Adobe. Creators of undeniably the most popular and user-friendly digital artistic and design programmes – allowing users with even basic knowledge with the ability to achieve professional quality effects.
Nobody (outside of internet message boards – who complain about everything) hates Adobe, because their programs have the three things needed to be awesome – they don’t crash, they don’t get in users way and they can be used for a wide variety of applications encompassing video, images and text – with the ability to integrate with one another. Great. Perfect. Awesome!
But… all of this has downsides. Their programs have grown exponentially – vastly increasing capabilities for more detailed work, but also steadily raising the level of inherent complexity in the programs themselves. In addition to growing the programs, the developers constantly face an uphill struggle – meeting the wide array of challenges presented by integration, interactivity and general bugs that accompany any software of that size.
All of this and many factors in-between mean that more recently their updates and new features have been a little. Well… dull. Not bad, certainly useful to some people, but definitely not exciting either.
Perhaps this view is harsh, especially to the people who work so tirelessly to make sure the software works as intended – but the problem is that in my mind, and the mind of everyone else who is in love with their programs – Adobe have always been at the cutting edge – bringing the amazing little tweaks that really change the way design happens.
The first Photoshop, released commercially in March 1989, was truly revolutionary. It not only allowed for professional photo editing on a personal computer, it introduced new tools – brand new ideas fresh from the minds of avid designers themselves – packaged and ready to go, a world of go-to essential techniques that the world of design would soon be unable to live without. The magic wand tool alone has saved so many hundreds of thousands of designers all around the world countless hours of chopping and changing. It was exactly this spark of new genius which has allowed Adobe to lead the market for so long – their sense of knowing what will help their users, whilst being fun and innovative at the same time.
So, what has happened in recent days? Well, from that perspective – not much. I’m sorry but supporting more camera image types, increasing the lenses for Photoshop and DNG, and finally fixing long overdue bugs in InDesign file types? It just seems strange for the business that basically wrote the book for how to design in the future. Logical – yes. Helpful – yes. Boring – definitely.
Moving their download/subscription model to a creative cloud has been a bold move but has a sharp feeling of commerciality to it – of business growth rather than revolution or ground-breaking innovation.
BUT (and it’s a big but) it seems, with their big commercial moves out of the way, Adobe is once more starting to deliver some next-generation tools for their users.
Say hello to real-time 2D animation for the price of a webcam through Adobe Character Animator. Using the same ideas as big-budget film motion capture – the app captures live information to feed computer animation.
Typically, when considering live motion capture, you capture visual data through HD cameras using green stickers to map facial movements (or ping pong ball coated leotards for 3D). When actually animating, designers may also have to implant motion meticulously frame by frame, or solve problems on the fly – meaning real-time animation is difficult and risky.
Instead, with this new ability, all you need for strong animation – setup to remove the chance of problems – is a basic webcam, a mic and a character model.
The programme maps facial expression types at the click of a button and matches your movements to designated character/figure movements. As well as matching simple actions, the programme tracks eyebrows, eye and mouth movement in real-time – replicating instantly. How? Well, the character figures are made up of separate layers. These each accord to phonemes and changes in the recorded image – specific mouth and facial movements which correspond to particular triggers.
Say, for instance, you say ‘Ouch!’ with a surprised face – the computer would recognise the eyes widening – the raised eyebrows and the sounds through the microphone – then create the animation accordingly. Of course, it requires some basic programming to setup – but from there it’s smooth sailing.
With such a simple approach, there are endless possibilities in character design, from South Park styled animation, to detailed animated figures that recognise thousands of movements. Although the application is limited right now to two-dimensional figures, it has already gotten the interest of the industry by once more unlocking the potential of a typically expensive process.
I suppose time will tell, but this release says one thing very clearly – the vast potential of live detailed face mapping and action tracking abilities can now allow businesses to create custom animation in a fraction of the time, without sacrificing quality.
This tool, free as part of Aftereffects in the Adobe creative cloud, is now live and ready to use if you need animations to suit any purpose. With such a quick recording process, and the ability to set up an animation for easy future creation – this is the ideal tool for brands to reduce the cost of creating support, promotional and information filled videos for customers.