Talented Animator Produces Live and Pre-Recorded Content using Adobe Character Animator CC

Image source: “Critically Awkward” courtesy of Jennifer Chiu

by Molly Thompson

posted on 07-17-2018

Growing up, Jennifer Chiu loved animation and dreamed of working as an animator. But in college, she discovered one limiting factor: she didn’t enjoy drawing. After earning a degree in film, graphic design, and animation, she moved to Los Angeles and worked as a motion graphics designer for a daytime talk show. However, the NYU grad ultimately wasn’t fulfilled creatively. So, she decided to start her own company with Co-Founder Keith Stevens. Motion Sickness is a creative studio that produces motion graphics and VFX-driven digital content.

“Creatively, I wanted the freedom to make original content and work on a variety of projects,” says Jennifer. “I moved back to New York and started doing client work in addition to personal projects.”

While working with Keith on an animated talk show idea, the two came across The Simpsons episode featuring a live Q&A with Homer Simpson. “We were kind of dreaming up this concept and then, after seeing The Simpsons live episode, we thought that it might be really cool to do the whole thing as a live, animated show,” says Jennifer. “Adobe Character Animator was really awesome for me to discover, as a person who likes animating but doesn’t like drawing.”

Something fresh in a crowded market

Today, Jennifer produces a popular Twitch talk show with Keith Stevens and Max Dayan. The show, called Critically Awkward, is video game-centric and includes animated avatars of each person on the screen, streaming in real time. The trio plays video games and talks about movies, trailers, and entertainment, in addition to conducting some game developer interviews.

It took them a while to establish the best technical workflow since the streaming process is complex for live animated content. The biggest challenges were streaming multiple characters at once, sometimes with other guests joining via video conferencing, and the fact that Keith and Jennifer are in New York and Max is in Los Angeles.

The team has smoothed things out and continues to find ways to make it better. The real-time lip-syncing in Character Animator make it possible for the team of three cartoon co-hosts to simultaneously speak and play video games as live, animated avatars.

“I think people really like it, and the response we get immediately from new audience members is that it’s pretty cool,” says Jennifer.

Animated animals in a hurry

While Jennifer’s client-based work involves more commercials, promos, video game trailers, and documentary videos, she also tries to pitch projects that use Character Animator. Recently, she responded to an open pitch call for comedic sketches for Wild After Dark, a Nat Geo Wild series featuring animal-centric short stories and sketches.

“It was pretty quick turnaround, so using Character Animator was the best way to go about this project,” says Jennifer. “We only had a few weeks to execute three two-minute animated sketches, two of which were included in the first 60-minute episode.”

The project’s lead artist, Kristie Kish, designed the characters and backgrounds in Adobe Photoshop CC. Jennifer rigged and animated the characters in Character Animator, powered by Adobe Sensei and did the final compositing and editing in After Effects CC and Adobe Premiere Pro CC.

Meghana Reddy was the writer and voice talent for all the sketches. The writing was essentially improv, which made Adobe Character Animator especially useful since it speeds up the production process so much. “Meghana came up with the lionfish character on the fly by just messing around with Character Animator her first time,” says Jennifer. “I was able to go in after everything was done to clean things up and add more animation based on the voiceover. It was a very collaborative process.”

The finished product aired on Nat Geo Wild, and involved a sassy, Valley Girl lionfish (Gossip Gill) shaking things up under the sea, as well as a nerdy Adélie penguin (Rocks of Love) trying to court a female penguin by building a nest made of rocks.

“What amazes me the most to this day is the dynamics and particle systems—you get this secondary animation for free,” says Jennifer. “The penguin has these two little dangly hairs that just move with him naturally. That would have been a huge headache to get done with traditional animation.”

Success in both client-based work at Motion Sickness and passion projects like Critically Awkward have earned Jennifer some notoriety of late.

See Jennifer at Comic Con

Jennifer will be taking part in two panels at San Diego Comic Con. The first is titled “Up Your Game: Create Live Animated Avatars” and she will discuss how her team produces the animations of Critically Awkward alongside other professionals in the field. Notably, Adobe’s Erica Schisler will moderate the panel, and Adobe’s Dan Ramirez will give a mini-tutorial of Character Animator.

The second panel, titled “Extraordinary Women, Extraordinary Animation – get started in Animation!” will focus on the insights of Jennifer and several other talented professionals who have created successful careers for themselves through animation.

Here’s where else to find us at SD Comic-Con:

Swing by our booth (4313) to meet the team, listen to our users discuss their latest projects, and get your hands on Adobe’s creative tools.

Stay tuned to Adobe CC Video Facebook and Adobe CC Video Twitter for the latest on the ground at Comic Con, including special surprises!

Topics: Creativity, Digital Transformation, Video & Audio

Products: After Effects, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Creative Cloud