Surviving as a Freelance Rigger: The Development of Mansur-Rig

Hello, my name is Asaf Ben Zur and I’m the developer of Mansur-Rig. I’m excited to share my journey of developing Mansur-Rig, a product that has been a labor of passion for me over the past few years. In this post, I want to take you through my experience of creating this tool and how it can help fellow freelancers and VFX studios in their day-to-day work.

My journey started when I decided to work as a freelancer in Rigging. Having worked in production for both small and big VFX studios, I was used to having a set of tools that helped me get the job done quickly and efficiently. While the specific tools varied from studio to studio, they generally covered the basic heavy lifting in rigging. However, when I switched to being a freelancer, I suddenly felt extremely vulnerable, as I had no steady income and absolutely no tools to help me deliver high-quality rigs on time. I tried using off-the-shelf rigging tools but found them inefficient, incomplete, and too hard to manipulate to changing needs. That’s when I realized the need for a comprehensive rigging tool that combined all the essential features in one place. And thus, Mansur-Rig was born.

To be honest, at first, I didn’t have a clear vision of what the tool would look like, and I didn’t even think about it being a publicly available product. I was simply focused on surviving as a freelancer in Rigging. All I knew was that I wanted to produce high-quality rigs that would make Animators happy. This core thought was the driving force behind this entire development process, and it still is.

So I talked to many experienced animators and asked them straight up: “What matters the most to you in a rig?” And the answer was clear-cut: performance, duh!

It didn’t matter how many features or systems a rig had, or how cutting-edge it was. If it didn’t perform fast enough, it was useless.

It quickly became clear to me that in order to create the high-quality rigs I envisioned, I couldn’t rely solely on the existing Maya nodes. I had firsthand experience with the limitations of these nodes and knew that they wouldn’t be able to deliver the level of performance and complexity I wanted for Mansur-Rig. This realization was the starting point of my journey towards creating a custom rigging node-library that would cover all the essentials. However, developing this library was no easy feat – it took me about a year of hard work, experimentation, and testing to create a robust and reliable library that would meet my standards. But the effort was worth it, as this node-library formed the backbone of Mansur-Rig, allowing it to perform with speed and precision.

As I delved deeper into developing Mansur-Rig, I quickly realized that creating a full rigging framework would be a monumental undertaking. Over the course of a year, I poured countless hours into developing a node library. But the reality soon set in – this project would take years to complete, and being a freelancer just wasn’t going to cut it financially. As much as it pained me to do so, I had no choice but to start looking for a full-time job once again. I’m sure that many in this industry can relate to the frustration and uncertainty of trying to balance passion projects with the financial realities of making a living.

Fortunately, I had made many friends in the industry over the years, and with their help, I was able to land a full-time job that I was genuinely excited about. While this was a positive step forward, it also meant that I would have significantly less time to devote to developing Mansur-Rig. But I was determined to make progress whenever possible- Every evening, every night, every weekend, and every spare moment was dedicated to pushing the project forward.

Now that I was in a more stable financial position and had a solid node-library, I could focus on the user-facing end of the tool. My goal was to create something truly innovative and cutting edge in terms of workflow. I started with a single feature that I thought was missing from every tool I’d used or heard of before: the ability to “deconstruct” a puppet back to its “pre-build” state. It was an ambitious path, but it ultimately led me to the unique approach that defines Mansur-Rig today.

Another year passed, and progress was slow. I tried to keep a positive mindset and kept grinding. After much trial and error, the main framework and workflows began to take shape, and I could finally start coding the actual rigging components. There were days when I felt proud of what I had accomplished, but many others left me disheartened, as it had taken me two years just to get to the point where I could begin the real rigging work.

After creating some basic rigging components, I finally built a complete rig using only Mansur-Rig. It was a moment of great pride and motivation that I thought would never come. Before I knew it, I had successfully rigged an entire character using Mansur-Rig. The thought of releasing this tool to the public began to creep in.

At this point, I realized I needed to get some feedback from other riggers and animators. As the sole user for such a long time, it was important to gather more opinions to determine if Mansur-Rig was a viable tool beyond my own needs. But this posed a new challenge: how to effectively deliver the tool to riggers and animators. This was an overwhelming task, as my custom node library was required throughout the entire process. Yet another pitfall struck. I just had to take a break.

So, I set everything aside and took a break for a month or two, not even looking at the project. During this time, I felt increasingly disappointed of myself, that I just couldn’t see this to completion. And after some time, and a lot of help from my wife, I decided to push through. I was determined to do whatever it takes, and not just manually send it for feedback. I was going to tackle packaging, distribution, and installation.  This turned out to be one of the most difficult tasks I had ever taken on because I knew so little about distribution. It took hours of research, study, and dedication to overcome this hurdle, but finally, I had a working alpha version of Mansur-Rig that was fully packaged and ready for distribution.

I was so surprised by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from my colleagues. Though the product was far from complete, their response was too strong to ignore. I decided to take the leap and turn Mansur-Rig into a publicly available product. This marked the beginning of a new challenge – handling mass-distribution, website development, web application deployment, documentation, video tutorials, licensing, bureaucracy, and everything in between. But it was all worth it.

Looking back on this journey, I am proud to have created a product that has become more robust and flexible than I ever imagined, and proud to call it my own. Mansur-Rig is now used by multiple production teams, game studios, and freelancers. Personally, I cannot imagine rigging without it. This project has taught me so much, both technically and mentally, and regardless of the future I consider it a major success.

I encourage you to try it out and see for yourself why I believe it’s the strongest rigging framework on the market. With your help, I will continue to improve and push forward.

I’m still not a full-time product developer, but hopefully, one day, this dream will come true.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for your support!

2 thoughts on “Surviving as a Freelance Rigger: The Development of Mansur-Rig”

  1. Heyo Asaf,

    It’s really interesting to read the story of your development effort. It’s so damn relatable in many aspects; from animators asking for performance, over wanting to make a better solution, to feeling inadequate about perceived shortcomings.

    I witnessed your nodes/tools from the outside and every time you posted something I was super intrigued, impressed and hopeful that you’d keep going. This kind of tool could bring so many benefits to freelancers & studios that don’t want to invest in their own solution.

    Keep rocking it and I got my fingers crossed for you, that you can become a full-time developer again 🙂

    1. Heyo Mischa!
      I truly appreciate the kind words and your constant support throughout!
      I remember you being a supporter from way back when I started, and I cannot thank you enough, Not obvious at all!

      All the best Mischa! Keep in touch 🙂

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