The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Character Animation - Part 2
This pose test allowed me to explore the initial approach I wanted for the performance and figure out what did and didn’t work. I found that a few too many poses were blocked out for the laugh, for example, making the animation a bit jittery, so that prompted a mental note to soften this action a bit in the final version. There were essentially three different laugh phrases, so I found a different key position to move the monster around in for each of them. When doing the final animation, I would often refer back to my pose test as a reminder of what I wanted the key poses to look like, so I had a reference point for what kind of pose the puppet should be progressing toward. If I didn’t like a particular key pose, I could make a mental note of how I wanted to change it or simply take another stab at it. Since there are not many frames or changes to the puppet positions in a pose test, it is much less risky to make changes to the timing or posing until it’s working right. Once I had gone through this test and studied it a few times, I was ready to line up my puppets into their zero poses for the final hero shot.
In animating the actual frames straight ahead, including the extra preamble sequence of the monster looking around before she blows the fireball, I paid attention to the overlap between characters and when they should move. To feel natural, the starting and stopping points of these movements should overlap between the two characters, and they should not both stop moving on the same frame. When one character spoke, the other character would be stuck in a hold for the most part, so I could just let them sit there in many instances while I focused on the other puppet who was speaking. Then, when I felt it was needed, the holding character would occasionally blink or move their head in a very subtle six- to eight-frame motion, as if they were following the actions of the other character. This kept each character alive while they were waiting for their “cue” to speak. It is important to avoid overdoing this, which can be an easy trap to fall into. Because the actual animation takes so long, it may take 1 hour to animate just 1 or 2 seconds of screen time. You may find yourself saying, “This character hasn’t moved in a while; I’d better move him.” But if you forget that you are in another time dimension, it really hasn’t been that long for the puppet, only for you. Think in terms of the timing inside that other time zone because that’s where the puppets live and what your audience will be watching.
The lip sync itself for both characters was done with a set of replacement mouths for the main syllables in the dialogue. Being made out of plasticine clay that is still malleable, a good level of control is possible to manipulate the mouths for some fluid animation. The trick to making the sync look right is to choose mouths that take on the character and appearance of how the syllables sound. The largest mouth, which is a wide open shape for long “ah” syllables, can be placed onto the face on the accent, and then squished together slightly for the frames that come after it until the need comes to replace it with a different mouth. This effect was used on the word “wow,” which is broken up on the dope sheet over about 19 frames, half of which are the “wah” and then going into “w.” For the “ah” frames, the wide open mouth is animated on twos, then replaced with a transitional “eh” shape, and finally kept on a transitional “w” mouth that suits the character of how the word is said (Figure 7.18).
Another important aspect of the lip sync, when breaking it down, is to break down phrases based on how they are said phonetically. In many cases, not every single syllable needs to be accentuated verbatim, especially if any lines are mumbled or spoken very quickly so the words kind of blend together. For example, when the hamster says the line, “What are you doing?” the way it sounds is more like, “What-ee-yuh-doo-ing?” The word “are” is not really accentuated as such, so it’s not broken down that way. The mouths used to match the dope sheet reflect the quick, slurred way the line is said, so it appears natural.