Monday, 21 May 2018

Animating Lipsync by Pixar's Aaron Hartline

Aaron Hartline
Lipsync is arguably the least important part of animating a great acting scene. As a result, most 3D animators tend to leave lipsync until the end, or near the end, of the shot, concentrating their efforts first on getting the overall acting and body poses right.

But at a recent talk at Escape Studios, veteran Pixar Aaron Hardline explained that, counter-intuitively, he actually does the lipsync first.

So, why does one of Pixar's lead animators apparently put the cart before the horse?

Aaron Hartline on Animating Lipsync
Lipsync is the least important part of animating a great acting shot. Usually it's last in my list. I think everyone approaches differently, but this is how I do it. For my blocking pass [ie the rough pose test that an animator submits to the director], I don't do full lipsync, rather I just animate the jaw control, i.e. the control that opens and closes the mouth - something like what you might see with puppets or muppets.  The reason I do this part first is that it helps me to block out my timing faster, and helps me to understand the scene.

Also, I know I'm going to have to do it anyway, so I might as well do it early. And, while I'm animating the lipsync, I listen to the dialogue over and over and plan out the shot in my head.

Every animator needs a mirror
Getting started
To do the lipsync, I will touch my chin while reading the dialogue to get rough idea how much the mouth is opening and closing. I use spline curves, not stepped curves, to block out the mouth shapes, because if I use stepped curves then once I spline it the timing usually seems off.

Once I'm happy with the basic timing of the mouth opening and closing, I will move forward to shape the mouth, layering in the wide mouth shapes and also any import phonemes like "f" or "oo" shapes.

Using live action reference
In the past I used to record a video of my mouth and use that as a reference for the lipsync. It is a pretty helpful technique because you are acting it out yourself, and therefore the mouth shape motion will be more closely matched to your acting. For example, one "ah" shape might be stronger then the rest of "ah" shapes in the line of dialogue, because you are hitting an accent in the dialogue in one place, and not elsewhere. All the shapes are different.

However, this is just my approach, and each animator works differently.  Some animators find presets helpful (i.e. poses created by other animators and stored using Studio Library or a similar tool).  Others tend to animate  straight ahead and animate the mouth shapes.

My advice is to try different techniques and see what method suits your own personal workflow.

To see a helpful video showing in simple terms how to get started with animating lipsync, see below.

And, to read a blog post showing how to animate lipsync, follow this link.

To find out more about Animation Apprentice, click here for a link to Frequently Asked Questions. To sign up for our next classroom at Animation Apprentice, follow this link.

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