20 May 2016

Homer Alone: The Simpsons goes live with Adobe

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Homer Simpson - ready to go live Homer Simpson - ready to go live Fox

Now in its 22nd season, The Simpsons has made history once again, with a sequence billed as world’s first live animation event incorporated into its most recent episode.

Dubbed ‘Simprovised’, the latest instalment was, for the most part, business as usual for the long-running show - what with Homer capitalising on a previously undiscovered talent (in this case a knack for improvised comedy) and the jokes not being as funny as they used to be (something that all articles, including this one, are now duty-bound to point out).

Then, however, came a two-minute coda, featuring a live phone-in allowing American viewers to speak to and interact directly with the show’s eternally hapless hero Homer Simpson. While the callers were pre-screened, the conversations were live, with voice actor Dan Castellaneta improvising his responses in-character and the accompanying animation adapting on-the-fly. If not exactly hilarious, it did temporarily turn The Simpsons into Event TV once again.

Despite previous mocking references to Asian sweatshops housing armies of artists slaving over every frame of the show, the live animation feat was instead achieved with a little help from a beta version of Adobe’s Character Animator. The tool, which works within After Effects, allows users to design assets in Photoshop and Illustrator, then quickly import them into a scene where keystrokes and/or a webcam feed can be used to obtain instantly animated results.

In this case, Castellaneta’s acting was video performance-captured in realtime and used to drive Homer’s head and mouth animations. These were then paired with pre-canned body movements along with incidental scene animations featuring other characters, all of which the animators triggered based on the flow of conversation. The sequence was actually captured and broadcast twice, one for the benefit of East Coast viewers and another for the West Coast audience.

Although currently in ‘Preview’ state, Adobe plans to release a new version of Character Animator as part of an imminent Creative Cloud video update. This will also include updates and additions to Premiere Pro, Audition and Effect Effects. Key improvements to Character Animator will be the introduction of a new Tag panel and better control over parent-child elements. Audition will introduce a new Essential Sound panel, which promises better control for non-specialist audio users. After Effects will feature a new video and audio preview system, improved GPU accelerator support and better integration with Cinema 4D. The CC2016 version of Premiere Pro, meanwhile, will re-introduce the concept of offline proxy version footage editing (a boon for high-end format work), along with performance boosts, improved colour correction tools and expanded 360-degree VR support.


Mark Ramshaw

Mark has been pushing pixels for 34 years in one form or another. He started out as a games programmer and computer book author, before going on to edit and write for a wide range of film, technology, arts and music magazines - interviewing everyone from Ray Harryhausen and H.R. Giger to Gareth Edwards and Terry Gilliam along the way.

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