I had the story idea set in my head but to help work out the “acting” choices of my characters and to help visualise the animation, I created a thumbnail storyboard. I kept it loose because I was working out elements as I did it but am happy with the end result; I feel that the characters emote the dialogue but their actions are still fairly subtle.
I can now use this storyboard to help me when it comes to filming my animation. It’s not as polished as storyboards I’ve created in the past but this one is just for personal reference – if I was creating a storyboard for a pitch I would elaborate on it and perhaps further breakdown elements but all of the key frames and information that I need is here. To double check the timing of the animation, I turned my storyboard into an animatic and am happy with the result.
I am now confident to start animating. Whilst I’ve left room for further editing when it comes to the final piece, I’m happy with the shot choices and timing here and will use this as my guideline.
After looking at several examples of lip-sync I decided to put the two methods I liked the most to the test. To do this, I sculpted a couple of rough heads with my character in mind but not adhering to any particular design. This has helped me work out some ideas for my character design however and I look forward to refining them.
A quick disclaimer – as these were just tests, I didn’t set up as efficiently as I normally would so the lighting quality is quite poor. When animating my final piece I will obviously take much more care but I felt this was acceptable for what I wanted to achieve.
For this method I directly manipulated the puppet and overall I feel it was pretty successful. I don’t find the lip-sync as convincing from the side but I believe most of the shots will feature the character either face on or at around a 45 degree angle. As mentioned above, the sculpt was rough so perhaps in developing the design I will have less of an issue with the side-on look but it shouldn’t affect the animation anyway. From this test, I’d like to make the puppet bigger as I believe I will have more control over it that way, the design also needs work, improving the overall shape of the head but specifically improving the nose and eyes. Overall I enjoyed this way of working and it is a strong contender to be my chosen method of lip-sync.
For this method I used replacement mouths of different shapes to convey the dialogue spoken, I feel it was fairly successful but it certainly gives a different aesthetic, one that is a lot more “cartoon-y”. Once again, the lip-sync isn’t as strong from the side but I feel even less so with this technique; without seeing the specific shapes there is no indication of what word is being spoken. I was a little more conscious of the design when sculpting this puppet and whist it still needs refining, there are some features that are starting to emerge that I believe I’ll end up incorporating into my character design.
Overall, I feel more positive about the first test so that is the technique I’ll use. I believe that after I develop the character design and have a finished puppet, it will be even more effective. I’ll can also take what I’ve learned from these tests and design my character around it, hopefully improving the quality of the lip-sync.
After my previous look at lip-sync, I was reminded of these two examples from “The 11 Second Club”, both are stop-motion and both have characters with long snouts or beaks. The first is “Crowbar” which incorporates two styles of lip-sync. The worm uses replacement mouth animation (which we studied when looking at other previous submissions to the competition) but this time I’m interested in the crow characters.
As the crow speaks, it appears the beak just opens and closes in time with the dialogue with no variation to shape (with the possible exception of an “o” sound) yet it is very effective. Perhaps the worm conveys the dialogue spoken a little more effectively but I feel that, as long as my character is in time, I can use this method effectively in my own animation. The animation placed highly in the competition as well and, whilst some of that is down to the effective narrative of the piece, the comments section praises the animation and there are no critiques of the lip-sync.
The second example I wanted to highlight is “Attitude Problem“. This animation did not place as highly in the competition (and I’m not sure why) but the comments are just as favourable. Perhaps it is the comparative simplicity of the puppets but i still find them very effective and the animator added several small touches to the characters movements that I love.
The animator adds some variation to the mouth movements in his submission which emphasises the mouth shapes needed to create different words. I like this effect but the animator only films his characters talking from the side which makes me wonder how effective the technique will be from other angles. In any case, seeing these animations has given me the confidence in this style of lip-sync and I will definitely experiment with it; it won’t work for all characters but I believe that for puppets with snout, it can be very effective.
In preparation for the character design, and so that I could start thinking about lip-sync ahead of time, I watched a lot of documentaries on bears. After searching far and wide, I was unable to find many examples of bears opening their mouths, at least no satisfying examples. Below is the best representation that I could find which I also slowed down so that I could really study the mouth movements.
As I was unsatisfied with the footage of real bears (mostly due to a lack thereof) I turned to the animated bears that I looked at previously. I first looked at “Baloo” from “The Jungle Book” which, whilst an interesting character design, was perhaps not the most helpful example as there are techniques used in 2D animation that can not be implemented in stop-motion, such as the ability to “cheat” or take advantage of things like perspective and foreshortening.
I also looked at the bears from “Creature Comforts” as an example of stop-motion bears. whilst the lip-sync is very good it adheres to the “Aardman” aesthetic – one that I appreciate but feel I shouldn’t strive for. Looking at it slowed-down, however, has given me a better understanding of the technique and it is defintiely something to consider when designing my characters.
Bears obviously have a very different mouth shape to humans and it is interesting to see how different animation styles tackle things like that. “Baloo”, for example, does use his entire mouth when he talks and his snout opens wide, especially when seen from the side. The character (whilst still anthropomorphic) is very bear-like and doesn’t have lips, making him unable to produce the same mouth shapes that humans can but the lip-sync is still very effective. This is good to know; perhaps I am trying too hard to work this out when a simple opening and closing of the mouth (in time with the dialogue of course) will suffice.
The bears in “Creature Comforts” have a much more human mouth that is situated at the end of their snouts. It seems the choice here is a more realistic bear with a simplified lip-sync or a more abstracted bear with a more detailed lip-sync. From that analysis, it seems obvious to go with the first option, especially when the goal is to make a simple yet effective short animation but it will come down to tests and analysis to work out if that truly is the best option.
Here are a few previous submissions to the competition from other animators that I wanted to highlight, works that I find simultaneously inspiring and intimidating. I’ve already evaluated many of the submissions, looking for tips and tricks to improve my work and tailor it to the competition but here I was specifically looking at technical aspects.
Lip-sync is a big focus on The 11 Second Club and I wanted some inspiration for my character design for how to do it effectively. The first two are fairly similar, at least aesthetically.
“Lynn” by Scott.
“Who You Areee..” by Jeremy Murphy.
They are reminiscent to me of Aardman and it looks like all manipulation of the mouth was done directly on the model, ‘Lynn‘ in particular is exceptionally smooth and very well executed. There is a chance that ‘Who You Areee..‘ uses replacement mouth animation for the lip sync as there is an occasional, noticeable division in the face but it could just be marks left by the animator, either way it’s very successful. I think this style is really effective and, when executed to the level that it is in these two clips, it’s very impressive. I’m not sure that I’m at the level of proficiency where I would be able to achieve something this technical but, if the character design calls for it, it’s definitely something to keep in mind and I would appreciate the practice.
The other style of lip sync that I wanted to highlight can be found in the animation ‘The Ear of Deception‘.
This animation clearly uses replacement mouth animation at it works very effectively with this slightly “cartoon-ier” aesthetic. Perhaps it’s the demonstration of this style’s effectiveness when paired with anthropormorphic animals but at this stage, I’m leaning towards this form of lip-sync. It’s something that I’ll definitely keep in mind when designing my character but I won’t hold myself to it, if I decide that another form of lip-sync will be more effective then I’ll go with that.
As I believe the music playing throughout the audio clip is Russian folk music I turned to Russian folk art for some visual inspiration, what I came across was Bogorodskoye toys. The term “Bogorodskoye” comes from the village synonymous with the toys and they are gorgeous, hand crafted sculptures and motion toys.
I think there’s something really pleasing in the handcrafted aesthetic that these have, perhaps it’s something akin to how Aardman enjoy the fingerprints and marks left by the animator on their models, but I like the texture and tool marks of Bogorodskoye toys. It’s something I’ll consider replicating in my puppets, it will at the very least be worth experimenting with.
Even though I decided to move away from the circus/dancing bear aspect of the characters, I found this description of bears in a book about the circus which I love and I think will inform the way I design my characters:
‘All wild animals are unpredictable to some extent, but none so unpredictable, and thus dangerous, as the bear family. They are great characters and personalities with a well-developed sense of humour and they appear deceptively gentle. But there is always an air of uncertainty about a bear.
It’s eyes are small and shifty. It is the bear, of all the animal kingdom, which must be treated firmly. The slightest sign of withdrawal or hesitation, and it will press home its advantage, yet it will waver if firmly opposed and can even, sometimes, be made to withdraw itself.‘
I believe this quote encapsulates the attitude that my “voice 2” character has; he come across as a friendly uncle but when pushed about things he does not understand, such as his nephew’s vegetarianism, he becomes disgruntled by it. Whilst I don’t want the character to become enraged (the audio alone does not call for that) I like the idea that there is an unpredictable flash across his eyes, a mixture of anger and disbelief at what he is hearing.
Knowing that I want to produce a stop-motion animation, and with the Russian inspired audio and characters, I thought of Ladislas Starevich. Starevich was at the forefront of Russian animation and a pioneer of stop-motion, even creating the first film to use puppets. Whilst under-appreciated today, mostly due to a large portion of his work though lost, he is a huge influence to animators, as well as myself.
He remained in creative control over all his work and it certainly has a style, crude in some places, particularly in regards to camera technology, but the actual animation and puppets hold up extremely well, rivalling (and often bettering) work today.
As much as I adore the style of Starevich’s films, I don’t believe that it’s appropriate for me to emulate it in my submission; the goal of the competition is to showcase character animation. As he is such an inspiration, Starevich’s work always influences my own but in this case, I don’t believe the charm of his innovative animations would be effectively translated.
I wanted to look at other animated bears to get some inspiration for character design; looking at what works in the animation medium and any technical aspects that might inform my project. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find many existing examples of stop-motion bears so it will take some experimentation to work out the mechanics behind the puppet. For time’s sake, I want it to be relatively simple but I also want it to be effective, all things that I’ll need to consider when designing my own characters.
Now that I’ve decided to use bears in my animation, I wanted to do a little further research into them. I’ve moved away from the idea of referencing the circus and dancing bears, but there is still a lot of context that ties them to Russia. The bear has been a symbol of Russia for some time, used both by the country itself and by others (though not always in a flattering way).
Current uses of the Russian bear within Russia are the coat of arms of one of it’s major historic cities as well as the logo of the current ruling political party.
The ‘United Russia’ political party logo.
The coat of arms of Novgorod.
Other countries have used the symbol to imply the country is big, brutal and clumsy, specifically in propaganda and political cartoons.
At one time, Russia tried to subvert this image that the rest of the world had of them with things like their 1980 Olympics logo, Misha. Since then, however, they seem to have embraced the image, with a push at one point to change the country’s coat of arms to the creature. Whilst they may not be pushing for “brutal and clumsy”, the power that is associated with the bear is definitely an appealing characteristic to advertise ones country.