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Jan 10, 2013

RigLab: Naming Convention


Hey folks,

I've been working on the naming convention side of the rigging framework and I wanna share my take on this problem.

I know, this isn't the hotest subject to talk about, but as it's a so general problem I thought could be interesting for you too.

First of all: a disclaimer...

A lot of things I'm developing for this project are influenced by the way I'm used to work. I'm not trying to steal ideas from anyone, it's inevitable carry with me some concepts that I found interesting and make them mine.

Thanks to all who shared their thoughts on pipeline/coding with me along the years. Lots of inspiration comes from those talks!


What's a naming convention?

As you may know, a naming convention is just an agreement about the information and the format we will be using to define a name.

So, what's the big deal?


Well, let me break things up a little bit...

On the user side it's just a convention and we are clever enough to remember it, so it's completely up to the user assign names properly. Some studios provide sophisticated tools to help them on the task, but in my experience a simple renamer tool (string operations) with some batch capabilities is enough in most cases.


On the code side it's a completely different story, code/software is not smart enough to figure out a naming convention so we have to be very explicit about it.

One way to tackle the problem is just hardcoding names, we all have been there at some point. It just works, but turns out to be a really bad idea in the long run.

The conventions usually evolve/change between projects/clients, if you hardcode things then all your tools become useless unless you revisit the code and change everything name related.


The other way is create a layer to solve the names using the conventions and work with those names on your code, this way you have a centralized place where set the new naming requirements and all your tools becomes name independent.

I obviously recommend the second approach.

What has been done in the framework?

If we go back to the project goals, there is a specific one about naming convention, let me quote it.

The system will be based on metadata rather than any specific naming convention. The naming convention will be based on a config file in order to integrate the system on any pipeline (the same is true with colours, animation controls and all the standard rigging conventions).

At first I worked in a metadata API to store everything, but as the project progresses, I realized that access metadata is not user-friendly at all and it would be very difficult to trust the data if it's not updated by the user... and the system must assign a name to new objects anyway!

So in an unexpected turns of events, I still use metadata to store specific things but I also worked on a system that allows me use the data stored in the naming convention (which are much more likely to be updated by the user).

A cool thing about the new manager is that ended up being software agnostic, so it can be used in mixed pipelines too.

You can see how it works in the video below.



API Design


When it comes to naming convention is really dificult design an easy-to-use API, it's difficult because we have to specify every 'token' value but at the same time we shouldn't be typing any longer than the name itself.

In my experience if you're working with a too intricated API, the temptation to hardcode names tend to be too high (especially in scripting) and the whole system becomes meaningless.

Here are a couple of simple concepts that helped me to create an easy to use design.

  • Manager

If you don't want to be too explicit you are probably looking for a way to share 'global' information, in my case I decided to work with a manager as a layer for the 'naming resolution' stuff instead of just at a module level, this way I can work with some 'global' values instead of specified them each time.

  • Active Rule

The manager expect an active rule to work with, you can set/get the active rule at anytime. Using this way to deal with rules allow us be a lot less explicit on each name solving and let the manager do some clever stuff to figure out how to arrange the name using the incoming arguments.

  • Override

We can override default values at a manager level at any time, this becomes really handy when you're working on the same context and don't want to be explicit about every token on every name.


I hope this make sense,
Cheers!
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