study 4 - mouth animation

although i have not yet finished my first film, i have still been experimenting with different animation techniques. for this test, i wanted to play with animating the lego figure's face to give more expression and the illusion of actually speaking. a great example of this technique is the Rapunzel short by Jay Silver (download here) - notice how the facial expressions really convey the minifig's emotions.

anyway, i was feeling a little lazy and didnt want to shoot an entire scene just for this test, so i decided to use some existing footage from my upcoming film. i used the corresponding dialog from the scene as well (so this is a little sneak-peak at the final film, although the final cut will NOT use the actual mouth animations).

next up, i downloaded a nifty program called Papagayo ( that is essentially a lip-synching program that lets you line up 'phonemes' (mouth shapes) with your sound. you type in your dialog, and it shows you the corresponding mouth shapes. turns out there are only a handful of different shapes required for most sounds in the english language (long O, L, B, U, etc). you can also add your sound files and adjust the timing. once you have all of of the timing figured out, it is just a matter of editing the frames.

so i opened up photoshop and created my 5 necessary mouth shapes. this was not too hard, since i took a copy of the original lego mouth and just edited it to the different shapes. then, using the timing specified by papagayo, i had to hand-edit the appropriate frames with the new mouth shapes. save everything and render.

the final result can be viewed here: mouth animation test

lessons learned:

  • adding mouth animations can make a big difference, especially on close-ups that would otherwise have little or no other animation to give the impression of speaking (moving hands/arms, etc)

  • getting the timing correct is important. my clip ended up being slightly out of sync because i didnt spend too much time getting it right in papagayo. the brain easily picks up on it when the mouth is not matching the sound

  • people dont convey all of their meaning with just their words. adding in facial expressions (moving eyebrows, squinting eyes, etc) would make the illusion much more realistic. i will save that one for another study.