hard on myself, especially in the beginning of a project. For example, I always think my initial sketches are bad. Working on this project definitely helped me get out of my head a little bit, and get over the artistic block that I had been struggling with. I was able to move past worrying about what I was putting down on paper, and just get my ideas out. And I’ll be honest, the initial drawings were awful. I had to remind myself that they were just exploration, and keep working on them, keep iterating. It’s okay to start out with bad drawings. You have to start somewhere. 

What are common misconceptions might viewers have about cutout characters?

Plamen: I’ve noticed that there’s this assumption that rigs make the movement of a character look wooden or janky. This can definitely be true, but I think it really depends on the animator. A good animator who has a strong understanding of motion and pausing will be able to use the rig just to make things faster. Riggers know this, so when we are rigging, our main goal is to make a rig that will make the animator’s job easier and faster. 

Heather: People outside the industry might think that cutout animation is old fashioned. They might not realize that animation technology today is so much more versatile and advanced. There are so many incredible softwares and tools now, like master controllers and deformers. You can really make animation look three-dimensional and fluid. Advancements in technology have also evolved what animators and designers do. We have to think outside of the box about how we can best use the tools we have to make the animation look good. 

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