Digital puppets: Part 2: Puppet Masters
Traditionally traditional animation took hours, days, weeks, months and even years to complete a final piece of work, ready to entertain or educate. Going back to the days of pencil, paper, inking and cel painting, a typical animation ran at 24 frames per second. So a 5 minute cartoon could require 7,200 final images (not including all the prep work and post production). All this work wasn’t done by a single person, in fact it was done by a team, and more recently that team wasn’t even in the same place, as an animation studio could be split between the US and outsource countries such as South Korea, France, Ireland and more.
I did a 50 minute interview recently, using our cartoon avatar. Had that been traditionally produced, that would have been 72,000 individual frames. What took me an hour to put together in Premiere Pro could have taken months! I think you get my point, it’s a lot of work, so how on Earth can a traditional looking cartoon operate live? As the Simpsons once said, it would be a terrible strain on the animator’s wrists.
Adobe, the company behind Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere Pro and many more industry staples, has produced a new software called Character Animator. With this program you can rig a character so it has built into it animated layers, ready to activate when the signal is given to the software.
What is the signal? The software works very simply. Once you have a puppet created, you sit in front of a web camera and microphone and move and talk. The digital puppet will apt your movements, including eye pupil tracking and blinks, plus it will lip sync to your vocals automatically. Not only can a puppet do this, but you can create ‘trigger animations’, so if you design it so a character becomes angry, shoots lazers from its eyes, fly (it’s an animation, it can do anything you imagine), all you have to do is press a designated keyboard button and it will trigger the animated sequence.
The Simpsons took full advantage of this not long ago and produced a live episode, where Homer answered questions from fans who called in. The team who built the Homer puppet created a wealth of movements to make it look as fluid as you would see him produced on television. Here is a Youtube link to the Simpsons live animations and also a page describing in further detail how it was put together.
Click this image link to read Cartoon Brew article about how the live episode of the Simpsons was produced:
Digital puppets do not need to be operated by animators. You don’t need years of learning the craft. You can learn how to use the software in just a few hours. It’s that simple. You can now make your own animations and as often and as quickly as you wish to. Got a presentation or want to produce a sample pilot? You can do it now without it costing a fortune. Got no presenting skills but want a Youtube page that is going to get noticed, then try a cartoon presenter.
The characters can be as simple or as complex as you wish to make them. You can make them walk, you can make them turn around fully around. You could even make them dance or change costume. Anything. You can create high quality, television ready animation instantly. We’ve sketched, digitalised, rigged and readied our alien character in Adobe Character Animator, so the next step is to show you how he can come to life! Which we will unveil in our next and final article.
So what can you do with a digital puppet?
A lot! Cartoon characters can reach out and interact with audiences both online and in the real world. Digital puppets are already being used very successfully on sites such as Twitch, where people want to stand out from others, and like advertisers have been doing for a long time, cartoon characters are very attention grabbing and a great way to boost a brand.
If you have a brand character for a license property, or even a mascot for a company, you can bring them to life on sites such as Facebook live. Those characters can interact with audiences direct, either to answer questions or to highlight a new promotion. Digital puppets are not only for live performances however. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, animation use to take a long time to produce, and a lot of manpower, which all equals a vast amount of money and time you don’t have when you want to promote something straight away. Today people want new content now now now. Using digital puppets you could create new content extremely fast, as in, minutes. Got a new sale on? Get the mascot to tell everyone about it straight away.
Digital puppets do not just live online either, they can exist out in the real world. If kids enjoy watching their favourite cartoons on TV, then they no longer need to meet over sized, people in costume versions of those characters at theme parks or shows. Instead they could meet and talk to the characters as they know and love them. Either by using props with cleverly built in screens (image a character talking out the ‘window’ of a spaceship) or by using projection, fans could meet the toons in their original 2D or 3D form.
- At theme parks characters could entertain visitors or even give theme directions to the latest rides.
- At museums and historical places of interest, paintings could come to life to engage with an audience in a brand new, memorable way.
- Theatre productions could have animated characters that were not pre-recorded and so could ad-lib with the other performers and even interact with the crowd in real time.
- A new children’s book character could read excerpts of their book whilst on a promotional tour,
- and characters from a new movie could even get involved with junket interviews.
- At a theme park people could take part in an interactive treasure hunts, one which could change season to season to give people new games to play and mysteries to solve. In fact it could change on a daily basis and it could even be played in stores or online via sites such as FB live as part of promotional competitions for interactive marketing.
In our next and final article, we will show you how our puppet comes to life and how he can operate both online and offline. In the meantime, if you have any questions on what you have ready here, please feel free to drop a comment below or email us direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
Til next time, thanks 🙂
If you would like to know more about our virtual presenters, please visit www.digitalpuppets.co.uk or vist https://www.facebook.com/digitalpuppe…
If you use Adobe Character Animator and would like a custom digital puppet created, you can contact us at
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