Adobe Brings Santa and His Helpers to Life Through the NORAD Tracks Santa Program

by John Landwehr

posted on 12-19-2018

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all in the houses, kids convened around their computers, their hands hovered over their mouses!

With Christmas less than one week away, children across the nation are eagerly awaiting their annual visit from Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, which begs the question – where’s Santa?

He knows when kids are sleeping and when they’re awake, but now with the help of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a binational U.S. and Canadian Command, both kids and adults can track Santa’s whereabouts on Dec. 24 through the organization’s revamped website, social media channels, the “Santa Cam” streaming video and its around-the-clock call center. Over 1,400 volunteers are expected to join the seasonal festivities by supporting NORAD onsite at the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, where they will monitor Santa’s journey across the globe.

In addition to honoring its 60th anniversary of defending our country, this year marks the 63rd iteration of the NORAD Tracks Santa program. But the festivities don’t just begin on Christmas Eve – the NORAD Tracks Santa program was officially unveiled on Dec. 1 this year, which showcases a holiday countdown on its website as well as festive games, educational activities and more information surrounding NORAD’s Homeland Defense mission.

You heard it right! Along with sponsoring the NORAD Tracks Santa program every year, NORAD’s primary mission is defending the United States and Canada by overseeing North America’s aerospace and maritime warning and control systems as well as monitoring aerospace activity on a global scale. And just like the command’s seamless work tracking Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve, NORAD uses the same sophisticated satellite, radar and interceptor intelligence to protect us every day, all year around.

Yet contrary to Santa’s speedy sleigh ride, the development of the NORAD Tracks Santa program didn’t happen overnight. NORAD took cues from Santa and his elves, as the operation did require all-hands-on-deck in order to go off without a hitch. For this reason, the command enlisted the contributions and expertise of multiple organizations, including our team at Adobe.

We have been proud to support the NORAD Tracks Santa program for three years. Each year, we expand our efforts to ensure users have an even greater and more interactive experience when visiting the site than in years prior. We worked diligently in our own workshop to make the current iteration of NORAD Tracks Santa the best yet – leveraging Adobe’s robust suite of Creative Cloud solutions, such as Photoshop, Audition, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Media Encoder and Character Animator.

This marked the inaugural year in which Adobe leveraged the Character Animator tool to render graphics of existing Christmas characters used for the NORAD Tracks Santa program’s “North Pole Village.” The application ultimately helped bring them to life through performances played out by our very own team members, which captured the human expressions and movements of Adobe employees and animated these motions for the characters. So, when a member of our team smiled and nodded his or her head during the recorded performance, their corresponding character would, as well.

Numerous Adobe employees contributed their expertise along with technology innovations. Wendy Dinova-Wimmer, senior digital media architect, managed Adobe’s contributions to the NORAD Tracks Santa program and created all the character animations out of the existing 3D characters, along with producing the resulting graphics and videos. Dave Werner, designer on the Character Animator team, served as a technical consultant for the application. Gary Pugh, senior architect for innovation, provided the technical integration of digital media into the website. Many other members of the Adobe team and their family members contributed their voices for the project, including David Mathew, Sandy Mervak, and Jonathan Benett.

The NORAD Tracks Santa program aligns with Adobe’s mission to educate kids and encourage them to participate in STEAM-related subjects. Our team is proud to be involved in this annual program and spread the holiday spirit near and far.

Topics: Industry, Government

Products: Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Creative Cloud