How The Simpsons live episode was created in After Effects’s Character Animator tool

Last night in the US, the first ever live segment of an episode of The Simpsons aired on TV . We’re not sure when it’s coming to the UK, but you can watch it above.

Here’s what you need to know for context. The episode involves Homer joining an improv comedy troupe, getting locked in a secret bunker and performing the last part of the show live from there. It’s improvised, with a few viewers able to phone in and ask Homer questions.

It’s also not very funny. However, what’s most interesting for Digital Arts readers is how it was created.

The three-minute sequence was created using Adobe’s Character Animator tool, which works alongside After Effects and is technically still in beta (or as Adobe calls it, a ‘Preview’). In advance, animators created the scene and rigged Homer using Character Animator’s Puppet tool. They rigged his face and mouth to respond to actor Dan Castellaneta talking and moving his head, and also created pre-canned animators involving Homer’s body and characters from Lisa to Mr Burns that could be triggered by keyboard shortcuts.

When live, Castellaneta’s words and head-motions were automatically created based on a video feed from a camera pointed at him. The animators then triggered body animations and brought on other characters whenever they thought appropriate. The animation that was created was then captured live and broadcast.

The live segment was done twice – once for viewers on the East Coast of the US and once for those on the West Coast. This is usual for live episodes of major drama and comedy shows in the US, which don't happen that offer but have included full-length episodes of shows like ER and The West Wing.

The Simpsons live episode sequence was created using a new version of Character Animator (below) that’s due out soon, with more flexibility and some new tools – as part of Adobe’s 2016 Creative Cloud video tools update.

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