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Exploring Character Animator

By Charles Purdy

Imagine your voice coming out of a cartoon fish’s mouth, its lips synched to your words. Or the head and eyes of a friendly skeleton matching the movement of your head and eyes. That’s what you can expect with Adobe Character Animator, a new addition to the Creative Cloud family. It lets you bring Adobe Photoshop CC or Adobe Illustrator CC drawings to life, using a microphone and camera to capture your performance and synchronize your facial movements and speech to an animated character’s.

We were so excited to see what people would create that we couldn’t wait for the final version (which came out on June 16—Character Animator will be installed along with the new version of After Effects and can be started from within After Effects): We gave illustrator Darrick Hays, creative director for Pitch Note Creative, a beta version and asked him to take it for a spin. He built his character, Banjo Man, in Adobe Illustrator CC—his preferred app for creating characters. “I always start with a sketch on paper and then fine tune-the piece in Illustrator,” he says. “But the next one I build will probably be in Photoshop, so I can add textures.” (Click to watch the completed animation below.)

Darrick says that the ability to map your face and voice to a character’s and then create animations in real time is “an incredible feature and really fun when you get into it,” but he adds that this basic feature is just the tip of the iceberg. Character Animator also lets you control other aspects of the character with your keyboard, mouse, and programmable behaviors. You can even create your own programmable behaviors.

You can also customize the look of a Character Animator “puppet” by generating layered artwork to match a predefined template of expressions and behaviors, such as the shape of the mouth when making different sounds, or the way eyebrows rise to express surprise.

Darrick says, “Probably my favorite feature is key-triggers. Switching arms or eyebrows or entire characters at the push of a button is such a great idea.”

Character Animator is the result of a collaborative effort between Adobe’s Advanced Product Development Group and the Creative Technology Labs (CTL) Research Group. David Simons, principal scientist in the Advanced Product Development Group, is hoping that Character Animator comes to define a new kind of app: “something that’s a combination between Garage Band and After Effects—a performance capture app that’s a compositor, but rather than compositing pixels, it’s compositing the performances themselves.”

(Click to watch a time-lapse video of Darrick’s progress below.)

After his experience with Character Animator, Darrick sees its benefits for animators of all skill levels. “Non-animators who are interested in creating moving characters but feel overwhelmed by Adobe After Effects will be relieved that there is an app that makes it so simple to make their illustrations come to life. As for professional animators, this app will significantly reduce the time and effort required to create full-length animations in After Effects. You'll be able to create an explainer video or short animated film in no time.”

Ready to learn more? Get started with this Character Animator tutorial: “Bring Your 2D Characters to Life.” It includes sample puppets, so you can jump in right away.