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What Does a Rigger Do?

Wooden pulleys hold the rigging on a boat.
In the military, personnel known as parachute riggers are responsible for packing parachutes and inspecting them.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2014
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A rigger can do a number of different things, depending on which industry he or she is employed in. Numerous sectors including entertainment, manufacturing, and the military sector have job positions known as “riggers” and people in these positions do very different things. All of the senses of this word have their origins in the days of sail, when people responsible for setting and maintaining the sails were known as riggers, named for the rigging which was used to hold the sails up and control them. This provided sailors with a set of unique skills which proved to be useful on land as well.

In industry, a rigger is someone who moves heavy loads, or who deals with placement of heavy machines. This includes people who work on construction sites, individuals who install heavy and specialized equipment like MRI machines, and so forth. Riggers of this type can use equipment which might have been familiar to sailors centuries ago such as block and tackle haulers, in addition to cranes and other more sophisticated equipment. This type of job is learned through apprenticeship, and requires physical fitness, a high degree of skill, and the ability to work cooperatively.

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The entertainment industry also has a place for riggers. Riggers who work in entertainment handle the installation of sets, and any movement which needs to happen, including moving set pieces and actors on flies. Riggers can be part of the crew which travels with a production, and they can also be based in a particular facility. Like heavy load lifters, entertainment riggers use a variety of equipment to do their work.

In the military, personnel known as parachute riggers are responsible for packing parachutes and inspecting them. This job requires extensive training and a sharp eye for detail, because safety risks need to be identified before a parachute is distributed and used. Likewise, the military also uses riggers for heavy moving in all branches of the military, along with setup of military installations.

The term “rigger” may be used in the sense of someone who sets things up and prepares them for use, whether or not traditional rigging is involved. In this case, the rigger performs safety checks, makes sure that everything is in place, and is involved in unpacking and rebuilding of objects which are broken down for shipping or storage. Working as this type of rigger can be interesting because it often provides opportunities for travel.

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ZsaZsa56
Post 3

I used to work as a grip in Hollywood and I worked on several blockbuster projects in the early 90s. We employed what seemed to be a small army of riggers to help with every aspect of the production. Seriously, there must have been at least 50 of these guys on set at any given time.

On projects of this scale, everything is big, heavy and temporary. Huge sets would be there one day and gone the next. Multiple truckloads of equipment and machinery were used every day. Moving all this stuff around was the job of the riggers and it was no small task. Without those guys the movies would have never gotten made.

jonrss
Post 2

@tiger88 - What an interesting idea. When I think about it, there are lots of over sized, extremely heavy pieces of art. I would imagine that there are more riggers working in this field than we realize.

Art often presents a unique mash up between creative work and construction work. A lot of basic building principles go into making a successful piece of art. It must be both aesthetically pleasing and able to hold up under display and transportation. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, iron workers, and many other trades have all been called into to assist artists complete their work. They are the unsung heroes of the art world.

tigers88
Post 1

One of the most interesting rigging positions I've ever heard of was a team of specialists that worked with the artist Richard Serra. Serra is know for gigantic sculptures made of huge pieces of metal like steel, aluminum and iron. Often his sculptures weigh at least a few tons and often much more. Obviously you can't just put them on a dolly and wheel them into a museum lobby. He has worked with the same team of riggers for several decades because they have unique experience meeting the strange challenges that his sculpture present. We usually think of riggers working with heavy machinery, but some of them work with fine art too!

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