Hi – This is a technical character design/layout question.
What are the best practices for setting up layered artwork files when you want to use the same file for both After Effects (AE) and Character Animator (CH). Specifically the layer structure for .PSD and/or group structure for AI. I want to streamline workflow between the AE & CH and this seems like the best place to start. Having a single artwork source file is the most practical approach, especially when it comes to making changes to the art. Having to maintain two or more files for the same character becomes burdensome.
The CH Directory structure is stacked and the naming conventions facilitate autorig setup. However, the same structure does seem to work in AE as the sub layers don’t appear, so they cannot be manipulated on the timeline.
Character Animator File Structure for Animated Character:
Adobe After Effects File Structure for Animated Character:
Note that for AE everything is at the top level of the design file – no sub layers.
Since the layered structure that works well in CH becomes a "brick" in AE - (unless I am missing something) then my assumption is that I should use the art file that works for AE rigging and bring that file into CH. Problem is - the autorig doesn't work as it's missing some key components like Body and Mouth, etc.
So - is there a work around for this? Like setting up Nulls for the missing top level layers? (ie. Body, Mouth, etc.)
Note: I do not want to bring rendered PNGs into After effects because I prefer keyframing. I am interested in Visemes generation in CH (dynamic link) as well as future integration between the two programs.
Have you tried dynamic linking the CH puppet into AE (I drag the puppet icon from the CH window into the AE window). That is, don't load the illustrator file into AE, dynamic link the CH puppet instead. (I was not sure exactly what you were trying to do however, so sorry if this is off base.)
I find dynamic linking keeps everything in sync, but is sluggish on my little laptop. So I use it as a last resort, but it does work.
I have been using dynamic link - but with the head only. I stripped the body out of that file and it seems to perform better - because yes - I have noticed performance issues with dynamic link. It's the lip syncing and character expressions that I think are the real time saver. But I don't like relying on the actors motion for the body animation. Eventually I might just link the mouth shapes dynamically and keyframe everything else in AE.
So unfortunately I am still maintaining two files per character as the naming conventions and layer structure are different for each program: one for Ch (the head only) and one for AE (head and body)
Interesting idea - drop a comment here if it works well for you! I do the full puppet because of the dangles (gravity) on hair, clothes etc you can set up. But I agree - the lack of key frames is painful in Ch.
This is my hacky Ch keyframe work around if any use. I work out the x,y,scale values for the start and end of a transition I want - I write down the coordinates on paper. I then set the coordinates to the starting position for the puppet, hit the start recording button, type in the end values I want, let it record for a few seconds of the final state (I completely ignore timing with the rest of the scene when doing this), then stop recording. I now have a recording with the last few seconds being the correct final x,y,scale for my movement. I then trim all the start of the recording off (the left side of the take) so I just have the last few seconds left. I then extend the right size (lengthen) the take. For x,y,scale it remembers the last value when you stretch a take. So I now can stretch and position the take to whatever length I need. Then finally, I use the blend to transition to the new values. That does a poor mans key framing for x,y,scale inside Ch! It is painful, but then I get all the hair dangles etc.
I use it on a background image for example to do panning. Episode 1 - Friendship - Teaser 1 - YouTube I also use it to make characters bob up and down for walking simulation (with hair bounces). (This example does not have much hair movement, but if you look closely near the collar you can see some.) I found the built in walk movements did not suit my needs.
The little blue humps below (blending start and end) is how I got the bobbing motion for the character. I duplicate the take per step. Then the second purple scale transform blend is how the background zoomed out.
The thing I like about Ch is you can scrub through a scene real time, even on my laptop. Other tools like Ae needed to render the scene (slow). So I try and do as much as possible in Ch these days, then use the other tools only for things Ch cannot do.
> hit the start recording button, type in the end values I want, let it record for a few seconds of the final state (I completely ignore timing with the rest of the scene when doing this), then stop recording
A shortcut to do the same thing:
This is pretty much the same thing you were already doing, but skips the recording part, and the resulting take can be extended from either end and still retain the recorded value (like a Hold keyframe in AE).
If you run into a problem where the blend seems to be ignored (jumps to the recorded value rather than smoothly ramping into it), press the Refresh button at the bottom of the scene panel.
> Since the layered structure that works well in CH becomes a "brick" in AE
When you import a PSD into AE, you can choose Import Kind = Composition, and you'll get a nested comp for each group in the PSD. Does that do what you want in terms of access to all the separate groups/layers?
I'm using Illustrator. I'll have to try it again - The first time I did it - I did not see the nested layers appear in AE. Also, I was researching plugins that might reveal the layers as well. I'll keep at it.
Ah, yes, with Illustrator I think only the top-level layers (not nested layers) come across into AE as sub-comps.