Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reading Lips

Today I had a discussion with some friends about the quality of animation in different forms, particularly in that of television, versus feature animation. It's often very obvious to those in the industry that there is a clear dividing line in quality. While features are something to be savoured, and worked on for a long period of time, television is more to be wolfed down, and forced out the door as soon as it's qualified as 'moving'. Of course, this is a gross generalization of both, but it made me wonder exactly where the quality differences lay.
Many of them were fairly obvious. Subtler gestures are often reduced to the larger actions. Snappier moves were more common in order to make for fewer in-betweens, and longer moments of stillness in order to make less areas in need of refinement. Facial expressions are usually dumbed down into big expressions: Happy, sad, angry, neutral. Eye direction is minimized in order to point more clearly to the focus of the shot.
But all this led me to wonder about lipsynchs.
Good animation principles have led me to understand that phrasing is important. Just because we have a lot of syllables, doesn't mean we need to point them all out. For instance, in the word "finally", chances are, you'll have an accent on the I, and then straight into the EE sound for the Y, and if there's a lot of emphasis, you might have an F mouth shape to start the ball rolling. The 'nuh' syllable is almost completely ignored.
But is that so for television, where people may not have time to consider which syllables take preference over the others? Would it be that they would take the time to find every letter in sequence, or would it be that they would take the time to consider proper phrasing, in order to minimize mouth shapes, and therefore make a little less work for themselves?
Curiousity piqued, I couldn't let it go. Without further ado, the results!

Here is Remy, from Pixar's Ratatouille, demonstrating proper use of the word, "ruining", as well as having a delightful tantrum.

The "R" mouth shape

Followed by a lovely "Ooo"

And then, an "ih" mouthshape that actually describes BOTH the I's in ruining

Followed neatly up with the "ng" mouth shape.

Conclusion? Lovely phrasing in the words. It mimics what people actually do with their mouths, leading to a more realistic product.

Next up is Timmy Turner, from Nickelodeon's Fairly Odd Parents, putting forth his version of the word "Secretly".








The result? Timmy skipped a whole letter! I'm so proud.
Or at least, I was, until I listened to the line again, and found that the T is almost impossible to hear.

My study pointed in a disappointing direction. Although it would be logical that they would spend less time animating in favour of a moment or two more consideration, it seems that is not the case. After several other careful looks over other television series, it found very similar results - features would display the higher consideration of mouth shapes and phrasing, and long series would flaunt their many mouth shapes, often leading to gnashing teeth, or flailing tongues.
Perhaps I'll think about the merits of television animation, and try to come up with something more positive, the next time. :)


  1. Hey Christie,

    Very interesting food for thought.

    After reading your post, a question popped up in my head, what about hand drawn animated shows for TV?

    I think the biggest issue with current animated tv shows are that the animators are held back by the tools they are using. In most cases that tool is flash or toonboom. And we know how animation is done using said tools.

    Granted hand drawn animations for tv are pretty much extinct now, and even when they were around they did not match the quality of their feature counter parts. But that freedom provided by the pencil, goes a long way in my opinion.

  2. That's a good point! Although it wouldn't be useful in a current time point, it certainly is interesting from a curiousity standpoint.
    I'll see if I can get my hands on a made-for TV special, or a straight to DVD movie as well, and see if they have any different results. They're all different quality levels, after all.

    I'll see if I can dig up some more references, and and make another post soon!