Bringing a Beloved Brand to Life on Facebook Using Adobe Character Animator

AvatarLabs helped generate significant buzz ahead of the release of “My Little Pony: The Movie”.

Courtesy of AvatarLabs.

No one could have predicted the success—or longevity—of the My Little Pony franchise when it first debuted in the early 1980s. What started as a toy line aimed at young girls evolved into several animated specials, a feature-length film, and two television series. In the early 2000s, Hasbro successfully reinvigorated the brand, expanding its merchandising and audience appeal to a new generation.

So it came as no surprise when in October 2017 Lionsgate released My Little Pony: The Movie, the latest incarnation of the franchise. The buzz leading up to opening night was palpable, thanks in part to a 30-minute, Facebook Live event on September 12, 2017. The event, featuring Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie interacting live with the audience with help from Adobe Character Animator, garnered 72,000 views and more than 10,000 comments on the social platform.

“The event turned into a family viewing experience,” says JB Fondren, senior digital producer and account manager at AvatarLabs, the full-service interactive agency that partnered with Lionsgate, Hasbro, and Adobe to host the animated live event. “The level of emotional engagement was fantastic, and greater than if we had approached this in a traditional way.”

Courtesy of AvatarLabs.

AvatarLabs worked with the movie’s animation team to secure the character poses they needed for the Facebook Live event. After receiving the base models, JB and her team used Adobe Photoshop to prep them before moving on to Character Animator for rigging.

“Adobe Character Animator gave us the ability to create living, breathing characters with blinking eyes and bobbing ponytails,” says JB. “Every mouth position and head tilt was accounted for.”

Courtesy of AvatarLabs.

The AvatarLabs team worked together to execute the animation. The Adobe Sensei powered facial recognition and lip sync capabilities in Character Animator captured the expressions and mouth positions of the voice actors as they spoke to their fans.

Even more important than getting things right technically was striking the right tone and fidelity. “It wasn’t a linear process but it was a very cohesive process,” explains Nicole Karon, AvatarLabs’ director of client services. “We worked closely with Lionsgate and Hasbro to get this just right.”

Thankfully, the live event went off without a hitch. “We were surprised to see how genuinely engaged the fans were, and how positively they responded,” says James Safechuck, director of innovation and technology at AvatarLabs. “It was thrilling to feel the excitement from parents and their children across the country.”

Courtesy of AvatarLabs.

The team concedes that they wouldn’t have had the budget to do this if they had to rely on traditional methods. “The budget would have been 10 times higher,” says Jason Steinberg, vice president of strategic initiatives for AvatarLabs. “Using Character Animator, we were able to approach this in a new, more cost-effective and efficient way that opens up new creative opportunities for us to explore.”

For example, they used keyframe capabilities within Character Animator to create specific expressions that were easily triggered from the keyboard. They also used different camera angles to give the event a dynamic, live cartoon feel. And because they were doing all of the animation on the fly, they could create off the cuff moments not possible with traditional animation.

On the day of the live stream, the AvatarLabs team sat alongside Hasbro and Lionsgate, watching the event unfold from the AvatarLabs in-house studio.

“My Little Pony fans planned their day around this event,” says Nicole. “They were there because they love the franchise and wanted to be part of the moment. It was a wonderful thing to experience.”

James Safechuck and JB Fondren from AvatarLabs will be presenting in the Adobe booth SL4610 at NAB 2018 on Tuesday, April 10th at 3:00 PM. Their presentation on Wednesday, April 11th at 3:00 PM will be live streamed on the Adobe After Effects Facebook page (@aftereffects).