Laurie Brugger

Senior Rigger

“I’m still in awe at the work that comes out, and I always look in complete admiration at the things that I see from all over the world, and study it frame by frame.”

Credits

Captain America: The First Avenger, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, Clash of the Titans, Where the Wild Things Are

The key to realistic animation is the face; it’s the subtle muscle movements of the eyes, cheeks, and mouth that makes an audience forget that the characters they’re watching were born in a computer. Since graduating from the Computer Animation program in 2000, Laurie Brugger has been working to help further that level of detail as a character rigger on a number of influential films.

“The face has got it all, it’s creative, it’s artistic, it’s super technical,” she says. “It’s such a complex world, and as a rigger I like inventing things, just playing around and doing something new that I’ve never tried before.”

Laurie has spent nearly half her career as senior rigger at Framestore in London, England – the largest visual effects and computer animation studio in Europe. The role has seen her in charge of creating the points of articulation for different animated characters, and she’s been instrumental in determining the look and feel for the models in such films as Clash of the Titans, Captain America: The First Avenger, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, and Where the Wild Things Are.

“There’s really not that many people in the world that do what I specialize in,” she says. “The best way to explain it is if you think of a marionette puppet. Someone builds the puppet body, that’s the modeler. Then the rigger puts the joints and the strings in, and the animator actually moves it and makes it perform. I really like collaborating and working with other people to get the character tweaked and refined.”

While it takes a specific set of technical skills to create this work, being a rigger is as much about understanding anatomy and psychology of a character and its behavior as it is the technology. The challenges Laurie faces with each subject are often complicated puzzles, having to create rigs that offer the right amount of facial movement without being too exaggerated. It’s all about giving a character the ability to convey the subtle emotions and dialog that each scene demands, and her inspiration often comes from the most unlikely sources.

“When we get a new character in the first thing we do is start finding things we want to achieve with it and then looking for reference,” she says. “We study bodies, anatomy, faces, it’s an organic process. So if they have a really rubbery face, then we’ll look at really rubbery actors. One of the Cyclops in Clash of the Titans has a really gaunt face so when we were looking for reference, we actually ended up using Iggy Pop.”

Among Laurie’s most personal projects was “Dobby,” the loyal house elf from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. The character’s role in the film is among the most affecting story arcs in the Potter series, and the results of her facial work added an emotional depth during his denouement that resonated with both audiences and critics – seeing her honored in 2011 with the Visual Effects Society Award for Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture.

“I went to the theater to see it and people started crying – I was shocked,” she says. “I was like ‘whoa, this really means something, they love him,’ and I like that I got to get my fingers in there and make a contribution to what he looked like. I would have been so distraught if I never worked on any Potter film because it’s so important on different levels. Kids grew up with this, it’s a part of their childhood.”

The ability of artists like Laurie to inspire genuine emotion from an audience is especially notable when taken in context of the art form’s relatively short history. The idea of computer generated characters having that kind of dramatic weight was almost unheard of in its infancy, but today this work resonates on a personal level – with as much investment offered to both the digital and human actors. As she continues to refine her approach with new techniques in facial motion capture, Laurie finds inspiration in each project leading her through a second decade in the industry.

“I’m still in awe at the work that comes out, and I always look in complete admiration at the things that I see from all over the world, and study it frame by frame,” she says. “Every character is different and every face is different, and what continues to get me excited are the projects, they enable me to be creative and work with really smart people. That will keep me going for another ten years. I’m very lucky that this job allows me to be free and do the things I want to do.”

Full Sail University
Laurie has spent nearly half her career as senior rigger at Framestore in London, England – the largest visual effects and computer animation studio in Europe.
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