The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: Character Animation - Part 2
When a character says a line with more finality and confidence, it looks better to just snap right into a closed neutral mouth right at the end of the phrase. This is the case with the monster at the end of her line, “I’m shooting fire!” After the “r” mouth on the last word, the animation segues right into her closed mouth because she is proud of her little trick. That particular mouth reflects the character of what she is saying and how she says it (Figure 7.20).
The closed neutral mouth shape is also typically used for the syllables of “b,” “m,” and ”p,” which are sounds made by the lips being pressed together. This shape needs a minimum of two frames in order to register on screen. Even if a line is said very quickly and that syllable is only audible on one frame, it should be cheated to be photographed for two frames, or it won’t be seen and might look sloppy in the overall sync. Another trick that can be applied with this mouth shape, if it is recorded on the dope sheet for more than two frames, is to nudge it up slightly before replacing it with the next mouth. The next mouth is usually going to be a vowel shape, like in the word “my” (broken up as “mm-ah-ee” on a dope sheet). Simply put, if an “m” is there for four frames, shoot it in its initial position on the face for two frames, push it up a tiny bit for the other two, and then replace it with the “ah” mouth. The effect will add a nice punchy anticipation to the lip sync (Figure 7.21).
Animation is difficult and very hard work, but it’s also fun and fascinating. This is particularly true with stop-motion. Because it deals with tiny figures that are touched between frames, I’ve always felt it has a strange connection to childhood fantasies about toys or robots coming to life. But it’s not only the imagined movement of them that fascinates me; it’s also the stillness. When I was a kid, I would play with puppets and make stuffed animals move around like they were living, but I was also obsessed with arranging them next to each other in the toy chest and just looking at them. I had the same obsession with the animatronic robot characters at pizza restaurants that existed in those days, like Chuck E. Cheese’s, Showbiz Pizza Place, and another place in Michigan called Major Magic’s (Figure 7.22). When the lights went down, my friends and I would put down our pizza and rush over to the stage. The curtains would open, and these clunky cartoon animals would come to life and sing the Beatles or some popular ’80s song. Then, the curtains would close until the next show. Between shows, my friends and I would often sneak up and peek behind the curtain, and these amazing creatures were frightening and fascinating as they sat there in the darkness. In that stillness of the dark stage and the toy chest, these puppets were still living and breathing in their own world, as if they were in a meditative state, waiting for their next cue. As I was focusing intently on the animated dialogue sequence for this book for about 10 hours, I sometimes would be struck by particular poses of the puppets that brought some ethereal feeling of these memories back. It was in the life behind that stillness of the puppets on set (Figure 7.23) that I found myself taken back to this same sense of fascination that I can’t really explain.
Ken A. Priebe has a BFA from University of Michigan and a classical animation certificate from Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts). He teaches stop-motion animation courses at VanArts and the Academy of Art University Cybercampus and has worked as a 2D animator on several games and short films for Thunderbean Animation, Bigfott Studios, and his own independent projects. Ken has participated as a speaker and volunteer for the Vancouver ACM SIGGRAPH Chapter and is founder of the Breath of Life Animation Festival, an annual outreach event of animation workshops for children and their families. He is also a filmmaker, writer, puppeteer, animation historian, and author of the book The Art of Stop-Motion Animation. Ken lives near Vancouver, BC, with his graphic-artist wife Janet and their two children, Ariel and Xander.