Samsung delivered its promised Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse “AR Emoji” for the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ today. These motion-captured, animated characters follow your facial movements, and are the first in a series of high-profile Disney-branded emoji characters, including characters from Frozen and The Incredibles. But they show the limits of AR Emoji technology, which isn’t quite up to the animation level of Apple’s Animoji.
“AR Emoji” is actually a bunch of different ways to create photos and videos with CGI. There’s the custom, part-photographic, motion-captured human faces that are supposed to look like you, and which also generate cute GIF stickers. You can also become three pre-generated cartoon characters, or put a bunch of hats and silly masks on humans in your video.
Mickey and Minnie are the first Disney ones. You tap on the filter, and can turn yourself or someone near your camera into the Disney character.
The animation isn’t great. Turning and moving your head works fine, but the mouth isn’t expressive enough, and raising your eyebrow distorts the whole face. While Mickey and Minnie have bodies (which you can see by zooming or panning), you can’t move the arms and legs, or turn the bodies. Also, it doesn’t make a Mickey voice.
That said, I’m impressed Samsung convinced Disney to do this. Mickey and Minnie are the most prized intellectual property of a company that’s famous for protecting its intellectual property, and Samsung just made it easy for its two famous, family-friendly cartoon mice to be made to say really wrong things. (This is the internet; it will happen.) I mean, it’s not like there aren’t porn parodies of Frozen (do not search for this), but I don’t think those actually use legally licensed images.
AR Emoji lags behind Apple’s 16 generic cartoon animals for two reasons. First of all, the iPhone X has a 3D depth-sensing camera on the front, which lets it track faces more quickly and accurately than the Galaxy S9.
With the human AR Emoji, Samsung set itself a more difficult challenge than Apple had. Flaws in CGI human faces tend to disturb people more than poorly animated cartoon characters, part of a phenomenon known as the “uncanny valley.”
I feel like the Disney characters could be better with software upgrades, and those can happen in the cloud. Figuring out a better way to represent eyebrow-raises isn’t about a lack of camera technology, just about a lack of thought put into the animations, and the animations can be upgraded.
With the right animation quality, Samsung’s Disney AR Emoji could definitely be a plus for the Galaxy S9 line. But Mickey has to look like Mickey, not a cut-rate copy.