More generally, with lip-sync dialogue, the animator first marks the dope sheet with all the accent points suggested by the repeated playing of the soundtrack to be animated. Then the animator circles the corresponding numbers for the animation drawings to establish the key drawings.

After the key drawings are animated, the animator will probably draw the breakdown drawings before handing the scene on to the assistant for in-betweening. To avoid confusion, the animator should ask the assistant not to draw in the mouths and chins on the inbetweens. Instead, the animator should do these when the lip sync on the inbetween is ready to be completed.

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Lip sync is an art in itself, and not all animators have an aptitude for it. A few gifted animators have a real feel for the interpretation of dialogue, but most animators must work hard just to make it work adequately.

Acceptable lip sync can be achieved by remembering a few important guidelines:

□ All mouth positions should correspond to the frame of the sound indicated in the dialogue column. Animators sometimes suggest that the lip sync can be drawn one or two frames ahead of the dialogue, and this can also be successful. If, however, the lip sync is all drawn level-sync, it makes it easier for the editor to move the picture backward or forward in relation to the track, if the need arises. The lip sync should never be drawn behind sync—that is with the picture appearing after the sound is heard—unless there is a special reason for doing so.

□ If the dialogue is so fast that the changing phonetic sounds occur every frame, then the animation has to be put on ones instead of twos. If this is difficult, it may be possible to leave the mouth drawings off the main animation drawings and place them on an overlay cel. In this way, the mouth animation could be on ones while the head and body animation remained on twos, although this is often not as desirable as having everything drawn on ones.

□ With lip sync, it is essential to emphasize strongly all the vowel sounds— a, e, /, o, u—while the consonants can, to some extent, be treated as less important. This emphasis is achieved by immediately banging open the mouth for all vowel sounds and then returning to natural movements for the consonants. If the vowel sound is prolonged, then the maximum open position should, in most cases, be achieved on the first frame of the sound. The mouth should then be slowly inbetweened to a slightly more closed position, although remaining emphatically open. (This is known as a moving hold.) Sometimes, a vowel sound accent can be drawn one frame ahead of level-sync animation.

Obviously, the soundtrack will dictate which vowel sounds are most important but, as a general rule, the mouth-open sounds tend to dominate the action. If the open positions hit their sounds accurately, then the lip sync is usually successful. Theoretically, then, it should be possible to suc-

nf 7?} wiy cessfully lip-sync any foreign language, even if you do not understand it— provided all the principal vowel sounds are correctly indicated and you pay proper attention to the accents of the track.

□ Certain consonants, however, are important when tackling lip sync. In particular, ¿>, /", m, and / should, ideally, be held for at least two frames.

□ The shape of the mouth in dialogue can vary considerably from character to character. If the same soundtrack were visualized for a tight-lipped, heavy character and a wide-mouthed, thin character, the results would look very different. As with everything else in animation, you must first feel the personality of the character and its limitations of expression and form.

□ It is absolutely necessary to have a mirror in front of you and to act out the dialogue for yourself, before putting pencil to paper. It is only by observation from life that you really begin to understand movement. Since it is not possible for you to have the voice actor with you at your lightbox, you yourself must become the animated character and act the dialogue action in the mirror. The satisfaction of producing a successful dialogue action should far outweigh any self-consciousness or inhibition you may feel about acting like a fool in front of a mirror. It is only by seeing the shape and movement of your own mouth that you can begin to understand how the animated character's mouth will perform.

□ Unless the character is a loud, wild person, most lip sync can be underplayed, except for important accents and vowel sounds. This is especially true in realistic characterizations, where the barest minimum of mouth movement can be successful. Indeed, much lip-sync animation is spoiled, not by an inaccurate interpretation of the mouth movements involved, but by an overemphasis of the actual movements. For more discrete animation, always hit the vowels and accents strongly, but let the changes in the shape of the mouth flow smoothly, subtly, and naturally.

□ In closeups of dialogue, the audience always watches the eyes, so the accents and emphasis must always be initiated in the eyes, before the rest of the face and mouth is even considered. In long shots, do not forget the importance of the whole body in applying accents and emphasis.

□ Up-and-down movements and subtle left-to-right tilts of the head are another important way of emphasizing dialogue and giving life to the character.


Animating laughter successfully is difficult but important. The manner in which a character moves when laughing will vary as much as laughs vary. But there are two basic formulas that will help in simplistic animation.

The simplest laugh, and therefore the one to be avoided by all self-respecting animators, is the stagger laugh. This laugh is simply a straightforward inbetweening of two key drawings:

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