As you may know (or not), digital puppet-maker and modo rigging master, Rich Hurrey of Pixar Animation Studios, has recently released new modo 501 Rigging Master Course. After years in the works and a spectacular video production that explains all the possibilities of animating models with modo, it’s definitely a course to pick up. Rich was also kind enough to join us on the Engineer vs Designer podcast, Episode 13 (woot!), and it pretty much rocked our world. Unfortunately, being only a 20 minute show, we weren’t able to include nearly everything we wanted in the final cut. We’re adding an extended audio interview to EvD, but we wanted even more. So today on SolidSmack, we want to connect the dots.

And if that weren’t enough inducement to read on, what about $25 off said rigging course? We thought so. Coupon code after the jump.

EvD Extended Interview: EngineerVsDesigner-E13-EXTENDED.mp3

$25 off coupon code for SolidSmackers: rigmodo

So first, tell us a little bit about your background, and how you got to where you are today?

I have been at this a long time, so I will try to give the short version of the story. I went to college in the attempt to get a film degree, even with a pretty good GPA I was turned down for lack of “experience” (and here I thought you went to school to learn how to get this said experience in the first place, silly me). After that, I became fascinated with learning 3D and got in touch with a man name Grant Boucher who was teaching at small vocational school in a strip mall. His class was nothing more than a single Amiga computer where he would show how the software worked. (We could not follow along as there was only that one machine.) This was the “ah ha” moment for me though. I saw animation playing on a computer screen for the first time… that is when I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

From there, I worked for a small company making video games, then started my own business that I ran for five years. After that, I decided it was time to get out west and try to break into movies. I worked at Newtek teaching people how to use LightWave 3D for a few years and then finally got my break at ESC Studios modeling for the Matrix sequels. From there, I went back to working for myself as a freelancer (and taught rigging at the Academy of Art College in SF) for another couple years before heading to LA to work at Rhythm and Hues. A year after that, I was lucky enough to get the chance to apply at Pixar and they were crazy enough to hire me. The rest is history as they say.

How did you end up at Pixar?  What is your favorite part?

My favorite part of working at Pixar (besides the fact that it’s Pixar and just plain awesome) is working with all the talented people. I am surrounded by rock star talent. Everyone from the veterans to the interns are the best of the best. It’s like reverse college, now I’m learning more everyday than I ever did when I was going to school… and they pay ME instead of the other way around.

I should also mention that Pixar actually cares about my well-being and that is huge. At one point early on I was facing a deadline and decided on my own to work really late for a few days to get the job done. Not shortly after I had the associate producer come into my office and basically say “Why are you staying here at work when you have a family at home to go home to?! This is not how we do things here… go home to your wife and kids.” Needless to say my wife says I’m never allowed to leave Pixar 😉

You’ve worked on some other projects besides Pixar, such as the Matrix.  What other projects have you done and which ones were the most memorable in terms of the complexities of the task at hand?

The Matrix sequels were an interesting challenge not so much for the actual modeling but learning how to manage the HUGE volumes of data that had to be created. Not only dealing with the assets themselves but also how the scenes would be assembled and finally rendered. We learned valuable lessons in modeling “smart” by only adding details where the camera would see them. Background elements would get constructed as minimally as possible and the foreground elements would get the love and detail that makes you want to be a modeler in the first place.

When working on Narnia at Rhythm and Hues I was exposed to my first real feature film character pipeline. It was a big eye opener in the amount of work that goes into making a production ready CG character. From modeling, to shading, texturing, fur, cloth, articulation to animation. The whole system needed to have very clear tasks, review gates and systems in place to allow different departments to work in concert. It really is an assembly line like something you would see in another other manufacturing facility, just instead of making a car of piece of a car, we were building characters. It was a great experience.

Tell us a little bit about how you got involved with modo and how you learned the program?  What is your favorite part of the process from empty canvas to fully-rigged and rendered animation?

Well, we have to take a step back to when I first came to California. When I was looking to leave Florida I was in contact with Brad Peebler and let him know I was looking for a change. After some wining and dining, he found a way to hire me to help develop educational materials and also do on-site software training for Newtek (where he was working at the time). Now fast forward a few years and Brad and a few others formed Luxology to develop modo and Nexus. They let me see what they were up to early on and I LOVED what they were planning. Without years of legacy code weighing them down they were able to approach 3D content creation from a fresh perspective, allowing them to focus on the user experience and workflow from the first line of code. From there, I was able to see modo grow from a modeling application into a full-fledged 3D platform, all the while maintaining their “user first” philosophy.

My favorite part of rigging any asset is coming up with ways to take something complex and refine it into a set of simple controls that anyone can use. It’s like building a physical device, you want the interface and any controls to be very clear and understandable so people can pick it up and get started using it right away. Part of this process is developing a system for naming and structure components so that other rigging artists can open your work and understand what is going on, or extend it if they need to. Sometimes you need to create your own tools to get a particular effect and that has to work into the system you are working in. To me there is real joy and taking something from the nothing and presenting a fully working asset to an animator to bring to life.

Avatar was considered to be a huge movement in the world of Film.  What is your perspective on using live people for motion tracking as opposed to traditional hand-animation, and does the rigging work that you do apply to motion tracking in the same way?

I think that both methods will continue to be an important part of film’s future. From an Industry perspective, I do not think one will take over from the other as there is room for both approaches. Some studios will deal with only performance capture while other studios will do strictly hand-animated content and still others will use a mixture of the two.

On the rigging front, both methods have to create rigs to get the performances on the screen. You are either taking data from capture devices and translating that into an animation performance on CG elements or you have an animator creating the performance by hand. In both cases there is a “rig” that needs to be created. Also, in a lot of cases with performance capture, you still have animators going in and adjusting the performances by hand after they have been recorded so the rigs need to be accessible by artists too.

A large amount of our listeners are more product design and engineer-based.  What are some of the most effective applications of rigging that you have seen that are purely for showing product demos and presentations?

Well there are a lot of “effective” applications, as in they can get the job done. I have rigged in Maya, Lightwave, Messiah, modo and two other proprietary systems. What they do are all very similar, I could take the time and get effective imagery out of any them. The trick for me is what application makes it the easiest to get from basic model to fully rendered image? For me this is modo. Luxology has really focused on workflow, but also in building environment that fosters artist growth and productivity. First you have their online forums that I think is one of the most helpful communities out there. You can post a question or a WIP and you will get feedback or help right away. Second they have built what they call “Kits” which are workflow companion tools that help you tackle certain problems (the SolidWorks kit for instance). Lastly they are really focused on quality training and education. There are many, many tutorials available to help you learn how to use modo effectively.

Another thing to consider, since I’m betting some people may ask… why not use the bigger more establish applications like Maya, 3D Studio Max, etc.?

When I was a freelance rigger I had no choice to learn Maya… it was the standard in feature film and if I wanted a job I had to know it. It did not matter what the “best” choice was… it was the only choice I could make. What’s nice about where I am now, and where almost every single CAD user that is looking to build animations will be… is that there is no industry standard. We are both free to find the best tool to do our job, a tool that works the way we want, a tool that makes it the easiest to get from polygons to pretty pictures. For me, this is modo. It may not be for everyone, there are certainly other great applications out there… but for me, I have found that I get the results I want faster with modo.

Where do you see CG moving in terms of the product design and engineering world? Is there any advice you can offer to those who may use modo for product design presentations and are curious to start utilizing animations into their presentations?

I think that we will see two worlds converging more than they do now. There will be more tools to make it easier to bring CAD data into CG for animation and rendering and also to allowing more prototyping in CG and bringing it into CAD systems to finish.

I think the biggest thing to remember is that in modo you are not constrained by reality. Things do not need to “work”, they only need to look like they work. Your goal is to make something looks appealing and conveys the point you are trying to make. So unlike a test in school, cheating is ok in CG 🙂

So Rich, we hear you’ve been a busy boy! Not only do you hold down a day-gig at a little shop called Pixar, you’ve also decided to share the love and teach us mere mortals to rig. Why did you decide to get into training in the first place?

To bring up Brad again, it all started when I was in Orlando and I created some impromptu to documentation for a render controller. Brad saw this and was impressed and its one of the reasons he hired me to help develop training for him. I quickly found out that I was pretty good at creating training and talking in front of a crowd teaching people how to use software.

Fast forward to a year ago (or so), Brad and I were talking about how there was a real lack of quality rigging training available out there. After some discussion we decided to work together to make this training series. For him, and Luxology, one of their goals when they started was to help make their users better artists. For me, I love to rig and the rigging process so much that I felt it was time to create something that covered the topic properly. Also I felt that this is an industry that has given me so much that I really wanted to give back and help people get started.

What, in your opinion, is the most difficult thing about learning to rig?

I think that depends on where you are coming from when you decide you want to rig. I think a sculptor wanting to create a CG character will understand form and shape natively but may have trouble understanding how to build the mechanical structure underneath that allows for those shapes and forms to exist over time. I think a CAD person wanting to animate a mechanical assembly of some kind will understand mechanical nature of linking things together but will need to take the time to understand the language of the rigging tool they want to use. So for CAD people it’s really a new language they need to learn… they will know what to say but not the grammar skills to say it right away.

Another roadblock, and I think this applies to any rigging task, is learning what not to rig. Knowing how far to take a project so that you deliver the most effective rig without over delivering a bunch of control that will never be used. This is one of my biggest challenges to this day (since you want to make every widget work all the time 🙂

Are the concepts covered in your modo course modo-specific, or could the same basic knowledge be applied to other systems as well?

The course teaches rigging using modo as a backdrop, and you do learn a lot of modo specific information but all of the key rigging concepts are taught in as broad a way a possible. I try very hard to teach the “why” and much as the “how” so people can learn to think like a rigger. The tutorials take this a step further and I ditch modo completely at times to “Rig Sketch” and with a virtual pencil and paper walk people through the problem solving process. The training tries to teach you how to rig, and it happens to use modo as its canvas to do so.

Answer carefully, Rich: Apples or Oranges?

Well I am Mac guy from WAY back, so I’ll have to go Apples 😉

Thanks again to Rich for joining us on the show! To have a look at (and buy) Rich’s modo Rigging Master Course, go here and you definitely have to see the blooper reel. Also, be sure to check out EvD each week for a new special guest.


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.