Lip Sync in Animation

As we enter what is for me the most intense challenge in illustration, i felt I needed more guidance and tips on what makes a good lip sync.

I naturally went to the library and picked up some books about animation. I was most looking forward opening “The Illusion of Life Disney Animation” by Frank Thomas and Ollie Jonhston. I remember wanting this book from before I even thought about going into animation. As a Disney fan, and considering them the best in animation, I felt some tips from them could only be beneficial.

The chapter about dialogue was a gold mine in terms of tips and tricks as well as spacing. I categorized 17 points that will help make my lip syncs better.

  1. A slight pause at the end of each phrase helps display the expression while the body is quiet.
  2. Eyes lead first
  3. The whole action should be exposed about three frames ahead of the actual beat
  4. The dialogue should be anticipated with the head, body or gestures three to four frames ahead of the heavy modulation but the mouth sync should be right on the modulation. If it is a closed mouth, it will be on the consonant and remain closed for two frames in order to be seen.
  5. Mouth shapes should defer according to the character to be able to show personality.
  6. When a word ends, keep the mouth open on the last sound, retain the mouth expression. This was best shown in “101 Dlamatians” in the way “Colonel” talk.

I decided to watch 101 Dalmatians again to observe how the mouth was moving as well as the head and how the expressions were displayed. In doing so, I noticed many things I had not before and was able to observe what the book was explaining.

7) If a word is stretched out, make an extreme which shows the shape you want, then make a second one that is even stronger and slow into it. If, on the contrary, the sound is diminishing, then the second extreme will not be as strong.

8) Ease the eyes into the move at least three frames ahead of the accent. If it is a soft line, lead by one or two frames but by four to five frames if the accents are strong. Have the big move that far ahead of the heavy modulation of the word.

9) When using a blink, the eyes should close ahead of the accent by three or four frames.

10) The vowels A,E,I,O,U always require some opening while the consonants M,B,P are all closed mouths.

11) The mood of the character will determine the shape of the mouth. If he is grinning or pouting, the mouth shape will differ even if the letter is the same.

12) The words that have an E show teeth.

13) T and G can pucker up like a U, and Y and W can go into a very small O or U shape. V and F are often best shown with the under lip tucked under the upper teeth.

14) A little mannerism will add life to the character such as a move of the eyes, a special glance, tongue moving across the lips, character pulling his chin or pushing the hair off of his eyes.

15) Show the expression change but avoid making a fast move when changing it.

16) Change the expression before the move.

17) To show the right expression, you sometimes have to hold it while only the mouth is moving.

Facial Animation

As an animator, the most important step is to be able to master animating facial emotions and reactions. I believe it is also the most difficult.

When given the task to animate our facial reactions, I started by creating a new character. This one is actually well know: Gandalf from Lord of The Rings.

From online pictures, I created my animated base for the character.

But an illustration is not helping to understand how the character is moving. I used pictures and videos of classmates acting the emotions and reactions I wanted to convey and used them as reference.

They acted the different stages of Gandalf reacting to an object and allowed me to start my key poses.

From there I started animating and watching different cartoons expressing those emotions to get a feeling of how previous animators achieved facial expressions. One of the most helpful was watching “Boo” from Monsters Inc by Pixar. At one point my character is falling asleep, barely able to keep his eyes open.

I remembered “Boo” expressing the same facial emotion and took example from it.

When setting up a many emotions for a character in Maya for 3D animation though, the process was completely different and much complicated on so many different level. At this point, it is not just about moving a rig, it is about creating a character with a huge panel of emotions on a completely still and cold software with only a mouse as a tool. As a former illustrator, I find it so unnatural to set up a character in an entirely computerized way. Moreover, I do believe we will need more classes to model in 3D rather than animate as a good character is a must for animation.