Stack of pencils, sheets of transparent paper, and an animator hunched over his desk bringing characters to life, one frame at a time. This was the craft of animation. As we rewind and look back we can truly appreciate how far this art has developed and discover where we are headed in the former celluloid world of animation.
In the 1906 film, “The Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” chalk drawings of characters come to life. Moving eyes, smiles and grins of a man and woman set to music. The animation of changing expressions is crude by today’s standards, but there was a bit of magic to it that captured the attention and entertained those who watched.
Jump ahead to 2015 and the release of Adobe’s Character Animator, which brings 2D characters to life through the use of tracking software. Presented at NAB 2015, the Adobe Character Animator ushers in a new era of character animation. Put simply, Adobe Character Animator tracks your facial movements, lets you record dialogue and enables you to trigger actions with your keyboard that give life and expressions to characters created in Illustrator or Photoshop. Move your eyes and the character will follow. Speak and the mouth movements change with each word. This is an animation game changer.
What is exciting for me is the comparison between that first animated film and Adobe’s new software ‑ they are both technologies in their infancy. What seems like a huge advancement now will seem elementary one day in hindsight. Creatives will experiment and push the possibilities of this software in ways we can’t yet imagine.
Adobe Character Animator opens the doors for more people to do lip synch techniques and character animation, and accessibility like this is sure to create some tensions. My crystal ball predicts that marketers and social media specialists will one day animate characters at their desktops as easily as they now write an email. Businesses focused on this technique will deliver animated content at the fraction of the price in a fraction of the time it takes now. But as quickly as those changes occur, a new marketplace will form selling custom characters and unique facial expressions. Quality, as with everything, will continue to be paramount.
As I experiment with this motion tracking technology on my own computer, I find myself staring at the screen, testing my movements, making crazy faces and hoping no one is secretly recording. The one constant that we can always count on with technology is change. Good or bad, I’m excited about the ever-evolving craft of animation and the possibilities ahead.