Creating a Digital Animation Identity on Chelsea

Katherine Isabelle Weber, a graphics producer on Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talk show, didn’t actually study animation or design in college. She wanted to be a writer or film editor, and after graduation landed a job as an editor’s assistant at Daily Planet Productions in Chicago.

“They hired me as an editor’s assistant, but asked if I knew how to animate because they needed someone to do titles,” says Katherine. “At the time I didn’t know Adobe Photoshop or After Effects. I spent the summer doing online tutorials and digging into After Effects and fell in love with it. I realized that I actually liked that aspect of post-production better than editing.”

Katherine became a motion designer at Daily Planet where she worked for four years before starting to freelance. Eventually, she made the move to Los Angeles, where she continued freelancing for companies including Disney and Beachbody, while evolving her skills to include character animation.

“I got to the point where I wanted to do more design,” she says. “I heard about the job at Chelsea through a friend and it seemed like a great fit. As a freelancer, you plateau at a certain level. I wanted to keep growing, so it was just the right time for me to take on something with a bit more responsibility.”

Working at Chelsea, Katherine is doing a lot more design work. As the lead animator on staff, she is responsible for all of the animation and visual effects work. “Believe it or not, there’s a lot of tracking and VFX work at Chelsea,” she says. “We do a lot of screen replacements and rotoscoping, and I also do motion tracking in After Effects with Mocha, which works really well.”

The team consists of two full-time graphics producers, a full-time assistant graphics producer, and a part-time assistant. In addition to producing the graphics Chelsea Handler uses during her monologue, they work on a lot of field pieces, which are primarily parodies and fake commercials. For example, they worked on a fake pharmaceutical commercial that involved a 3D animation of a pill traveling through someone’s body. They also create a lot of lower thirds and titles for various segments.

“It’s cool because we get to mimic a lot of different styles,” says Katherine. “I like trying to figure out how to replicate a look that has appeared somewhere else. We did a green screen project that involved tracking and mapping a video onto a green screen that ultimately gets cut in half when someone comes crashing through it. It’s always a different kind of challenge.”

In addition to regularly using Photoshop and After Effects, Katherine also uses Adobe Illustrator to create graphics and Adobe Premiere Pro when she has a longer editing project or when she needs to incorporate audio. But her primary application is After Effects, and she started using the Adobe Character Animator beta as soon as it was available. After following its progress, she was excited to see the animations done on The Simpsons and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

“I saw The Simpsons animation and I was floored because it was just so smooth,” says Katherine. “I thought because it was live maybe the voice and movements wouldn’t match up, but with Adobe Character Animator it was flawless. It looked like it was animated in advance.”

Katherine is particularly excited about the possibilities Adobe Character Animator opens up with social media. The team is discussing incorporating it into a Facebook Live chat and other social activities.

“Social media is a big part of growing our show,” says Katherine. “We make a lot of digital content that never even goes on the show. To have a tool like adobe Character Animator that lets us talk to the public directly using fun characters is really impressive. It also helps us incorporate more animation in the show and gives it a digital animated identity separate from the live action content.”

For a recent “Build-A-Wall Workshop” commercial developed for Chelsea, Katherine animated the character by hand and also used Character Animator for the facial movement. “Adobe Character Animator really sped up my workflow, and it wasn’t that big of a learning curve,” she says. “It wasn’t that different than the animation I was already doing, it was just a lot faster and more responsive.”

The show’s producers have seen the growth of the graphics department, and are always suggesting new ideas for graphics that they want to see added. “We’re always trying to get more and better graphics into the show, so I’m just really excited about the opportunities that Adobe Character Animator presents to us,” says Katherine. “I’m looking forward to pushing our work forward and expanding the possibilities of what we can create.”

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