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.