Hi folks, I've been sculpting and animating up a storm for Claymation class lately.  This week, we studied lip sync. 


I got to stand on a rug this time, which made my feet really happy.

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You were an animator on Happy Feet?    I used to have a rubber mat for that, it does help if you're on a concrete floor all day.

Nice piece of lip synch, with a Vintonesque vibe!

Great job.  You definitely put the time in and had a fun idea.  On that note I have a few pointers.  Keep in mind these are not necessarily things I can do, but I try to because more talented people people told me I should.

 You're almost working too hard I think.  You've got a lot of movement in the facial features, which I think is cool, because it shows you're really going for it and aren't focused on short cuts. However, you could maybe hold different features in certain positions longer, eliminate others, and get clearer, more communicative expressions.  Think about what expressions indicate a change of thought or meaning, and focus on those.  That being said, I know it can be hard to keep your hands off the character while you're animating.  Learning when not to touch the little guys can feel like the hardest part sometimes.  

I would give basically the same advice for your actual lip sync.  It's instinct to try and move the lips almost every frame, but that often creates unusually rapid and erratic looking mouth movement.  Focus on the intent of your dialogue and figure out which beats are most essential to communicating with your audience.  There are key frames in a dialogue track just like in a characters motion.  You have to be ready for them so you know where you're going and you arrive on time.  I imagine they went over this in your class and it's way easier said then done, but really listen to your track over and over again,break it down phonetically frame by frame on your x-sheet. Think about which sounds produce different shapes and which blend easily into one another. Watching yourself speak into the mirror, or even better having video reference of your voice actor is a good way to do this.  A basic guideline(that is much more clearly described and illustrated in the Richards Williams book) is to identify your hard vowels and pop right into them, cushioning out of them into the next clear mouth shape, which isn't necessarily the next letter or sound.

Like I said, this is just advice I was given when I was doing the same excersizes, and I am in no way shape or form an expert on this stuff.  Of course, not too many people are, and the one's who are may not see your post, so I thought I would try to pass on some advice I've gotten from great animators. 

Keep up the good work, you're doing good!

That is a good critique, but it seems almost like the video is out of sync for you. Is it playing correctly in your browser?  The dialog was fast and slurred together so there were not many hard vowels to grab onto. It's on ones because two's would have caused it to fall behind the track. The eye movement is not part of my personal style (if anything, I usually don't move the eyes enough- watch Blue Alien Summer for an idea).

Your style is probably worlds away from the 80's clay one being emulated in this exercise, but if you look at the California Raisins specials you will see darting eyes and fast moving lips. So, it could be that the style here is glossing over your idea of what lip sync should be.  Curiously, the kind of feedback you have given was not hit on in class, which I would expect from my fellow students if the animation was too busy- someone always comments on that.

Then again, you are the pro, having worked in the animation studios, so I appreciate the advice and will apply it toward future projects.

I'm not a pro by any means. I have limited studio experience and never as an animator.  I guess I just like gabbing about animation. Just thinking and talking about it is good practice, but I definitely wouldn't take anything I say too seriously. I'm still learning all this myself.


Cool, man. Well, I take every bit of critique internally and do want to know about any mistakes I'm making. At the same time, I don't want to take in too much so  I try to weigh critique in terms of popularity among other comments so that I don't influence the animation too much in the areas it is working. It's a tough balancing act between working instinctively and applying good advice, and this might be useful for you as well- when I was first starting out, after many years of not animating in 2006,  I posted a lot of tests and people were clamoring for something longer. So I made three micro-shorts, and they wanted something longer still.

Going against the gut feeling that I didn't know what I was doing enough to make a longer film, I hurriedly wrote the story line for Blue Alien Summer and then cut some serious corners to get it finished without realizing I had hacked the poor thing to pieces to where it no longer worked as a story. But I was taking in all of these tips for improvement over previous work in the meantime, and that is part of what led me to micro-manage the film so much. So critique is good, but reading too much into it, as you said above, can cause you to second-guess everything you know- I noticed this especially when it came to comments from casual viewers on Youtube who were not animators. So in other words, you want to be flexible, but don't be a sponge because not all advice you're going to get as an animator is going to be accurate (in your case it was, I'm just speaking generally).

 All told, at the end of the day,I want to do it correctly and effectively, and you're pretty good at suggesting what to improve without seeming too critical, so you are welcome to take a swing at my other exercises any time. 

Let 'em really have it!  Especially the ball bounce ones. And thankfully I haven't put up any walks, because those would be destroyed in about 10 seconds by the best animators I know.  :P From your reel I can tell already that you have me beat on walking a puppet, do you have any insight on animating a smooth walk? I can't find much of your work on the internet, but what I have seen is really fluid-especially the latest reel. I can definitely see the Selick influence.

What I wrote you was just a reinterpretation of an e-mailed critique I got from a world class animator about a year ago, and it sort of rocked my world.  It would probably have been more useful to you if I dug out the e-mail and sent it along, but it helps me to try and articulate things I've read and been told.  So I might have not made sense quite the way I had hoped. If you like I can find his e-mail and send you the stuff about lip sync he wrote me. 

As far as making things smooth goes I don't really know.  I read about spacing, and watch of lot of really good animation a frame at a time over and over, and then I try my best.  Also I'm only ever working on my own stuff for my own film without a deadline.  Hopefully I'll one day have someone breathing down my neck telling me I'd better be done at such and such a time, and I'll find out whether or not I can really do this stuff. 

No problem! I didn't not take offense to any of it. In fact, someone watching commented that they wished there was more of this kind of critique on these boards. People worry about stepping on each others' feelings, and they don't always speak up- but tips for improvement- that's golden. Any time you can help someone improve, don't hesitate to offer tips. That's what this site has always been about. Even when there's competition- helping each other is the main thing. This is a small industry and we must pull everyone up by each others' boot straps.

As far as getting things done- there are crutches, there's caffeine and cigarettes, there's beer, there's cacao chocolate- but the main thing is that after you've animated enough, you'll know what you can do and the time frame you can realistically do it in. Even when you think "oh, there's not enough time!" It might seem like there isn't, but your mind will adapt and rise to the challenge. As of Sunday, I did not have anything animated for this exercise. I didn't even have a puppet or set. I'm not even sure I had any idea settled on either. But pressure motivates. I spent all day Sunday sculpting set and puppet, and late into Monday morning animating.

On the final project,  I can't afford to leave it for the last minute, but if you want to animate for a living, set small goals and meet every one of them. Always finish what you start. And others will see that. Well, you probably know this already, having been hired at one of the biggest stop motion studios. I'm just putting this up for the benefit of anyone reading it.  As far as talking, about stop-mo, the general rule handed down from the masters is, "shaddup and animate" ;). That was the advice I got from a Jedi animator. We all like to talk about animation, but where we'll truly be vetted is at Show and Tell. :)

Amen Brother.

Well, we're into the  last week of class, and I imagine everyone is working feverishly on their final animation projects.

I'm doing one shot per day to get it in on time. Anyway, here is the first shot of the film. 


Bob- I took all of your advice and tried not to get too busy with the action. Instead, there's a key emotion that happens every 24 or 48 frames.  Thanks again. 

The next shot will be a close up as he says "dumb luck" and swats the statue base with his pointer stick. That's scheduled for early tomorrow morning or afternoon.

The facial animation is a complete rescupting job every frame with the head detachable so that the face is easier to work on. The head is registered on the neck with epoxy putty pushed into the cap of a pen and then tabbed to create a pressure fit. I find it easier to get the head off and on every frame this way than using K&S tubing. I guess everyone has their own version of what works for them.

Eyes are plastic beads, eyebrows are stikki wax mixed with white clay to make it harder. Teeth are the same. The inner black part of the mouth is a strip of black plastic cut from a TV dinner tray. The orange clay doesn't really stick to it, so I found that I could roll the lips down like a sardine can a lot of the time in order to open the mouth up. 

The armature is made of 3 gauges of aluminum wire (thickest for the legs and spine (single strand), thinner gauge for the arms, and thinnest for wrapping the arms to give the clay something to key onto.

The head armature is made of aluminum foil packed in tight and then sealed with duct tape ensuring solidity but keeping the weight down to avoid top-heaviness. 

Feet are loops from the legs of the armature, with a lock nut on top, and epoxied into place. The shoes are actually just epoxy putty, smoothed with water.

I really need pics of all this, but it will have to wait until the film is done as I only have one camera and it's being used for animation. But so far, so good. I'm having a lot of fun with this one.

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