Join Dermot O' Connor for an in-depth discussion in this video Drawing cartoony mouths, part of Foundations of Drawing Cartoon Characters for Animation.
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Before you get too deeply into dialogue, it's good to remember that the lower jaw is very flexible. It has a huge range of motion, left to right, backwards and forwards, up and down. And so these drawings are just here. As a reminder that you can really stretch the jaw, you can certainly do the same thing with the cartoon character. So we have side to side, backwards and forwards, and up-down. And don't forget that the tongue itself does most of the hard work when it comes to dialogue anyway. So on the top row, we have the classic TVA 2F dialogue system.
And I'm only showing you this because if you do end up in the studio situation where they wanted to design a character, you may have to draw in this library of mouth shapes. And the A, B, C doesn't refer to phonetic sounds. They are simply labels for the different mouth shapes. So the A creates the closed mouth, the B, the bah, mah and pah sounds and so forth. And on the bottom row in blue and red, I have a more traditional style series of drawings. And the important thing to remember here is that if you do a scene of dialogue with the character, it's good to stick in one family of these shapes.
So, for example, in this group we have the corner of the mouth is up, in this one the corner is down. You wouldn't want to swap between these two very often in the dialogue scene or it might look a little flappy, like this series here where the mouth is down, then up, then down, then up, then down. A character might be happy for five seconds, sad for 10, but they won't go from back to forth every five or six frames. So try to avoid that. And a reminder, when you do dialogue be flexible with it, don't be precious. It's better to overdo it and then pull that back in, than to under do it.
So here is a very generic cartoony humanoid character, and I'm just very quickly going to run you through these mouth shapes. The thing to notice here, see how chewy he is, and that's the magic word, it's chewy. It's the ability to pull and pull the shape of this face. Again, not to be too precious about it; if you overdo it, you can always pull it back in. And also notice that the upper teeth, they do actually move. In reality your upper teeth don't move, of course, unless you have a medical problem. In this case they do because it's a cartoon, and even if you do a natural style animation, it's often common to cheat the upper teeth and move them, but it's the lower teeth that really got to have fun here, they really move around a lot.
So let's move through these. First frame, and then notice that the creases in the eye drag and they'll move around to follow the mass of flesh. On this one we pull up. Notice that the cheek pulls up with it. That's great. On this one, the both cheeks pull up and overlap or just graze the lower eye. And on this one we pull the eye down. And again we see the creases pulling out, the lips go over the edge of the face.
And here the final face, the big smile. And that even creates little creases in the corners of the eye. And again, remember we are drawing volumes, not lines, so always think about the physical object. Here we have a profile view of one mouth shape, and the bad habit I think a lot of us are picking up from working with programs like Flash, where there is a library where we use the same mouth shape over and over and over again. Don't forget that you can have a closed mouth or you can have ten closed mouths, you can have different kinds with different kind of emotional states.
So let's see how these play. That's our beginning, it looks fine. And there is a variation, and yet another kind. As you can see, very, very different impression from this character. And finally, he's had a really good piece of news. So, again, stay flexible. And here, our generic guy. And again, the main focus here is chewiness. A good trick to use is to work with a closed mouth and open one, a cheese mouth where his face is wide apart, and then an ooh shape, those are the four biggies, because those show you the main motion that these guy is going to have to do with his mouth.
These three on the right, I just had them for fun. It was just to see what other kind of mouth shapes I could get out of this character. So let's see how these play. Closed, wide open, cheese, and ooh. So if you can get a good design out of any character with those four shapes, you are in good shape because that means that I think you can be pretty safe, that a good drawing in any of these forms will get you through almost any scene that you want to do. So, and then we have our novelty shapes at the end, the F mouth where he is biting the lower lip, the into the face and the raspberry.
So this is the one I really want to focus on. And this is a much more, a hybrid I guess. She is not a cartoon, she is not realistic, she has bits of both, and definitely more of a challenge because of that. So, again, I have the closed mouth, the wide-open mouth, the cheese mouth and the ooh shape, and then our little novelty ones. And this was fun, actually on this one because I got to put the gum line in and she really looks like she is up to something in there. And, again, let's look at these in sequence, see how they play. So that's our closed mouth, wide open.
Again, that was a challenge, and the challenge here is how do I get a nice shape, how far down can I push that lower lip without this whole area becoming cluttered. And this is a very nice solution, and there is also a nice little design on the lower teeth, and you see where we have this little S, this little curve here, and we are seeing the edge of the teeth straight on, and it works actually. That was a nice technique and that worked. Let's go to the cheese mouth. And, again, notice the cheek overlapping the lower eye, and then we have the ooh mouth. And I could have put more detail in and add like that line, pull this eye down a little bit, but I really wanted to focus more on the mouth, on this one.
And notice the simplicity of the mouth design, straight little S curve, C shape, C shape, C shape, straight line, C shape, straight line. So I'm not getting into any hugely advanced graphical shapes here. The mouth looks complex, it's actually made out of small group of very simple forms. And then we do the F, where she is pitching the lower lip. Again, the cheek overlaps the eye. We have the err, clenching her teeth, and now I'll introduce the crease line here. And again, that crease line wasn't on in any of the other drawings, but guess what, she has a face.
So we pushed that face beyond the point. You'll expect to see crease lines where they didn't exist before. And now we have the blowing of raspberries. So those are her basic seven shapes. Now what I want to do is to do a drawing, see how it turns out. See if we can push this even further. So when I was doing in that library of mouth shapes, I did the variance over this shape. I didn't do a variant and then hide the first drawing, and then work on the variant because what happens is you drift off model.
So I'd like to work from the closest of the original, and here she is. So let's do a new drawing. So what I want to do is fade her out a little bit. Now when I'm drawing this on paper, not on the computer, I will put a clean sheet of paper over the top. If I have a light table, I'll put the light on beneath, and then I would see through the paper and drawn on top. Here I'm in Photoshop, so I'm just putting her on 50% or 40% opacity, and I'll do my drawing on top of that. So, it's the same effect, and let's see if my line is about the right distance, more depth, it's good.
So what I want to do with this is to see if I can really give her like a absolutely wild smile, like something that's demented. And so that's going to be something that's pushing the face up really high. And before we get involved in like drawing the mouth, I feel safer if I had some idea about the overall shape of the face, and then apply the mouth to that. Different people may have different methods, but I like to have a better idea of context, so I know what it's going into.
So this is going to to push the cheeks up so high, I imagine that will pinch them right here at the nostril. So let's draw this big pointy tension there. And next I'll just put in the line for the upper lip, and now the one for the lower lip. And if we really want to make her look slightly crazed, let's push the corners out, something like this.
But you might find that the opacity of the lower level is a little too much to see, so I'm going to fade her out a little more, so I can see what I'm doing a little more clearly, then I'm going to stretch that lower lip to really emphasize the point that the mouth is being pulled so wide. On this little line that you can see here on the lower level, what I'm going to do is pull that, and maybe let's add some creases as well. That really makes it look kind of frightening.
Okay. So now we have this face, let's switch off the layer beneath so we can see it by itself. Not looking too bad. My old trick is to flip these layers horizontally, so I get that instant of freshness, so I don't go totally blind to it. And that's also looking good even when I flip it. Let's go back. And now I want to do is tighten this up, that's my rough pass. It's not bad for a rough pass. Normally I am a little rougher than that, so I'm going to fade that out yet again on a clean layer. And now I'm going to go in and draw a tighter version than this.
That's our cleaned up mouth, I'll put the lower head back on. And the problem with lower head now, of course, is that has the other mouth through it. So let's hide that, we'll actually just delete that. And there is weirdness happening with the eye. So I'm just going to go in a little closer because the eye should react to the cheek, right. So let's do that. So I put a little crease line in there. And you could maybe even hint that the lower eyelid starting to crease up there. We could go further and really start to mess with this area, but what I really want to convey here is the area around the mouth and the nose and the cheeks.
So here we have the face, I don't consider this final final, this is a semi-rough pass. She is terrifying. So that shows you the scope of how you can maybe go a little further, a little further. I could probably go a little further than this, but I don't know by how much. So it's good to know that you are at the extremity of what you can get away with, with your design. So now just a quick note about things like female mouths and the shape library that you can use with them. And this is just five that I did in the closed and open position using this little M shape on the upper lip.
And depending on how you apply these curves, so in this case the curve is curving in. On this one that's curving out. Here I tapered right to the edge of the mouth, took out the little divot in the top. And as you can see, you can vary with this over and over and over again. And by changing the break of the curve where the breaks happened or where the line curves in or out, you get different mouth shapes. You can make lipstick or thinner than this. So, again, it isn't the case where you have to always use this particular mouth shape because it's a female character. So it's good to break out of that constraint.
Similarly with teeth, you can do all white teeth, you can have a single stroke, maybe a little thicker in here and thinner there. You can add as many or as few of these internal lines as you like, or you can take them all the way and close off though shapes. So different levels of teeth also applies to carnivorous mouths. In here we can get the gum line in and that really gives a good snarly feeling, and you can do that on humans too, of course. And here is a fantastic trick I learned years ago, and that is to offset the teeth, so that you have the teeth at an angle to one another.
And you can do this even if this breaks the anatomy. This is a fantastic trick you can get away with. What it does is it creates a triangular internal shape. If you follow those lines there, you will see a triangle. And that gives you really good space, it's where you can put in the tongue without cluttering it up. So that's a really handy device to use. And tongues, these are just three examples, I'm sure you could think up more, but essentially you can make them all round and cute and soft and 1940s, or you can do the 1970s type potato chip, or you can go a little more naturalistic route and give it a realistic tip.
So, again, many more varieties in just these three, but this is just to give you an inkling. Maybe watch movies and see how other people have done. So here we have strange angles, and I can't give you a library of every weird angle, but this is just to give you a suggestion that if you have things like weird upshots, like dramatic upshots, this mouth is a complete cheat. That is more or less a mouth that you would see from a front-on point of view, but your brain thinks it's correct because of the context. It's within the context of an upshot.
So it's pretty much an illusion. And so when you go to these weird angles, the problem will be, what do I leave out? For example, with this one I wouldn't want to see his teeth, it would look strange. So you begin to lose teeth, you begin to lose other details. And from this rearview you wouldn't even see much inner detail at all. So just get used to what you don't have to show. And with some characters like the generic cartoon mouse or any cartoon character, some features are basically androgynous. The mouth in this character is, it could be on a male character. It's the context of her having long eyelashes that makes you think that that's a female mouth.
And great fun can be had with really older or wrinkled characters where you can get into the body mass. And here we have old granny with her wrinkled mouth. I mean, she has one tooth, and notice too I even had a little hint of the inner mouth there so. You can still push this, because she just didn't have many teeth, you can do things with these mouth shapes that maybe you can't do with younger characters. So that was a lot of fun to work with. So that's our blitz introduction to cartoon mouths and many of the tricks and techniques that'll I think help you.
Follow along with your favorite illustration program, your Wacom tablet, or paper and pen.
- Drawing gesture and attitude drawings
- Creating thumbnail drawings
- Understanding line of action, negative space, exaggeration, and more
- Drawing eyes and mouths
- Drawing feet and hands
- Drawing animals
- Going from rough sketch to full-color drawing