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10 best animation tips & tricks

04. Facial animation is about motion, not just poses

We're often asked whether there are certain poses that should always be built into face rigs to ensure the character can effectively express a natural range of emotion. The answer is that real emotion is expressed with the movement of the face: a lip quivering when a character is about to cry, the eyes darting around when a person is at a loss for words, or a character pressing their face tightly to avoid laughing at something.

Treat these moments like gestures of the face and observe their movement as closely as the poses they contain.

Since some poses aren’t possible with certain character designs, you’ll have to cheat sometimes. Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc has no nose, but he smells his armpit in the locker room scene at the beginning of the film. He does this by moving his lips up and down while making the sniffing noise. This choice clearly demonstrates that we don’t need specific poses or even anatomy to read facial animation. Without nostrils to flare, we read Mike’s sniffing action with only the mouth movement; you too can be as clear and communicative with your facial animation if you study the movement of the face and not just poses.

05. Mute your dialogue

Yes, you must listen to your dialogue over and over and over when you start a dialogue shot to get into the character, the subtext, the mood and the performance. But later on, when you work through the body mechanics and full-body gestures, it’s common to rely too heavily on the dialogue to fill in performance that’s lacking in the body.

The best dialogue shots work as well with the sound muted. Diagnose the communication in your shots by muting them before showing your colleagues. If your colleagues don’t get a strong impression of the relationship between the characters and a good gist of what is being spoken, your body language is not developed or supportive enough.

Go back into the body and reinforce your pose choices for the major points. Speak the line totally with the body language before un-muting the dialogue and working out the lip-sync.

06. A mirror is a dangerous thing

Be careful using a mirror for doing lip-sync. When speaking into the mirror, we slow down our pronunciation to copy a shape. This is misleading, because it disregards natural lip/jaw independence.

Key your lip-sync in separate passes for the lips and jaw, and use a mirror for information to help one pass at a time – either lip shape or jaw motion.