Animators—mainly 3D animators—from what I’ve gathered, often choose to animate all the facial features separately. For example, they would first animate the basic open and closed mouth movements, then wide and narrow, then eye details, details of the face, then finally animating the overall head movement. While this is a beneficial pipeline for 3D animators to use, the process is significantly different for 2D people, at least for myself. It would be far too time consuming if I animated the mouth shapes, eye movements, and face details all at different intervals.
So what I did was animate the body gestures first, then on a layer above it, draw all the facial movements, including new outlines of how the jaw will move to convey the character’s speech more realistically (Animation Notes #9 Lip Sync (lip synchronisation animation, 2016).
From there, I was practically prepped and ready to begin lip syncing. I was primarily using phonetic mouth charts such as the one below, the open/closed wide/narrow technique, and even had a mirror beside me to assure accuracy. Breaking down the mouth shapes wasn’t a difficult task. It was fairly straightforward once I officially begun keyframing them. But as I was doing this, it occurred to me that the mouth shapes were only going to be as good as the characters’ miens. Basically, I could have the most accurate lip syncing ever, but if the outward personalities of the characters aren’t as prominent, then the animation as a whole will lack the certain level of realism to breathe life into it.
In the tutorial I referenced featuring DJ Nicke, he mentioned that the open/closed wide/narrow technique is a method he learned from another animator named Jason Osipa, who wrote an entire novel on how to create facial animation for movies, video games, and more. The book is called Stop Staring: Facial Modeling and Animation Done Right, and in specific chapters, he goes through the importance of the brows and eyes, considering they tell us all we need to know about what the character is thinking.
Before I discuss this, here’s an older version of the animation snippet before I applied the facial enhancements.
There are quite a few notable segments I’ve taken from Stop Staring and from British Academy award winning animator and director, Tony White, to assist me with improving my animation.
- The brows have two major movements aside from up/down, the brows squeeze as well. Up/down alone doesn’t convey a whole lot of emotion, they are often used in conjunction with the brow squeeze and different combinations of the lids (Osipa, 2010, p.2).
- The eyes are truly a “window to the soul” in this instance. “We can tell so much about a person, how they are thinking and how they are feeling, from the expression in their eyes” (White, 2016). It enriches a character’s performance.
- The upper lids indicate the alertness of a character, and the lower lids intensify emotions. The subtext of where the character’s looking can lead to some powerful emotion, “but the eyeballs themselves don’t say a whole lot; it’s the entire eye area acting together that creates a feeling” (Osipa, 2010, p.2).
- The angle of the head can make a significant difference to an animation. It can change the viewer’s perception of all things too (Osipa, 2010, p.2).
- In addition, a common mistake when animating blinks is timing them much too fast. Suddenly it’s not a blink, but more like an eye twitch. Before considering making your character blink, you need to consider, are they sad? excited? scared? Because their emotions will always dictate the speed of the blink (Masters, 2013).
These changes are very subtle to say the least, but they’ve made a significant difference in terms of fleshing out the personality of the characters, as well as making their overall facial movements more believable to the audience—at least I hope, haha.
To sum up my progress, I’m continuing to inbetween all the other sequences, as well as tweak the facial animations according to the knowledge I’ve gained through this research.
- Animation Notes #9 Lip Sync (lip synchronisation animation). (2016). centre for animation & interactive media. Retrieved 22 November 2016, from http://minyos.its.rmit.edu.au/aim/a_notes/anim_lipsync.html
- Masters, M. (2013). Animating Believable Eye Blinks. DigitalTutors. Retrieved 22 November 2016, from http://blog.digitaltutors.com/animating-believable-eye-blinks/
- Nicke, D. (2009). Animation Salvation: How to make Lip Sync and Facial Animation Easy. Retrieved from http://www.animationsalvation.com/how-to-make-lip-sync-animation-easy/
- Osipa, J. (2010). Stop Staring: Facial Modeling and Animation Done Right (1st ed.). Alameda, CA. Retrieved from http://www.3dcgi.com/press/StopStaring.pdf
- White, T. (2016). A beginner’s course in the principles of 2D animation. My Animation Desk. Retrieved 22 November 2016, from http://web.archive.org/web/20051023070403/http://www.tonywhite.net/lesson014.htm
- White, T. (2016). Lesson 012 (“Eye Movements”). My Animation Desk. Retrieved 22 November 2016, from http://web.archive.org/web/20051023064622/http://www.tonywhite.net/lesson012.htm