How to Animate Dialogue


Okay, so you know how to animate cars driving around, minifigs walking around and maybe even fight scenes, but now there’s a slight problem. This time you want your minifig to talk. Not walk, not fight, not do anything but talk.

It might sound easy to animate a minifig talking, and it is, if you know how to do it. But the easy ways out don’t work. We don’t want to see a looped still of a minifig with a line over it, neither do we want to see a minifig randomly flailing his arms around with a line over it. That doesn’t trick us into believing the minifig talks.

The example used here is an extract from Da Europeans, which isn’t out yet.

Let’s get jiggy with it!

The first thing you should do, as you always should do, is plan out your shot. Or, in this particular case, plan out the dialogue. Let’s take a look at the line. On what words/parts of words does the voice actor emphasise? Where does he ‘speak louder’?

In our case, the minifig sighs, then says "Okay, you can stay. But I won’t sleep on the couch. Remember last time?". There are several different ways to say the line, but as we already have our line recorded we just use that. Load up the file of your line in Audacity, and then start analyzing where everything goes. I listened to my lines several times and worked out for myself where the points of emphasis are.

So, now you know exactly WHEN the points of emphasis are. On the right is how I worked this out. I made this basic X-sheet to help me remember exactly when to animate what, down to the frame. This prevents you from having to loop stills in post-production in order to make your animation work out even more properly.

Of course, this requires you to calculate the number of frames from the time. To do this, you just do the following calculation: framerate * time = frames. For instance, if you shoot at 15FPS and want to have a gesture at 2.4 seconds, you simply calculate 15 * 2.4 = 36, and now know the gesture needs to be at 36 frames (= 2.4 seconds).

Just remember: do not exaggerate! You don’t want your minifig to start flopping his arms when he’s saying a calm thing. On the other hand, when a minifig is shouting, you don’t want him to make nearly no movement. Adjust the amount of movement to the amount of power your lines need. But don’t make the minifigs not move at all.

It is also possible to animate your dialogue before you actually made it. The only downside is that you have to guess when the points of emphasis are. The way to do this is having a few (three or four) stills in between each seperate gesture. Then, in post production, you can loop these several stills (or take away some) as long as needed to get to the next gesture. Of course, it’s a lot more handy to already have the recorded line so you can actually hear the points of emphasis and don’t have to guess. Also, this only works if you have no movement going on in the background.

The next thing you do, of course, is animate your line and then, edit your footage into the line. And ready you are!