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A Pro Animator's Secret Guide to Animating Mouths

ben marvazi 2020

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"Animating mouths is the craft of shaping sounds into visuals, allowing characters to communicate and express themselves through the subtle choreography of their lips."

Christopher Lewis

Animation - the art of bringing inanimate objects to life - has fascinated audiences for years. It's an intricate blend of art and technology where characters express complex emotions and engage viewers, making them forget, even if momentarily, that these figures are not real. 

Among the various facets that contribute to a character's realism, the art of animating mouths plays a crucial role. The way a character speaks, laughs, or expresses can significantly affect the narrative and viewer's perception. Therefore, understanding how to animate mouths correctly can give your characters a compelling edge.

Cover GIF by Disney via GIPHY

The Profound Impact of Animating Mouths

a man character with green hair moving his mouth really fast whilst his sunglasses twinkle

GIF by Ian Laser via GIPHY

Before we delve into the secrets of animating mouths, let's establish the importance of mastering this skill. Facial expressions are paramount in conveying a character's thoughts, emotions, and reactions. Of these expressions, the mouth's movement greatly influences how we perceive a character's feelings and responses.

In the world of animation, each smile, frown, gasp, or word uttered by a character provides context, adds depth, and fosters a connection with the viewer. Hence, animating mouths is an essential part of character development and storytelling in animation. 

A well-animated mouth can make a character's speech appear realistic and relatable, making it a vital aspect of successful animation.

The Foundation of Animating Mouths: Lips, Teeth, Tongue, and Jaw

Stitch putting out his paw and opening his mouth showing all his teeth and saying "Hai!" whilst putting his ears back

Lilo And Stitch Hello GIF via GIPHY

As you delve into the art of animating mouths, begin by understanding the core components - the lips, teeth, tongue, and jaw. Each of these elements contributes to the formation of different phonemes, the sounds that make up our speech.

Take, for instance, the "F" sound in "Fish." It's formed by gently biting the lower lip with the upper teeth. In contrast, the 'O' sound in 'Open' involves a circular formation of the lips. Understanding these nuances will give you a solid foundation to animate mouth movements realistically.

The Secret Ingredient: Following the Sound, Not the Words

a scene from the good dinosaur of three t rex's roaring and the green dinosaur trying to roar and fit in too

GIF by The Good Dinosaur via GIPHY

One of the commonly overlooked aspects of animating mouths is the emphasis on words instead of sounds. It might seem intuitive to animate the mouth based on the words your characters are speaking. But here's a professional tip: focus on the sounds, not the words.

Why? Because different words can produce similar mouth shapes based on their sounds. For instance, the word 'Eat' and 'Tea' share a similar mouth shape for the 'Ee' sound. By focusing on the sounds rather than the words, you can create more accurate and realistic animations of your characters speaking.

The Balancing Act: Exaggeration and Subtlety in Animating Mouths

Shrek smiling and sighing with his ears and eyes relaxing showing that its not just about animating mouths but whole facial expresiions

GIF by DreamWorks Animation via GIPHY

Another crucial element in animating mouths is balancing exaggeration and subtlety. Animation, by its very nature, involves a degree of exaggeration to convey emotions and expressions effectively. However, it's essential to strike the right balance.

Over-exaggeration can result in your characters looking more like caricatures, while excessive subtlety may make their speech seem muted or robotic. The secret lies in understanding your character's personality, and the style of the animation, and tailoring the level of exaggeration and subtlety accordingly.

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The Road to Mastery: Practice, Practice, and More Practice

red yellow and green text saying "Practice Makes Progress"

GIF by Nueva Creative via GIPHY

As with any skill, mastering the art of animating mouths takes time and practice. The first few attempts may not turn out as expected, and that's perfectly fine. Even the most seasoned animators had to start somewhere. Each attempt and each mistake is a step towards growth and improvement.

Experiment with different phonemes, play around with various degrees of exaggeration and observe the mouth movements in different emotions. This journey might be challenging, but remember, it's also an enriching learning experience.

Don't Walk Alone: Leverage Available Resources

a screenshot of The Business of Animation webpage with a video of Ben Marvazi with the text "All Inclusive online program"

Image by Business of Animation

The journey to mastering animating mouths doesn't have to be a solitary one. Countless resources are available to assist you, and leveraging these can fast-track your learning process.

The Animation Business Accelerator program, for example, offers a wealth of resources to help you excel. The program provides on-demand video lessons that cover a wide range of topics, including animating mouths. These lessons are designed to be easily understandable and applicable, enabling you to put what you've learned into action right away.

You also get access to live mentorship calls with Ben Marvazi, a seasoned animation business owner. These sessions are excellent opportunities to have your questions answered and to gain insights from someone with first-hand experience in the industry.

Moreover, the program hosts live deep-dive learning events focusing on specific animation topics that participants are keen to learn about. It's a chance to ask questions, learn more about a particular subject, and engage with fellow animation enthusiasts.

And let's not forget the bustling, supportive community you become a part of. This community is a gold mine for learning, inspiration, and support. You can ask questions, seek feedback, and connect with like-minded freelance animators and studio owners from around the world.

Towards Mastery: Animating Mouths Like a Pro

a very happy looking Baluga whale nodding its head and closing its eyes at the same time

GIF by 10e Ave Productions via GIPHY

Learning to animate mouths might seem daunting at first, with its complexities and nuances. However, as you delve deeper, you'll find that it's an art that can be mastered with understanding, practice, and patience. 

Remember that every seasoned animator began their journey at the same point as you. Each challenge you face and overcome propels you further toward your dream animation career.

Our Animation Business Accelerator program is designed to provide you with the knowledge, resources, and support to navigate these challenges. The program offers a comprehensive suite of learning materials, mentorship, and community support to help you become a proficient animator.

Join us today to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge needed to establish a successful freelance animation career or studio. Don't forget to check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio” for more in-depth insights.

Take the leap, embrace the journey, and animate like a pro. With practice and perseverance, you can master the art of animating mouths and other vital animation skills. Remember, your journey in animation is not just about the destination. It's also about the exciting learning experience along the way. Keep animating, and let your characters speak volumes!

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