Lip Syncing & Dialogue Research [part 1]


With my specialization project underway, I’ve chosen to do a 2D dialog sequence, partly because 2D animation is obviously my most prominent strength, also partly because I’ve never animated a piece to sync with a recorded dialogue until now. That being said, I picked an excerpt of audio from Despicable Me 2, particularly one featuring an interaction between Gru and Lucy Wilde from the cupcake shop scene.

(Scene starts at 0:50)


The exchange between the two—in terms of one scene— are relatively brief and I wanted to compensate for that by giving them plenty of expression and plenty of movement. I chose to use two original characters since they very much demonstrate a similar nature between the two characters in the audio clip, by which I mean one is certainly more optimistic than the other. While dodging the characters being complete cookie-cutters of the Gru and Lucy themselves.

Around this time, I was exploring various ways in which animators begin their production phase, and this one method in particular grabbed my interest: Exposure (X) Sheets, otherwise known as “Dope Sheets”, meaning that it’s so simple, even a dope can do it. Admittingly, it wasn’t my immediate thought when I first discovered X-Sheets, but as I got into it, I soon discovered how handy a tool X-Sheets truly are.

Dope sheets were commonly used for traditional ‘cel’ animation, which often consisted of hundreds to thousands of individual painted cels or images. It’s “a fastidious and precise system for recording the sequence and order of various cel layers, the number of exposures given to these layers, and the movements of camera, background, or compound” (Animation Tech Notes #2 ‘Dope’ Sheets or Exposure Sheets, 2016).

The dope sheet essentially enables you to account all of these components,  and aid you in the planning, creation and timing of your animation. I attempted assembling my own dope sheet for scene #3 of my animation to test the waters.


Using this method for the most part, ensured frame-by-frame accuracy with the audio excerpt, as well as phonetic breakdown of the major mouth movements. Overall, I found that dope sheets are a practical extra measure if you’re someone like me, who likes to meticulously plan out everything before diving head first.

Of course, dope sheeting only took me so far as pre-production goes, because when I finally begun the production phase of my specialization, I realized I needed to learn how to break up the workload into simple steps. That’s when I came across DJ Nicke, a former Disney animator, who even said in his lip sync tutorial “nothing is that complicated when you break it down into easy steps” (Nicke, 2009). He proceeds to just that in a way that is simplistic yet very telling.

  1. Foundation – Know your material. Memorize your material. How they say it, why they say it, when they say it. What do you want it to look like? Think of the exchange. One does not simply put it all down without first theorizing how it should look.
  2. Structure – The blueprint and skeleton when it comes to animation. Open/closed and Wide/Narrow is the technique in which you would put down before your character speaks and during the dialog. What makes this technique unique is that you place your chin on your fist and say what your character is saying. There is more to dialogue than the mouth, it’s the entire head and sometimes even the entire body. These small gestures are important and give some depth to the animation as a whole. Open/closed and Wide/Narrow points out the where and when when it comes to lip syncing.
  3. Details – Referring back to how the whole face is incorporated into dialogue, a fine example would be the eyebrows. They’ve already been established as a necessity for expression and thus fits into this category. The eyes also project plenty of emotions and can’t be ignored. These are all fine details to add along the way and signal the transitioning of emotions. Completing this step is finishing the basics.
  4. Polish – Undoubtedly the longest, most complex step of animation. Steps 1-3 were the starting point, but this is where the time devotion is more crucial. The broad details added in step 3 are still present, but with every color comes the shading. Or in this case, every character has their quirks. In the words of DJ Nicke, the character might not simply have a smile, but a crooked smile. The personality is now more visible. And of course, there’s always the physical details like the actual teeth. To put it bluntly: Things can be modified to fit the personality.


  1. Animation Notes #9 Lip Sync (lip synchronisation animation). (2016). centre for animation & interactive media. Retrieved 22 November 2016, from
  2. Animation Tech Notes #2 ‘Dope’ Sheets or Exposure Sheets. (2016). centre for animation & interactive media. Retrieved 22 November 2016, from
  3. Nicke, D. (2009). Animation Salvation: How to make Lip Sync and Facial Animation Easy. Retrieved from

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