Lip Synchronization

Lip Sync is the process of matching up the audio sound track of a character talking or singing to the drawings. This is done by "breaking down the track" using an editing software such as Adobe Premier and writing the sounds onto a set of exposure sheets. The exposure sheets are set up so that each frame of film is represented by a line into which the sound being made can be written. These sounds can then correspond to specific drawings that represent the mouth positions.

The following is a list of things that need to be considered while animating lip sync.

Do The Lip Sync In A Mirror
It is not necessary to draw each and every vowel or consonant for the lip sync. Trying to do this would make the mouth flap all over the place. Listen to the sound track over and over again to get a sense of the rhythm and timing of the words. Get a mirror and look at yourself as you repeat the dialogue. Pretend you’re lip syncing the dialogue. If you practice it enough you should be able to get it right on. Assume the emotion of the character as you do this. Look specifically at the mouth positions you use. Doing this will help you to decide which words, syllables or sounds should be accented or emphasized and which one’s should be blended or dropped altogether.

Try out different facial expressions that are appropriate. Find out which one’s work the best for the scene and the character. Remember that there are 6 basic emotions:

1) Happy
2) Sad
3) Angry
4) Surprised
5) Afraid
6) Disgusted

The character’s facial expression will relay the emotion to the audience. The facial expression will also alter the mouth shape for any given word. Take the simple statement of “Hello”. Try saying “hello” using each of the 6 emotions listed. Look at yourself in a mirror as you say this word. Notice how your mouth looks slightly different for each one even though you’re saying the exact same word.

Use Intersting Mouth Shapes
Along with the emotional state of your character you also need to consider their personality. Again, you need to listen to the vocal track of the actor who did the voice. Different actors will bring their own little quirks and ideosyncracies to their recordings. Try to blend that together with their character design and find ways to exploit it in the animation. A character who is being “coy” will use their mouth in a different way than if they were “yelling”.

Each character should have a different mouth action for their own particular voice. Make them unique.

Head Movements
Add in some head movements as well if you think it will help add to the action of the character. There’s no need to hold the character’s head perfectly still unless you’re doing limited animation. Moving the head forward to emphasise a word or point in the dialogue can add punch to the scene. Even something as subtle as a head tilt could work. Try it out. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it.

If you do add any movements such as a head anticipation, gesture or body movement, make it 4 - 6 frames ahead of the dialogue (that’s 2 or 3 drawings on two’s). You can make it longer if it’s a breath in before the words, just be sure it matches the track.

Determine the overall path of action for the head, body, and arms (if they’re in the scene). Animate the action of the character first. You can go back and add in the mouth positions later just before you’re ready to inbetween.

Some animator’s like to do all the mouth positions with the key poses and some leave it until the end. You’ll need to determine how you like to do it on your own. It’s mostly a matter of personal preference.

In some cases, you may have the head “drift” into the dialogue without any anticipation, just a slo-in to the action. If this is the case, you need to add a few more frames to the movement before the dialogue begins. Frank and Ollie suggest 3 - 8 frames or 2 - 4 drawings on two’s.

They also suggest that you rely more on head moves, using proper accents and facial expressions as opposed to exacting mouth shapes to carry the dialogue.

If your animation is of the character from behind, then you’ll definitely have to rely on head movements and possibly some body and/or hand gestures to accent specific words in the scene.

In the odd case, you may have a scene in which a character is speaking but you only see a close up of their eyes. Start the eyes into a move at least 4 frames ahead of the accented dialogue. Again listen to the dialogue and determine how big the word is accented. The bigger the accent, the more time you need to anticipate it wih the movement.

While listening to the dialogue, mark any inflections (changes in the pitch or mood), and accents in the voice. Mark these on the exposure sheet as a guide for any head movements. Most of the accents up will fall on the vowel sounds, “A, E, I, O, and U”. Be careful not to do too many of these in a single scene. Some examples of overdoing it can be seen in many of Don Bluth’s films. Check out some of the head actions of Mrs. Brisby in The Secret of N.I.M.H. Her head does quite a bit of bopping up and down and it becomes very distracting.

How Far To Lead the Dialogue?
This is easily the most asked question that students have about lip sync The question is always, “Should the mouth move before the sound or after?” Many of the students have come up with the theory that light travels faster than sound (which it actually does) thereforethe drawing of the mouth position should actually come 2 - 4 frames after the sound so that both reach our heads at the same time. The reason for the range of 2 - 4 frames is that it depends on how far the speakers are from you when you watch the cartoon. I know it sounds really goofy but this is what I’ve been told. I’ll be very clear about this here; NEVER HAVE THE DRAWING AFTER THE SOUND.

The best rule is, that it really depends on the sound being made. Sounds that require a closed mouth position should be right on the same frame as the sound or 1 frame before depending on how long the sound lasts. The sounds: “B, F, M, P, and V, and usually C and S where the lips are open but the teeth are clinched fall under this rule. The same is usually true for any puckered lip sound like “Yuh, Ooh, W and Q. You need to have these on the screen for at least two frames otherwise they won’t be visible to the audience, which is why you can hit it one frame before the sound if it’s actually only on one frame on the track.

If you hit all your sounds exactly on the frame, you should be o.k. but, you can be flexible with this. It depends on the voice actor, their intonation, the enunciation, and the character design. Don’t be afraid to play around with it a bit. In some cases you can have the drawing one frame ahead, sometimes two or even three.

The real trick is to get the feeling of the words and not the actual letters that make up the words. In dialogue, words are strung together to create sentences. Each word blends into the next. If you watch a person’s mouth when they talk, you might find that they hardly move their lips at all or that they have a particular sound that they make with an odd mouth position. This is all part of their character design and can help to make the character unique. Don’t be afraid of this. The main thing is to try it out and see if it works. If it looks like it’s too much, then do it again, but tone the movements down a bit. If it’s not enough, try being more broad with the mouth positions.

Listen to the track several times and begin to mimic the dialogue using your own mouth while looking in a mirror. Take note of how your mouth moves and draw some quick mouth positions on the exposure sheets as a guide for later on.

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