Adobe MAX Has a Lot of Character

By Charles Purdy

Packing for Adobe MAX can be a challenge. What to bring? Comfy shoes are, of course, a must. As is an extra suitcase for MAX schwag. And this year, Create magazine also took two cartoon squids and a prerelease version of Adobe Character Animator.

Like Indian-food Wednesdays in the San Francisco office, the opportunity to participate in Adobe MAX is an awesome perk of working on Adobe Create magazine. And this year, we thought we’d share another of our favorite employee perks with MAX attendees: the opportunity to play with and explore cool new Adobe creative tools.

When we first saw Adobe Character Animator, we started thinking about how we might incorporate it into our MAX experience. Back in 2014, we’d invited attendees to help us create a giant 3D “mural”—completely by hand. With Character Animator, we wanted to provide a very different experience: totally digital instead of totally handmade, and one-person creations instead of a giant collaboration.

The Adobe Create booth at Adobe MAX had six individual animation studios for attendees to use.

Character Animator, a part of Adobe After Effects CC, allows you to import an illustration from Adobe Photoshop CC or Adobe Illustrator CC and set it up to be animated in real time by your voice and facial expressions (via your computer’s microphone and camera). It’s a lot of fun. As our 2015 MAX booth took shape, we came up with the idea of building six individual recording stations, where MAX attendees could use Character Animator to create animated snippets to share on social media (or to email to their unfortunate colleagues who didn’t get to come to MAX).


The Character Animator team got to work, prebuilding some characters (or “puppets,” in Character Animator lingo) for participants to animate. Then the Adobe Social team had an idea: What about also giving people the option to animate a cartoon character that they already knew and loved?

“In our brainstorming, we were wondering aloud who would be a great partner for this,” says Adobe social media manager Matt Rozen. “Adult Swim was the first group mentioned, and we all said, ‘Oh, absolutely.’ Adult Swim characters are generally hilarious, and we figured people would want to be or act with them.”

So we got in touch with Adult Swim, we had a few conversations, and we landed on two of television’s most beloved redneck cephalopods: Early and Granny Cuyler, a.k.a. the Squidbillies. The Squidbillies team provided the characters and a funny script for attendees to use.

Many MAX attendees were also huge fans of Squidbillies. They opted to voice either Early or Granny in a dialogue scripted by Squidbillies’ creative team (left). Lucie sent a message back to her family in Canada, showcasing several of our Character Animator puppets in the process (right).

Adobe quality engineer Daniel Ramirez is a key part of the Character Animator development team. He did most of the rigging of the puppets—and this was his first exposure to Squidbillies. “It was eyebrow-raising, checking out a few YouTube clips to see what I was getting myself into,” he recalls. “I’ll admit to a certain level of satisfaction in seeing their characters come to life in our application. It was pretty easy to match their reference animation using a properly rigged character. Controlling the Granny character with a webcam and face behavior also resulted in a pretty fantastic look…. I thought that the character’s compatibility with our software validated what we’re trying to do.”

Daniel adds, “It’s always great getting assets from real-world animators. Their characters exposed a lot of issues we hadn’t thought much about, and we definitely made changes to trigger layers and animations, based on the artwork they provided.”

Adobe senior experience designer Dave Werner, another integral member of the Character Animator team, says, “It’s pretty incredible to control a geriatric squid with your own face and can’t help but have fun.”

Adult Swim production coordinator Sasha Brown also chimes in: “It was great working with the Adobe Character Animator team,” says Sasha. “And it was really cool to see the future of animation methods.”


Both Daniel and Dave were among the team that joined us at MAX to work at the Create booth and help attendees create their animations. We all saw a lot of people acting pretty silly and enjoying themselves immensely.

Which is great: it’s fun to have fun! But those three days at MAX were incredibly valuable for the developers as well. When we took Character Animator to MAX, it was available to the public but still considered a preview version—as it is now: the next preview version should be available in November. And the crowd of creative professionals who visited our booth provided valuable hands-on feedback that led to software improvements: changes in the behavior of keyboard triggers, for instance. “We now allow keyboard triggers to work regardless of what panel is selected,” says Daniel. “That decision was motivated by watching people struggle with keyboard triggers that didn’t work as expected. We also met with many people interested in character animation, and those contacts are now bearing fruit as beta testers…. You can’t help but learn when you try something like this for the first time.”

Like many MAX attendees, Julio used Character animator to show off his vocal talents (left). Others, like Chris B, used it to share a little joke on social media (right)!

Some people focused on Character Animator’s practical applications—for instance, creating an animated instructor for webinars (left). Alex was one of many who used her time in the booth to create a live report from the conference (right).

Dave adds, “Preview 3 is coming soon and has a ton of improvements and new features. My favorites are slow-motion recording—recording at slower speed to get faster, more-precise movements at normal speed—and sticks, which are rigid bars that help create limbs and joints…great for characters dancing to ‘Hotline Bling.’”

Watching people be creative, and helping them be creative in new ways, is yet another perk of working for Adobe. As Dave puts it, “It was great seeing how people were creating something they never thought they could. People who had never touched character animation before were spending 30 minutes perfecting their scene.”

And that unbridled creativity is what MAX is all about. Well, that and T-shirts. We also gave away great T-shirts…. Look for us next year—who knows what we’ll cook up!


Ready to get started with Character Animator? Check out this simple five-minute tutorial.

November 13, 2015

Booth photos: Doug Beach