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I have a rather encompassing question regarding timings in animation, particularly stop-motion, but I assume it applies equally to all areas. I tried using the search feature to find a previous thread on this but couldn't so apologies if this has been asked before millions of times. Indeed, it's a pretty newbie question.

So here goes: How exactly should I go about timing movements in my animation? This is a pretty vague question, so I'll elaborate with an example. Imagine I have a character (clay) who needs to wave his arms at a character off-screen as cars pass by in the background, then proceeds to say some dialogue. The timings I'm questioning here are threefold.
1) The arms.
2) The cars in the bkg.
3) Lip-syncing to the dialogue.

1) My previous animations have been too jerky (due to low framerates) and I'm seriously in need of improving this. If I want to have the character waving his arms, I want it to be fast enough to look natural, but slow enough to avoid looking amaturish and a rushed attempt to avoid 'jerkiness' by increasing the framerate. How do I go about timing the arms to move at precisely the right speed?

2) In combination with the previous movement, I'd need the cars to sync with the arm movement to look natural - the cars need to be going faster than the arms, but again, need to avoid looking jerky. To be honest, this area is the least important of the three.

3) Lastly, this is an area I'm sure most people have asked about - how to time the animation to lip-sync? What is best, to record voices first the animate to the timing of that?

I hope someone can help. Thanks.

Now that sounds like some really great advice. A very good thing to keep in mind when animating voices.

There was this one thing that my tutor taught me about lip syncing that instantly clicked with me, and lip syncing just became so much easier after that.

The trick, and general rule with dialogue, is that you should pop into the sound and slow out into the next prominent sound, while subtly mushing in the other mouth shapes inbetween.

Not the best description I've ever seen, but basically correct. The thing to keep in mind is that you're animating sounds, not letters. So much lip synch these days seems to be based on the letters that make up the words, rather than the sounds those combinations of letters make. That's why lip synch looks so frenetic and wrong so often.

I think I'd focus more on acting and emoting than trying to match mouth shapes to voice sync.

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I've never done stop-motion animation, but here's what I'd try:

Do a test with JUST the car, since that's the "easiest" element in your scene. Get the car looking right for your scene, and take notes on how you did it so that you can recreate it for your "real shot". Now you know exactly what your car will be doing, down to each frame - but more importantly, you know how many frames your waving scene will be.

Now you can break down each "wave" into the number of frames you're dealing with, minus, of course, any secondary gestures.

If it's a fast wave, like cartoonishly fast, like he's really excited, then I'd say each wave, from up-position to down-position, could be 4-6 frames. If it's a more sobre, side-to-side style wave, then I'd say 10-12 frames.*

And if you want to be reallyreallysure, then sketch it all out first, and rec-pause-rec-pause your sketches, just like if they were a stop-motion animation in their own right, then watch it back and see if it works.

i hope that helps. keep in mind, however, i am retarded. but the basic idea is to use a good-looking car animation as a guide for figuring out how much time you have for your waving. then you'll have a guide for being able to record both at once, in your final shoot, because you'll know where each (car and actor) ought to be at each frame of the shoot.

p.s. i just noticed that i ignored your biggest question, re: lip synching. i've no experience with stop-motion and the only idea i could give you would be to take your dialogue-recording and put down the syllables on a timesheet, and then refer to that as you record each frame of the waving actions and the car movement.

* = but of course i've no idea what you're going for. you could just act it out yourself in front of the camera, then watch and see how many frames your own movement was.

Thanks for the replies. Indeed, animating the simplest movement and adjusting other more complex movements to match with that seems like a good idea (though I was just using the cars / waving arms as an example, it's still true whatever the movements are).

As for the stopwatch idea - that really does seem like the ideal solution, and now I come to think of it, seems kind of obvious. What better way to figure out how fast / slow something should be than to time myself doing it? Thank you for pointing this out to me! Out of curiosity, is this a technique professionals in the industry use?

As for lip-syncing I can totally understand your comment regarding using non-moving mouths. In fact, in my previous films I've actually avoided dialogue altogether. However, in the project I'm currently working on, a lot of the dialogue is internal (yes, a voice-over, but it's a bit more unique than the conventional film noir style...). This means that indeed, there is no lip syncing to do, but with other characters, lip-syncing is something I really want to try. I especially think that if I want my skills to grow to a level where I could work in the industry, I should at least attempt or perfect lip-syncing.

Thanks a lot for your help. If anyone has more advice, please, don't be shy!

With your internal dialog characters, you'll want their expression and body posture to reflect their internal dialog, so while you're not moving the mouth in synch with the audio, you will, in a sense, be animating to the audio and need to synch with it. Which leads you back to the stopwatch... ;)

The best lip synch advice I ever got was that the mouth forms vowel shapes on the same frame as the sound, and consonant shapes a frame or two before the sound. Most consonant sounds are either closed mouth (like M and N), or plosives, where air has to be built up in the mouth and released (like P and B).

Yeah, the stopwatch should help out a lot. You might want to keep in mind (totally Mr. Obvious answer, sorry) is what your character is thinking. He's waving at a character off screen? Why? Urgently? Angry? Friendly? Does he want the character to come to him, or go away? THAT is going to determine the posing and timing... and don't forget to exaggerate the timing a bit.

I've never animated with clay, but I have done stop motion before. As you do it more and more, you kinda get an innate sense for the timing, and you also get a personal style with your timing. Have you ever watched certain characters in animated movies and you KNOW that the same animator did another character you've seen?

I remember one of my professors telling me about animating for Chuck Jones. He'd say "You can change whatever you want, but don't change my timing."

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There was this one thing that my tutor taught me about lip syncing that instantly clicked with me, and lip syncing just became so much easier after that.

The trick, and general rule with dialogue, is that you should pop into the sound and slow out into the next prominent sound, while subtly mushing in the other mouth shapes inbetween.