12 Steps to Animating a Believable and Appealing Dialogue Shot
Tackling a shot with facial animation involved can be challenging. To get great facial animation, you'll not only need to put a lot of time into it, but it helps if you approach the facial animation as if it's a completely separate shot. There is as much planning and care involved in animating the face as there is in the rest of the animation. In this article, you will learn twelve important steps to ensuring the facial animation of your shot is rock solid and can hold up on its own.
When animating the face, head, and lip sync, the same techniques that you use to animate the entire body can also be applied. Thinking about the timing, lead and follow, drag, and exaggeration are all extremely vital to accomplishing a great facial animation. The audience's attention is typically centered on the character's face and this is especially true during a shot with dialogue. Anytime that the audience notices something strange with the animation is the moment when they realize your character isn't real. And that's exactly what you don't want to happen.
Since you are trying to convey real-world movements into a 3D virtual world, knowing how human faces move is an extremely important step in creating strong facial animation in your virtual characters. With this in mind, one of the first steps to creating believable well crafted facial animation is to study how your own face deforms and moves around. The amount of planning that is involved can seem like overkill, but having this type of planning in place will speed up the process and help push the animation to the next level.
The character we'll animate will be saying, "Ahhhhh....Have you seen the rest of my body?" In total the shot is 77 frames long and you can find the project files for this shot on the disc for this issue. Although the character in this article will be an ogre, any character rig with good facial controls should suffice.
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Create a Dialogue Chart
As we mentioned earlier, planning out the audio is incredibly important when working on a shot with dialogue. Write down each word of dialogue and then break it up into syllables. Track the timing for each word and study the high points, or the areas where the character speaks higher in the audio. Most words should have one of these high points in them. Take notes on what syllable it's at and use them as guides on where to push the lip sync in your animation.
Act out the scene
Animators are actors. The best way to get ideas for the scene is to get in front of a camera and act out the shot. Don't be shy, all animators do it. Try to become the character during the acting process. Play the audio in the background and act out the scene over and over. When you think you've got the shot, playback the video you've captured to double-check. Only stop when you're entirely happy with your performance. A good rule of thumb for this is to force yourself not to settle for anything less than fifteen to twenty minutes in front of the camera. This will help force you to really get into acting out the shot rather than accepting one of your first few takes.
Block in the key poses
Use the video you shot to get the proper story telling poses that describe the facial animation. For each story telling pose, you should make sure to pose each area of the face and not just the entire head. This will help you see the type of facial pose that you want to hit and at what word in the dialogue. Try to keep the poses to a minimum; you just want to get the most important ones in at this point. For example, our blocking pass consisted of six main poses.
The breakdowns are the poses inbetween the story telling poses that describe how the character is getting from one pose to the other. Study your reference and use that as a guide to help you create your breakdowns. Look at the spacing between each pose that's in your reference and incorporate that into your animation. It's important for you to remember that breakdowns are not just inbetweens. You should be thinking about drag, exaggeration, and poses that can add more appeal to the action.
Exaggerate the movements
Once you have all the proper breakdowns in, the brunt work of the animation is almost done! Make sure the timing is exactly how you planned it and your holds are in the right spot. Once you're happy with the timing, go in and start pushing some of the poses to really exaggerate the facial movement. For example, when the character brings his head down, drag the eye brows and have them offset a few frames. You could even utilize the scale attributes for the head to add some squash and stretch. Exaggerating movement is just as important with facial animation as it is in the rest of the body.
Eye Brow Animation
It's important to have strong eye brow poses to sell the facial animation. Don't overdo it by having the eye brows moving during every single word. Instead, find a few important eye brow shapes that you want to hit during the dialogue. In the ogre animation there are really only two main eye brow poses: Frowned, and surprised. It's how you transition between the two that helps sell the animation.
Fine-Tune the Eye Lids
After the overall movements of the head are looking how you want them, it's time to go in and start fine-tuning some more of the smaller details. The eye lids may seem like the least important area on your character, but they can help sell to really the emotion of your character. For example, in our animation the eye lids have been opened very wide in the spots where the eye brows are raised. This makes our facial animation feel like its all one cohesive unit working together.
Add in Blinks
When adding blinks to your facial animation, make sure that you aren't adding them just because you the think the characters eyes must be getting dry. Instead, to add blinks with the correct timing you need to think about the emotional state of the character. Is he angry? Sad? In our animation, the dialogue has a concerned tone to it so the character's blinks can be minimal. In this shot there are a total of 3 blinks; the first is during the head turn at the beginning, the next is when the character looks up at camera, and the final one is when he bobs his head. Remember that you can also use the controls under the eye lids to be able to really make each blink feel very fleshy.
Animate Jaw Movement
Once the head movement and face is working properly now it's time to create the lip sync. This should be relatively simple since you created the dialogue chart beforehand. The first step is to block in the jaw opening and closing. Typically this is done at the start and end of a word, but it can be very easy to open and close the jaw way more than is actually needed if you're not careful. Keep referring back to your reference video to see how much the jaw moves while the dialogue is being said and don't overdo it. Once this is completed you're already halfway done with the lip sync.
Add in the Mouth Shapes
When you've blocked in the jaw movement, now you can go in and start fine tuning the shape for the mouth. Add in some asymmetry to the mouth shapes to help add believability. Animate each lip control to get a sort of peeling effect when the mouth opens. Think about the arcs that the jaw is taking during this stage. You can really add a very fleshy look to the lip sync by animating the entire rotation axes as well as the translate axes. Have fun with this and don't be afraid to exaggerate it!
Animate the Cheeks
A great place to be able to make the character's face feel fleshier is in the cheeks. When animating the face you don't want any area to feel dead, so you can utilize some of the facial controls to make the face feel like its all one unit working together to create the shapes. For example, when the "B" shape is being said in our shot, try using the facial controls to puff out the cheeks. This adds a lot more appeal to the lip sync.
Polish the Animation
After you've animated the lip sync, now it's time to go in and add that final 10% that will really push your facial animation to the next level! Track the arcs of the corner of the mouth, the nose, and the eye brows. Tweak the eye lids to get a nice fleshy look during blinks. Once the polish pass is completed then your facial animation is done!
Be sure to use the techniques taught in this tutorial to help you create believable and appealing facial animation. Remember that often times, facial animation and lip sync need to be exaggerated beyond what you see in the real-world, so that it reads much easier in animation form. Be sure to visit the Digital-Tutors library for more tutorials in facial animation.