I love checking out new software, so when the opportunity came up to be involved with some freelance animation involving lip-sync, I decided to check out the latest version of Character Animator, part of the Adobe Suite.

I knew that it automated some aspects of animation, and after a bit of investigation, discovered that it will directly try (I say try, as the lip-sync is a bit hit and miss, but it’s very easy to swap another mouth shape in to help get the right feel to the visual) and interpret a live feed from a web cam into your drawn character, which is amazing, and gives a lovely natural feel to movement, eye blinks and head tilts/turns etc.

Then I saw that Adobe Edex is running a Character Animator short course, so I signed up, to learn from the pros, and get an insight into proper workflow etc.

https://edex.adobe.com

So far I’m up to week 4 and it’s been really useful, especially to see how you add behaviours to folders or layers of items, which is not as straightforward as I initially thought.

Week 1 – template character

pagegrab_forums

Using a template character we just needed to get the face, eye and lip sync working – which is all built into some of the template puppets. I got Einstein from here –  http://headsofcurriculum.com/

but you can also download other puppets from okaysamurai and the adobe Character Animator page (pic above)

Week 2 – own character

We were given the Character ‘Chloe’ (below) in photoshop with the correct layer orders and tasked with changing it slightly to our character, and then because the puppet in photoshop is dynamically linked to the scene in Character Animator, as soon as you save in photoshop, it updates the scene in Character Animator, so you can record your new person and work with it straight away.

Chloe_start

Chloe

chloe_alien

My Alien

Week 3 – head turn

Chloe_turnGrowing our knowledge of behaviours/triggers week 3 adds a head turn task, you need to duplicate the Folder ‘Frontal’ in photoshop and make 4 extra folders with corresponding features inside to represent, left profile, left quarter, right profile, right quarter, altering the eyes and mouth, plus the head shape, as obviously you can’t see his ears when he’s looking to the right or left. (Although writing this I realise you can see an outline of the ear, it just doesn’t stick out – oops)

scalealien

I also decided to add a background and use a dragger to make him point at the planets for the short video piece that we need to submit each week. Adding the background is easy, just import the image you want to use and drag it onto the layer below your puppet.

Week 4 – with sequence trigger

Once you’ve got your head around the layer/folder structure and the naming conventions, Character Animator starts to make a bit more sense and in week 4 we need to add a small animation in a new folder in photoshop that will use the cycle layers behaviour. Newer versions of CA let you choose either top to bottom, or bottom to top as making new layers in Photoshop tends to stack them above, which is the wrong way round for the animation to work, but of course, using the dynamic link you can easily re-order those layers and then your scene gets updated.

I went totally freehand and drew directly in Photoshop a small spaceship moving across the sky, and even though it’s pretty low quality, works effectively. It ended up being 11 layers, and still looks really quick. I don’t know if there is a way of slowing it down slightly, or you could just duplicate the layers.

All in all I quite like Character Animator, but it’s a real pain having to set up all the layers, all the mouth movements, and any little thing you want the character to do. Rigging can go really wrong, heads come off, it all goes wobbly, but once you’ve done all of that prep, it makes it super easy to get your character talking for you. So it’s not a quick process, it doesn’t make it any speedier to make lip sync and that was what I was really testing it for.

To conclude, as with all animation projects it will have it’s time and place and I’m enjoying the Adobe course, but it’s still a learning curve and has both pros and cons, but the natural movement of the talking is great, you can record each movement either separately or together and the triggers are really fun. I’ve even read that you can use it as an avatar for online meetings, now that’s cool!

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