Overall, I am happy with how this project went; I completed what I set out to achieve and it was encouraging for myself to see how much I could accomplish in a month when I am dedicated. I have struggled in the past to complete projects and have often handed in incomplete animations as final pieces, admittedly they are generally more ambitious than this but to have created an 11 second animation which has a narrative and is informed is still a success.
Looking at my completed animation there are things which I would change (I think it would be impossible for it to be any other way) but in particular I’m not fond of the delivery of “sausage”. I think the timing may have got away from me in that shot and wasn’t as fast paced as I’d envisioned – I would have liked the hand movements to accentuate the word more. If this was a more professional animation with a longer turnaround I would have revisited that shot but I do feel it was strong enough for entry into the competition and I stand proudly behind my submission.
After animating, I had several shots that needed to be cut together which I did in Adobe Premiere, I also used the programme to export my finished animation in the correct format – according to the submission guidelines. Despite having timed out my animation in the animatic stage, I animated a few frames either side of each required shot so that I would have a little play when editing, this meant that I could have more control over the timing of the piece but it also made the editing a touch more fiddly. I had to pay close attention to the audio so that I wouldn’t inadvertently change the provided clip, in the end I successfully edited the clips together, adhering to the exact timing of the audio without throwing off my lip-sync.
After finishing my animation it was time to submit it to the competition. I followed the guidelines and fortunately it went smoothly.
My submission can be found here: http://www.11secondclub.com/competitions/february16/entry/91C2L4
I ended up placing 45th out of 231 entries. I didn’t really know what to expect; obviously I would have liked to have placed higher just because it would be nice to see people appreciating my work but I believe 45th is a respectable place to come, especially for my first submission.
The main goal of this exercise was to get some feedback on my work and hopefully some constructive criticism, whilst there wasn’t much in terms of advice, it was nice to see people respond to my animation and the majority of it was very supportive. Hopefully, if I enter the competition again (and I’m sure I will) I’ll be able to work my way up and place higher and higher each time as I improve as an animator.
After fabricating everything it was time to work out how to translate it on camera. I had my storyboard so I knew what shots I wanted to get and I took some time to frame the scene exactly how I wanted. After I was happy with the composition I turned my attention to lighting, I wanted a soft, warm light without too much shadow obscuring the detail of the puppets and after some experimentation, I achieved what I was looking for and am happy with the results.
Working out the composition
Experimenting with lighting
To ease the animation process I only had the character that was actually in shot on the set, this simply gave me better access to the character that I had to animate.
Here’s a shot of my set mid-animation, it shows the set up of both my lighting and the camera. Out of shot is the laptop that the camera is connected to, running dragonframe which is the software I use to animate.
After coming to character designs that I was happy with I had to build them. There ended up being some inconsistencies between the designs and the finished puppet but I’m not surprised by this. As the character was translated from 2D to 3D, certain aspects needed to be adapted – I consider the sculpting of the puppet to be the final pass of the design and I am pretty happy with the results.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to translate the texture of the bogorodskoye toys as it left undesirable tool marks but the overall design was certainly inspired by them.
For the set I had planned to create a very simple background, most likely a 2-dimensional painting of a simple kitchen scene. As I was building my puppets and setting up the scene, however, I was working in front of a set that I had built for a previous project andthe more I worked in front of it, the more I liked it. I believe that, as the set is a cave (the natural dwelling of a brown bear) it’s an appropriate choice and adds to the narrative.
To help build the props I would need and to work out the scale of the animation, I created extremely crude stand-ins for the puppets. The images below show how I used the puppets to determine the size of the table and chairs, as well as the size difference between the two characters. It also helped me work out how I would frame my animation when it came to shooting it. Also below are the other props I had to make for the animation; the plates piled high with meat.
The puppets were sculpted out of plasticine with a wooden and wire armature for support… as usual I forgot to take process photographs but there is some evidence of the armature in these images of the incomplete puppet.
After all that, here is what I had, ready to set up for shooting. The image is just a representation of the bare bones of the animation which I would next flesh out by taking into account lighting, composition and cinematography. I used extra plasticine around the base of the table and chairs to help secure them, minimising unwanted movement in the animation stage.
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.