Animating a Keynote Presentation With Adobe Character Animator

by Michelle Gallina

posted on 06-12-2017

Recently I had the pleasure of attending my first Media Motion Ball (MMB), produced by the International Media User Group (IMUG), at NAB 2017. For those that don’t know, the MMB has been held at NAB for the past twenty years and is filled with motion graphics artists from all over the world—those we know by name and many we do not.

The keynote speaker was Brian Maffitt, co-founder of Total Training and a well-known trainer and mentor to the After Effects community. I’ve known Brian for years and when he asked Adobe to sponsor his keynote for the 20th MMB, I was intrigued.

“As a VERY successful previous/past MediaMotion Ball presenter, we (and our audience) had wanted Brian to return for many years,” said Carey Dissmore, IMUG founder. “The 20th MMB was the perfect opportunity not only for us to enjoy another of his unique presentations but also to introduce him to a younger audience—many who may not have experienced Brian’s wonderful presentation style.”

Brian further went on to tell me why he wanted Adobe to sponsor the keynote. He was going to use Adobe Character Animator in a way it hadn’t been used before—via a live keynote presentation. Brian would be the presenter and his conscience, portrayed by characters in his slides, would tell the audience what he was really thinking—but not saying—during his presentation. For example, on one slide his conscience was a talking dinosaur and on another it was a talking King Tut. At the end of the presentation, his conscience was an apparently hand-drawn caricature of himself.

“I have always believed that a good presentation should be a conversation between the presenter and the slides.” Brian explained. “The jumping off point for this presentation was to see how far I could push that idea using Adobe Character Animator.”

Brian spoke about his life’s work and its epic failures. He had the 400-person audience riveted as he spoke about the industry’s highs and lows—and how he willingly and unwillingly participated in both.

Check out the presentation below and read further to learn how Brian did it.

The Power Behind An Animated Presentation

A flawless presentation requires a lot of planning. Brian had the PowerPoint slides down, but he had to factor in hardware for the live streaming and rig the animation inside Character Animator. His script took several weeks to refine and worked at it up until the day before the presentation. His good friend, Darin DePaul, who does work for video games and commercials for companies like Geico, provided the voiceover work. Galen Fott, an animator, did the live animation and slide presentation. After the first few introductory slides, the entire show was one giant Character Animator puppet with several hundred layers and carefully-crafted keyboard shortcuts to turn individual “slides” on and off, trigger the bullet points, and control the puppets.

“Pretending to be a slide show is a lot more challenging than it sounds,” laughed Galen. “Each bullet on a given slide would be triggered by a specific keyboard shortcut, then I would fade to a neutral slide and frantically set up the next slide. Resetting between slides might involve a dozen button presses, all of which had to happen in the right order, in only a few seconds. Plus, live puppeteering all the blinks and arm gestures! It was stressful, but fun, and the audience really appreciated it.”

Galen was driving two mac laptops, one that was running Character Animator and one that was operating Blackmagic HD Studio. Character Animator was operated via a programmable keyboard from X-keys. Meanwhile, Darin was sitting next to Galen, speaking his lines into a headset mic while performing the face capture into a Logitech webcam. There was a video feed from a house camera so both could monitor the performance live.

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