Interview Disclaimer : The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Technicolor’s positions, strategies, or opinions.
Just as old habits die hard, childhood interests come back to bite you long after you have settled in life with a decent job!
Subbu Addanki, our next pathbreaker, Character Animator & Rigger, brings characters to life through simulated 3D models using a series of interconnected digital bones.
Subbu talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about finally taking the plunge into the world of animation in his mid-30s driven by the desire to continue what he did best, sketching/ drawing, ever since he was 7 years old.
For students, never underestimate your childhood interests. You never know when they will come back to haunt you. And remember, it is never too late until you think it is …
Subbu, tell us about your background?
I have a strong passion to create complex rigs and develop tools with simple interfaces to automate various pipeline tasks for VFX, Animation & Gaming industries.
I believe a good rig/ character is something that adapts to any scene, will act best in a simple walk cycle or a complex action sequence with lots of cloth simulation and interactions.
I was born and brought up in Athota village. I belong to a middle-class family living in Guntur Dist, AP. My parents are farmers and run a small business. I have two siblings, one elder sister, and a younger brother.
Basically I was from an automobile background before joining animation. I completed my Diploma in Automobile Engineering (DAE) at Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh in the year 1995. After that, I worked as a Product Support Engineer with GMMCo Ltd, a major dealer in India for Caterpillar earthmoving machines, for a period of 9 years. During this time, I travelled a lot in South India while working for various clients..
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
I completed my diploma in automobile engineering (DAE) after my schooling. I worked with GMMCo Ltd for 9 years (1997-2006). In the year 2006, I joined RACE Animation College at Somajiguda, Hyderabad, wherein I studied animation for 1.5years with Rigging as my specialization.
What is 3D Rigging For Animation & Character Design?
Rigging is a technique used in skeletal animation for representing a 3D character model using a series of interconnected digital bones. Specifically, rigging refers to the process of creating the bone structure for a 3D model. This bone structure along with controls is used to manipulate the 3D model like a puppet for animation.
Why did you choose Rigging as a specialization in animation college?
Many a time, I thought about it but was not sure. When I joined the animation college, I chose ‘Animation’ as a specialisation. During this time, I had a story in mind and wanted to make it as a reel. The concept is “Birth Of Moon” – In simple words, the story is all about “There are the days, where there is no moon. Later, how the moon is born…” I started this with some sketches.
But I realised that, It involves a lot of teamwork. Being a student in animation college, I thought I couldn’t make it happen due to the time constraints.
When I was half-way through the animation course, I started spending more time on Rigging. One day when my faculty asked me, I said Rigging is my specialisation with a great smile on my face 🙂 This probably happened because I worked as a Product Support Engineer in GMMCo Ltd for 9 years with a lot of interest in trouble-shooting. That experience made me choose rigging characters and later helped me troubleshoot various issues arising during the pipeline. One more thing, I got 2nd rank at state level in Diploma in Automobile Engineering 🙂
Soon I realised that I was very happy doing R&D to discover new rigging techniques. I also developed one small tool for my rigging process simultaneously. During that time, I did a lot of R&D in learning Mel scripting along with my friend Murthy Putrevu – Integration Supervisor. Murthy Putrevu and I studied together in the same year. I am remembering those days now 🙂
This is my first Mel tool for rigging, Which I developed during college time. I am still using some of the functions from this tool in my daily works.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
I was very impressed with the movie “Incredibles” because the animation looked realistic and good. Soon I realised that moving to an art-based career is the only option to be happy in my day-to-day work. The following experiences also helped me come to the final conclusion about my career-shift.
I was exhausted with a lot of travelling in the Automotive sector. I was travelling nearly 25 days in a month!
Working conditions were very tough and air pollution was also a concern in opencast mines as compared to the outside world. After working for 10 hours a day, I used to come home many times at 9 pm and subsequently get calls from the office to travel the same night to another city to work on different machines, without proper sleep. Soon, I realised that this kind of routine was going to be a major safety and health-related issue, if I continue working like this on heavy-duty machines and engines without proper sleep.
One day I had been waiting for my family members at the theatre to watch a movie. Instead of waiting, I just went into a bookstall and saw a few animation movie advertisements in a weekly magazine. The cartoons of the famous characters Lava & Kusha, from Indian mythology, sons of Lord Rama got my attention. The sketches of these characters inspired me a lot to step into the animation industry.
Couple of years ago, my friend Prathap Mule, who is a colleague in GMMCo Ltd, successfully made his career shift from Product Support Engineer to IT Professional. Now he has been working in USA for many years
Our memories from GMMCo training … Year 1997
These were the combined experiences that made me quit my job in the year 2006. During discussions with my family members that day, I came to know about the animation industry, through my brother-in-law, Naresh Gandam.
These experiences made me decide my calling in the animation industry and rigging as my strong point.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
As I had mentioned above, though I started my career in the Automobile industry, I have enjoyed sketching/ drawing ever since I was 7 years old. I joined animation college at the age of 32. My kids were studying 1st & 3rd grades at that time. I was skeptical about leaving my current job and studying animation for one and half years without a job while continuing my kids’ education in the greater Hyderabad city. That’s when my wife Prasanna Addanki,
currently working as a freelance rigging artist and knowing my strengths, suggested that I should and can do this. That’s when I resigned from my current job and joined animation college within the next two days. This is all possible with the support from my wife and blessings from my parents and god.
When I came to the final decision about a career shift, I gathered all my family members and discussed it with them. My family became my pillar of strength as they supported me during that one and half years of study time without a job in Hyderabad. Actually I enjoyed studying animation a lot, I even forgot that I don’t have a job.
There are few main departments in Animation Pipeline, they are modelling, rigging, animation, texturing, lighting and rendering. Animation and other departments have more jobs compared to rigging. In general, for 5 to 10 animators, there will be one rigger in a company. Rigger provides rigs to these animators.
Along with a resume, an artist needs to present his/ her work in video form. That’s called Showreel. When one has studied for 1 and half years in an Animation college, an animation company expects some good work from you. A showreel is the one, which can represent what you learned and implemented practically.
Firefly was my first job. I remembered the days where I was searching for a job. I started with submitting my resume along with showreel at DQ Entertainment, Hyderabad first. At that time, only one rigging artist position was available in the Hyderabad region. That was at Firefly (I know this, as I went to all VFX and Animation companies in Hyderabad to submit my resume during that time)
Few students, with rigging specialization, had attended this interview. I was one of them and finally got the job. I remembered that day, when I attended the interview.
I am explaining here how I got the job.
I made sure the following important things are there in my showreel. As a beginner, for the Rigging Artist position, I thought following categories are must in a rigging reel.
- One human rig with all necessary controls and proper deformation for animators
- One facial rig, to prove that I did some R&D to learn facial expressions which are needed in the rig for facial animation
- One mechanical rig to prove that I can rig mechanical objects also, as I came from automobile background
- One cartoony style rig, to prove that I can provide a rig with a little exaggerated control on all parts of the rig
- One User Interface (UI developed in Mel Scripting) for animator’s help, so that animators can pick-up a few controls quickly from the UI.
I made sure that my showreel duration is around 3 to 5 minutes. A VFX supervisor expects that there is quality work in that 3 to 5 minutes. The best work of mine was kept in the first one minute duration. Why, because If a VFX/ Rigging supervisor gets bored of watching that first minute in showreel, he may not see the remaining part of the showreel. I had planned the content for this reel from the beginning of my animation course. So, planning is also very important, regarding the content that should be there in the reel.
Otherwise, we can’t get some quality work suddenly into our reel in the last minute. In simple words, “Your showreel should represent your passion about the work you are doing”
When I was working as a senior rigger at Firefly Creative Studio, Hyderabad, I was the only rigger for nearly 10+ animators. I was resolving issues arising from day to day work. This is one of the reasons I was doing regular R&D to understand the latest developments in rigging and the pipeline. During this time, I was building auto rigging tools to speed up the work, as I was the only rigger. Sometimes I was handling double the work using my tools, whereas 2 rigging artists were needed actually for the job I was doing.
These were the initial years of my career in the animation industry. During this time, I came to know how invaluable R&D is. That’s when I decided that I should learn something new on a daily basis irrespective of my regular work.
I developed something new during that time. Here it is…
Next I was supervising a rigging team(2011-12) and working with another rigging artist in the same company. Since I worked as the only rigging artist for 4 years in the beginning of my career in Animation, I couldn’t adjust with another rigger for some time. Soon I realised how important it is to work as a team and the importance of communication within the team. I started focusing more on best possible communication with the team members.
My R&D work took a leap to the next phase as I was getting some good results while working on character or rag-doll simulation using PhysX plug-in for Maya.
One day, one of my online friends messaged me about the link below and he mentioned that “There is an article featured about your work on one of the well known french websites. Check it once !!”
I remembered that day, I distributed the sweets to my colleagues. That was really a memorable day.
Rigging Supervisor (2012 – 2013)
Soon I started working with a bigger team like 20 rigging artists, while I was working with Xentrix Studios, Bangalore. During that time, I updated Advanced Hyper Skinning System – as_HyperSkin to the next level during my personal time.
My major R&D was on a hair rigging system (like Zip System) and pose based corrective shapes during this time. Time spent with this strong rigging team is really memorable. I learned many things here and really enjoyed my tenure in Xentrix, Bangalore. I worked on TV Series – Batman, Ice age and Dragons
For the next couple of years (2013 – 2014), I was working with Barajoun Entertainment, Dubai, where I did my R&D mainly on Facial Rigging. I have developed the Rigging Pipeline from the base with the coordination from my team members, while I was working as Character Supervisor and Creature TD during this period.
I worked as a Character Supervisor (Rigging) and Creature TD (Technical Director) for this movie named ‘Bilal’ and led the team of riggers. I was responsible for delivery and quality of all the rigs. I set up the pipeline for rigging including advanced facial setups for all characters and developed the supporting tools for facial rigging during personal time and build tools for bipeds and quadrupeds. Rigged all quadrupeds and many of the main characters. Worked for cloth setups for sometime using Qualoth.
Some of my work for ‘Bilal Movie’ can be seen in this showreel .
I had a great time along with my family in Dubai. We visited many places there and we had very nice memories.
Once I was done with my contract at Barajoun Entertainment, Dubai, I came back to Hyderabad, India. I worked as a Freelance Rigger and Tools Developer for 1 and half years for clients all over the world by providing custom character rigs and tools for visual effects, feature animation and gaming division.
I learned many skills and improved my communication skills to the next level during this Freelance time.
Then I joined as Character TD at Dreamworks Dedicated Unit (DDU), Technicolor in April, 2016. There I worked for nearly a year.
While I was working in DDU, I was majorly doing R&D on the rigging pipeline in DDU since DDU has their own proprietary rigging software just like Maya and It’s called ‘Rig’. “BossBaby” movie work was going on parallelly during that time. After DDU closed down, I joined MPC advertising in the year 2017. During the last couple of years, I worked as Character TD & VR Developer. Currently I am working as Rigging Lead at MPC Advertising. Some of my rigging work can be seen in this below video. I rigged a few main CG characters in this video.
My task as a VR developer is to make sure rigs developed in Maya work seamlessly in gaming engines like Unreal & Unity as there is a limitation, “Max 8 influences per vertex in a rig”. I think, with newer versions of Unreal & Unity, this limitation has been extended upto 30.
I worked for the project “SamsungSnowboardVR” and a few other VR projects.
At some point in time, I have thought of doing a PhD in Python Development, but my time was limited to the tools development in Python. I am doing some R&D these days in Machine Learning also, which may bring a new dimension to the tools I have been developing for a long time as well as new tools like advanced facial rigging and some kind of deformer plug-ins, which I am going to start this year. Though I feel like there are many ideas for the development of more tools or plug-ins, being a family man, I feel the need to spend some time with family members also. Maintaining balance between personal and professional life is crucial. It is tough to maintain the balance. I guess this is how life is in Animation, VFX and Gaming industries.
I want to mention a few of my connections who have been an important part of my journey here and they have been with me throughout.
|Manikanta Agraharapu Level Designer/Technical Artist||Sandeep Grover Senior Character Artist ~Animal Lover~|
|Ramesh Chinneri Head of Lighting at ReDefine India||GV PrashanthLead Lighter at Mill film and Endurance Athlete|
What are your approaches in your job?
Few times, what I do is – when some idea flashes in my mind, I stop thinking about “whether it’s possible or not” during early stages of implementing that idea.
I do R&D for a few days on that new idea. Only afterwards I think about whether it’s possible in reality or not.
During the 3rd year of my new career, when I said I was going to start working on an auto skinning system, my colleagues suddenly laughed. But I felt strongly that it is possible up to some extent at-least.
Here is my first video on my R&D while developing an auto skinning system.
How did you get your first break?
When I was asked about rigging a bird for the first time, during the initial months in the year 2007, I was very much excited to do R&D and develop a bird rigging system purely on my ideas. I studied a lot about bird anatomy and skeleton references on the net. I also analysed wing close and flight poses of birds. Soon, I came up with as_EasyBird – an auto bird rigging tool. I thought, it’s going to fetch me some nice compliments. Kaustav Chakravarty, Creative Director currently, really loved my first bird rig and he encouraged me a lot and told me that “Subbu, you have a really good future”. That was my first break.
I really loved this bird rig setup. Robin is my favourite bird and rigged the same during recent years, as_EasyBird – Robin Bird Rigging
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
The most difficult part for me about being in the Animation industry is the instability within the industry and not being able to give enough time to my family. At times, I find it difficult to balance professional and personal life. I go for one or two long-distance trips with family every year to maintain this balance to some extent 🙂
My Family Pictures From These Trips
Maintaining balance is possible, as I already proved it when I made my career-shift from Automobile industry to Animation at the age of 32. That too I took Rigging as a specialization, though very few jobs were available for this position at that time. This is in contrast to others in my batch during college time
- Challenge 1:
Mainly model changes make us update the rig. Sometimes, this happens when rig is almost at the final stage of approval. Explained this challenge in detail in next question
- Challenge 2:
Major challenge is to achieve proper shape at extreme poses in the rig. For example, extreme poses in Yoga. For this, I use mostly a few layers of deformation.
- First layer will be proper skinning,
- The 2nd layer will be painting blend weights in skinning.
- 3rd layer will be adding cluster deformation and providing setDrivenKeys
- The 4th layer is adding pose based corrective shapes. In my very recent post on Vimeo, I have explained this clearly
- 5th layer is adding sticky deformation controls to fake muscle simulation
My latest tool – as_HyperRig comes with 100s of this kind of efficient utilities.
- Challenge 3:
Identifying the repetitive tasks and finding the most feasible and cost effective solution. For example, in a show, if many characters need to be rigged in at least possible time with less no. of riggers, the best possible solution is to use the same mesh topology for all characters. Same topology means vertex order is the same for each character mesh.
For this kind of requirement, what we need in a production pipeline is…
- Auto rigging tools for nearest possible joint placement
- Auto rigging tools for character rigging and facial rigging
- Auto rigging tools for skinning automation to the possible extent
- Export and import tools to utilise some of the existing work from one character to all other characters. In this case, an automated skinning library is very much useful.
I came up with my personal automated solution named C.A.R.S – Complete Auto Rigging System for this type of work as shown in the below video, during my personal time.
C.A.R.S – Complete Auto Rigging System.
This system consists mainly of the functionality of the following main tools…
as_HyperPoint – Faster Joints Placement In Auto Rigs
as_EasyQuad – Advanced Creature Rigging – 03 : Impala Rig
as_EasyBird – Advanced Auto Bird Rigging
as_EasySnake – Auto Snake Rigging Tools
Advance Hyper Skinning System – No Disc Edition (R&D)
Where do you work now? What do you do?
I am currently working for MPC Advertising, a unit of Technicolor India, Bangalore. It’s my great pleasure to work with an amazing and talented team here.
I discussed a few things quickly about the great and pleasant working culture here in this recent article…
What is your approach to solving problems?
In a typical production pipeline, there are problems in every area. Sometimes these issues can be even with naming convention. So, we need some kind of automated solution for each and every case to the possible extent.
I will mention some critical problems which result in extra production time, when major changes are needed at the completion stage of a rig asset.
Complex rigs are those that come with proper setup, and a few layers of deformation (Skinning + cluster deformation + corrective blend shapes + Jiggle deformation etc)
One major issue, I noticed is that
- When we need to rebuild the rigs once they reach the final stage, It’s not that easy to rebuild complex rigs.
- This happens when creative changes are requested from the director.
- Sometimes these changes might be slight volume changes or proportion changes in the model. These changes may results in slight joint position change
- Here comes the solution, “Auto rebuild with slight joint position change”. I developed a system, where this rebuild happens automatically with the transfer of the skin. After that minor changes might be needed for corrective shapes
Each and every problem is different and these problems need different solutions.
In the above case, we need following skills:
- Ability to find out which is the best possible solution so that re-do time will be less and at the same time, there shouldn’t be any loss of quality
- If a manual solution is faster, it’s better to implement it.
- If a automation solutions is needed, we need to figure out :
- If tool development is taking more than manual fix time and this tool is going to be used only once, then in that case it’s not good idea to go for automated solution
- If tool development is taking less time than manual time and this tool is going to be used many times for similar cases in the future, then tool development for this fix is a good idea.
- Each and every problem is different. We need to consider production cost, before making any decision. Sometimes, long-term benefits are important and sometimes short term quick solutions are very important
- Acquiring this kind of skill needs a little experience in production work and need to observe things closely.
- Be proactive. When an artist senses something is not going right and if he thinks it’s going to be a bigger problem later, he needs to discuss this quickly with his lead/supervisor or production dept.
Being a rigger and as a technical artist, improving trouble-shooting skills is very important
What’s a typical day like?
Most of my day is spent in the office and remaining time and weekends on R&D in tools development primarily in Maya, Python API, Rigging and Animation. I am posting some latest updates on rigging and python scripting on my sharing groups in linkedin and facebook etc. Whenever I have something to share, I do post on my website
What is it you love about this job?
I spend some time on developing my websites and posting latest updates about my tools on blogs, doing R&D in rigging and pipeline etc. I started doing some R&D in Machine Learning & AI during this Covid-19 lockdown time. Major work I am doing during my personal time is the development of tools at home. All these tools can be seen at my latest website – www.creaturerigging.com
Currently I am working on my book – PYTHON SCRIPTING
HANDBOOK FOR VFX ARTISTS. Latest updates about this book can be
found at this link
How does your work benefit the society?
Most of the time, when I develop a tool or develop a new method for my rigging works, I make video presentations on how to use these tools and discuss some techniques, which I use to automate many of my works and team members’ works. I heard from many of the artists from VFX and animation society that these videos helped them to take up python as a part of their specializations.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Almost every work I do, I enjoy it. When it comes to tools development, I really enjoyed working on auto rigging and auto skinning tools particularly ‘as_HyperSkin – Advanced Hyper Skinning System’, ‘as_EasyQuad – Advanced Auto Quadruped Rigging System’ and ‘as_EasyBird – Auto bird rigging system’
When it comes to rigging work, I am very fond of creature rigging from the very beginning of my career. Wild Boar quadruped rig is my first rig for a film called ‘Gaalipata’, a Kannada movie, which was released on my date of birth.
I really enjoyed watching this movie with my family members in the theatre 🙂 as it was the movie which showed my first creature rigging work.
After that I rigged all quadrupeds for the movie ‘Bilal’, which is from Barajoun Entertainment, Dubai. During the last one year, I did major R&D while rigging nearly 12 creatures and it helped a lot in tools development also. Please check some of my recent work on Creature Rigs
I am very fond of bird rigs. When I rigged a Robin bird a few years ago, I had great satisfaction from my work. Still, there is a long way to go on research of development of these rigs. With every new rig I do, I try to implement something new in that rig system.
My first creature rig – Wild Boar rig in the year 2008 for Gaalipata movie:
Your advice to students based on your experience?
To become a good rigging artist or tools developer or pipeline TD, I strongly believe that following points are very crucial for any artist.
Along with hardwork and dedication, the following will play a major role in any artist’s life in the Animation, VFX and Gaming industries.
- Learn to understand the complete pipeline
- Communicate your ideas and thoughts clearly
- Expect that there might be a disagreement with your ideas at times. Don’t get discouraged, work-out on your ideas or thoughts to make those ideas more presentable. Respect other artists, although there is a disagreement with your ideas.
- Always think that there might be a better solution / idea than what we have, we never know. So, respect other artist’s opinions also. Time will prove which idea or solution is a good one practically.
- Maintain a good relationship with all artists whom you come across, even if any of them deviate from your opinion.
- Believe in your logical skills and do continuous practice to become a tools developer.
- What you visualize very in the beginning will define mostly what you get at the end. Change the way you work to get what you want if you are not getting the results the way you have expected.
- Believe in your technical and creative skills to become a good rigging artist.
- Whatever you are doing, try out as best as you can.
- Sometimes, there is a need to do a lot of research on the net to get information about the requirements for the tool or the rig you are going to develop.
- Once you develop the tool or rig, you need to present it in video or pdf form and in a nice way, so that others would like to see your RnD results.
- Lot of patience is needed, since development of some of the tools or complex rigs need time. Consistency in your hard work is very important over a period of time
- In the early years of career, studying the existing tools, developed by other artists, which are available on creativecrash.com like sites, can help improve your skills to write the same tools in different ways, which can be understood by you and others in the pipeline.
- Practicing anatomy study and muscle study will help the rigging artist to grow aesthetically.
- Ups & Downs are very common in any field, but any artist needs to have some plan from time to time, knowing latest updates from the industry
- Healthy competition is always good. Respect every artist irrespective of their talent or skill. Remember that every artist will have some talent, you will never know about it till the time comes.
I am sharing here all the links related to my websites, blogs and channels, which might be useful for many…
https://www.creaturerigging.com/ – My latest website
In near future, I have plans to conduct online workshops for Advanced Creature Rigging & Python Scripting for VFX Artists.
One of the key qualities I had, is to follow the flow. I am not sure where this flow is going to take me in the coming years. I have an intention to provide highly efficient automated or procedural solutions to the VFX & Animation industry in coming years for the upcoming new challenges also in the years to come, so that the artists can enjoy the work at every stage.
Ultimate future plan is to provide the best possible procedural solutions to complete the technical task in the least possible time, so that artists can focus more on creative work. I want to work on Advanced & Hyper Realistic Facial Rigging Systems, Want to implement Machine Learning concepts in the current pipeline. I am doing some RnD also to get realistic muscle simulation with Ziva based muscle systems. Yeah this is the final goal..
And I wish we all can survive this Covid-19 situation soon.. Take care guys…
Special thanks to my friend Sandeep Grover, who encouraged me a lot during my tough times in the last couple of years and helped me while correcting the sentence framing in this article, out of his busy schedule.
Special thanks to Mr. Shyam Krishnamurthy, Founder, Career Pathbreaker Series Interviewer & School Workshop Facilitator at The Interview Portalfor, giving me this opportunity to give this interview
All the best to the upcoming artists
Rigging TD & Tools Developer
Date : 10/5/2020