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Lip sync observations

Posted on November 16, 2010  13 Comments
Filed under Animation, Education

Lip sync scared me for a long time but this was due to my lack of experience more than the actual job of animating lips and expressions to the audio.

For a while, I thought doing lip sync meant to choose a sequence of premade phonems and blend them more or less successfully as led to think by the Preston Blair animation book. To be fair, this is pretty much what you are supposed to do in most TV series but the result will always look very approximative and of low quality which is fine when your audience is preschool.

A good lip sync for feature animation should instead be done by focusing on other elements like the following:

1- open and close of the jaw
2- narrowing and widening of the mouth corners
3- asymmetry of the mouth (Mouth Left/Right, Rotation should blend shapes can help greatly for that)
4- lips roll
5- mouth Up/Down attribute to anticipate plosive sounds and create more contrast
6- lips translation, mainly drag for plosive phonemes such as Bb/Mm/Pp
7- appealing mouth corner arcs
8- good interaction of the tongue with the teeth and jaw
9- drag, overlap, rotation and translation of the jaw

A good rig such as the freely available Norman or Morpheus, despite the collapsing geometry for specific closed mouth shapes, should allow you to handle those criteria.

To illustrate this, here is a video I extracted from the Toy Story3 trailer and animated by Victor Navone. I added on-screen notes and a graphical representation of the audio waveform so you can compare the timing of the audio to the mouth shapes. (thanks Chris Cantero for the animation credits).

To read all the notes, save the video on your hard drive and play it frame by frame. Microsoft Windows users should play the video with KMPlayer to get the audio feedback while step framing.

I think one or two frames are missing for the bottom lip roll overlap but this should make it a very good start to your lip sync learning.


As a side note, the final shot has been slightly altered in the theatrical release with Buzz holding Jessee’s left hand rather than her right, I would be interested to know what the reasoning was behind that decision. They are obviously going for a tighter shot so we can focus on Jessee’s reaction but I don’t like her new pose much as her arm gets in the way and is buried in her silhouette. Here is a screenshot from Victor’s Toy Story 3 showreel.

I hope you like it, I have a James Baxter pencil test coming up next.

Related posts:
Norman FK world aligned spine
World orient head and shoulders
What is AAU
KM Player best video player ever!


13 Responses to “Lip sync observations”

  1. Chris on November 16th, 2010 19:58

    Interestingly enough Victor Navone actually animated this shot. I just saw it on his reel. Here it is if you wanna check it out. It’s about 80% of the way through the reel:

  2. Olivier Ladeuix on November 17th, 2010 04:19

    oh, thanks for the heads up Chris. Hopefully I can get Victor to explain why they changed the shot for Buzz to hold Jessie’s left hand rather than the right and if it meant that the previous shots had to also be reanimated

  3. Olivier Ladeuix on November 18th, 2010 03:59

    great minds think alike :-)

    Andrew Gordon posted some informations on mouth animation over on the Splinedoctors website

  4. alonso on November 18th, 2010 11:34

    Great post Olivier, thanks!

    I felt DJ Nicke’s tut on lip sync was decent

  5. Olivier Ladeuix on November 19th, 2010 00:42

    yes it is a good start Alonso but it doesn’t go far enough unfortunately and fails to talk about overlaps and arcs

  6. Paul Slice on November 20th, 2010 13:52

    Thanks for the post! This is excellent brain candy.

  7. Olivier Ladeuix on November 21st, 2010 06:58

    thanks a lot Paul. I was going through the “How to train your dragon” bluray this week end and found some really nice asymetrical mouth shapes, really stylised mouth animation

  8. Daniel Harris on November 24th, 2010 01:48

    Heya Oli!

    Awesome post, I really need to work on my lipsync more (definitely my Achilles heel :-( ) and found this and the links very helpful.

    Cheers matey!

  9. Olivier Ladeuix on November 24th, 2010 01:58

    hey Dan yes I am also focusing on lipsync those days so these are some quick observations

  10. Herman G. on December 3rd, 2010 18:08

    Great breakdown, this post took me to the next level.. Thank you. This blog rocks

  11. Olivier Ladeuix on December 4th, 2010 05:01

    thanks for your enthusiasm Herman, that breakdown was a bit of a cheat I must admit. Most feature animators naturally add asymmetry to their mouth shapes but unlike most shots in “How to train your dragons”, the acting here dictated it. Stay tuned for an even more interesting one in few weeks

  12. myer3d on July 19th, 2011 05:06

    Hi there=)
    find this place when I tried to search for the original tutorial post about curves and offset which used this clip as reference.

    Some thoughts on Buzz holding Jessie’s Left hand rather than right hand is, in that shot Jessie was feeling weird about Buzz’s behavior, and that left hand blocking off her body can help generate a sense of distance, rejection and barrier, between us(Buzz) and Jessie.

    Thanks for the post=)

  13. “This is what you need” v.460 :Animation with a moustache on November 25th, 2011 23:12

    […] Related posts: This is what you need video ref 02 and blocking “This is what you need”, planning “This is what you need’, gathering references Lip sync observations […]

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