A live mocap’d animated character could be what you need to ramp up your online sessions

See how ASIFA-SOUTH is using Reallusion’s Cartoon Animator 4 to do just that.

Right now, we all seem to be doing a lot of video conference calls or watching a whole bunch of online webinars while working from home. This means, of course, a lot of watching of other people.

One organization mixing up all these video chats and live streams and broadcasts and taking them a step further—with not-so-real people—is ASIFA-SOUTH, the Atlanta-based animation group that is part of Association Internationale du Film d’Animation, or ASIFA.

It has started using Reallusion’s Cartoon Animator to create live motion captured 2D characters of the speakers on these video chats and broadcasts.

The art of mascot puppets

With specially designed 2D ‘mascot puppets’ and using Cartoon Animator 4’s abilities to live-track facial performance and hand movements and create real-time lip sync, ASIFA-SOUTH has made their video sessions into very different experiences.

Their idea is to offer a new way to interact during this COVID-19 pandemic by offering a real sense of presence from these characters—controlled by real people—in the live sessions.

The choice of Cartoon Animator came partly from its accessibility. All users need is a webcam or iPhone, while a lot of extensibility can also come from using a Leap Motion device for finger and arm capture-to-animation.

The simple set-up brings a lot of value to the sessions, says Marisa Ginger Tontaveetong, president of ASIFA-SOUTH who is also a producer for School of Humans and a SIGGRAPH strategy advisor.

Hand tracking with LEAP motion in Cartoon Animator.

“We are training animators who are beginner animators to do this. Our team were able to pick up Cartoon Animator really quickly.”

One character that ASIFA-SOUTH built to test this live character workflow, in particular, is known as ‘Professor Apple’. A comic and brand guide was established in Canva (where other character designs also reside). These then get rigged in Cartoon Animator and readied for use.

Why use characters at all?

One of the main reasons the organization had for jumping into animated mascots for its live broadcasts was that ASIFA-SOUTH felt interaction could be improved, especially where there might be a round-table discussion of something that needed very open discussion.

Tontaveetong controls Professor Apple.

“Some people might not want their face on there,” suggests Tontaveetong, “so we thought this would be a good way to create some avatars and let people talk about stuff in the industry that they might normally be able to. Coupled with Voicemod, which can change your voice into something else live, we’re able to provide that option.”

Other reasons for the introduction of 2D animated mascots included making news or update broadcasts more engaging. The plan, too, is to enable many different avatars for conferences and meet-ups, and an ultimate goal is to tell stories with these characters and almost count them as amongst the ‘real’ rank-and-file of ASIFA-SOUTH.

Tontaveetong is particularly excited about adopting a tool, in Cartoon Animator, that is not only able to assist in communication and interaction, but also likely to be something that animation-centric members will be curious to explore themselves.

Professor Apple in fully cartoon rendered form.

For example, a recent live animation voice over battle hosted by ASIFA-SOUTH utilized Cartoon Animator to enable users to make 30-45 seconds of animation as a way of both learning the tool and the art of V/O.

“There’s all this technology outside,” notes Tontaveetong, “but people are sometimes not going to try it until someone else shows them how to do it, or kind of pulls them in. We’re showcasing what it can do.”

The next ASIFA-SOUTH event where Cartoon Animator and the 2D animated mascots will be incorporated is the 2020 ASIFAC Animation Festival and Conference, being held virtually on December 11th and 12th. One of the highlights of the event is the voice-over live animation competition. This is free to enter, and participants can win Reallusion software.

And for more on how you can get your hands on Reallusion’s Cartoon Animator 4, head to the website to see demos, download a free trial and buy the tool.

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This article is part of the befores & afters VFX Insight series. If you’d like to promote your VFX/animation/CG tech or service, you can find out more about the VFX Insight series here.

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