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Prerequisite courses: Maya 2011 Essential Training.
- Using screen-drawing tools for Windows and Mac
- Quickly posing characters with custom MEL scripts and layers
- Understanding forces and their role in creating lifelike animation
- Sequencing and timing pose-to-pose animation
- Fine-tuning transitions
- Animating a character's gait and run
- Crafting realistic facial expressions
- Syncing speech to animated dialogue
Skill Level Intermediate
Now let's go ahead and actually animate some vowels. So what we're going to do is we're going to animate the vowel sounds first, so we understand how they work, then consonants, then dialog. And so by animating some vowels and some consonants separately, you'll get an idea and an understanding as to how each is formed in terms of animation, and then stringing them together into dialog should be a lot easier. So let's go ahead and work on the vowels first. Now vowels are open-mouth sounds, and there are basically six of them in the English language. Here, let's play the track.
(Character: A, E, I, O, U, Y!) Okay, so A, E, I, O, U, sometimes Y, and let's go ahead and start working on them. So the first thing I'm going to do is zoom in, so that we can actually see these individually. So I'm going to go ahead and grab my little time slider here and zoom it in to about 27 or 28 or so, and that way I'll have just the 'A' sound. (Character: A.) Okay, so we A. Now notice it starts at about frame 7.
So in order to get this started, I need to go a frame earlier and make sure I have a keyframe for everything in the lower part of the face. Now if I want, I could set up a mouse script to select all this, but I can also just rubberband-select all the stuff in the lower part of the face and just hit S for set key. In fact, if I want, I can zoom in here so we can see this a little bit more closely. Now by setting a key here, I've set a neutral position that we can start from. This sound actually starts pretty quickly, and this is typical for vowels.
Vowels tend to open quickly, close slowly. So 'A' is a really good example of a vowel that typically opens quickly. So by frame 8, you'll notice that it's pretty much at maximum volume. So it goes from zero to full volume in about one to two frames, and then it tapers off. So typically, vowels such as 'A' and I open quickly, close slowly. So the way that we're going to actually open the mouth on this is to use the Jaw slider.
So I'm just going to move this, and we can just open up the jaw, and then as this fades out, you can even see it on the timeline. You don't even have to listen to it. You can close that jaw. In fact, if you want, you can just type 0 to completely zero it out. So all we've done is we've opened and closed the jaw. Let's see how this works. (Character: A, A, A, A.) It looks pretty good. Now one of the things with the 'A' is that sometimes we have a little hint of a smile in there.
So we can do that just by working with the Smile slider. So I can just grab that, and again as he comes in, we can actually add a little bit of smile. So we can do this at frame 8, or we can delay it a little bit to give a little more variation. So I am going to go ahead and smile him as he comes into this A. (Character: A.) Then I want to make sure I zero out that smile. Again, I want to just end each of these with a neutral pose.
So let's go ahead and play this. (Character: A, A, A, A.) Okay, so that looks pretty good. Let's go ahead and move on to E. Now E, if you make this sound with your mouth, E, you'll notice that it's a wider sound. In other words, the mouth is a little bit wider, and there are more teeth showing. So let's go ahead and just animate that. I'm going to start at frame 28. Again, I'm just going to zero everything out by selecting all of my lower-face sliders and hitting S to set key.
Now notice how this starts right around frame 29 or 30, and again, this is one that opens up fairly quickly. So at frame 30, I am going to do two things. First of all, remember that it's a wide mouth with some teeth showing. So in this Dialogue slider, I am going to go ahead and move it to the left, so that I have those teeth showing, and then I do need to open the mouth a little bit, so I'm going to go ahead and open up the mouth a little bit like this.
(Character: E.) And then keep it open for the duration of that E. Again, I am just setting keyframes here. (Character: E.) Then from about frame 34 to 40 or 41 is when the sound fades out, so again, I am just going to zero those out at the end. So I'm going to select Dialogue, zero it out, Jaw and zero that out as well. So let's go ahead and see this.
(Character: E.) Okay, so remember, the 'E' sound has teeth showing. The mouth is wider. So this is the shape we're looking for, and let's play this one more time. (Character: E, E, E.) Now let's go ahead on to the next sound, which is I. Now with the way I like to think of 'I' is as A and E. So 'I' or more like aye, A-Y-E.
Now, it starts with an A and it ends with an E. So typically we start this almost the same. So let's see, where does it start? It starts 54 to 55. So I am going to actually start this at 54, which is my zero point, and again, starting from that neutral position, I'm just going to make sure I lock in all of my mouth sliders here, and then let's go two frames in. And in this case, I am going to just open up the jaw just like I did with the A. So I am just going to go ahead two frames and open this up.
(Character: I.) So right around here, you can see it kind of transitions into kind of an 'E'-ish kind of sound. So it's somewhere around say frame 62 or so, I want it to be on kind of an E shape. But in order to do that, I need to move the Dialogue slider over to more of an 'E' sound and then close that jaw. So let's take a look at that. (Character: I.) Okay, that looks pretty good, but there is actually a little mistake here.
If you go to frame 56, you'll notice that this Dialogue slider already moving over to the right. We want to keep that at 0 as that mouth first opens. So I want to make sure it in-betweens from 56, which is the completely open jaw, over to the point where we've got that kind of 'E' sound. (Character: I.) Then we want to go ahead and close that mouth. I want to zero out the jaw, then return Dialogue to neutral.
Again, I am just zeroing it out. So let's take a look at that. (Character: I, I, I, I.) Now, one of things I have is it looks like I've got this Jaw slider over a little bit. I want to make sure I have that reasonably centered. I can center it just by typing 0 into Translate X. Make sure that that's centered. (Character: I, I, I, I.) So that looks pretty good. Now remember, I is A-Y-E.
So it starts with an A, ends with an E--aye. Okay, I've scrubbed over to our next consonant here, which is O. (Character: O, O.) Now, 'O' is kind of different from most consonants. It's probably one of the more unique ones. We're going to start by playing with this Dial slider, and what this does is it goes into 'O'. But if you think about 'O', it's actually 'oh' and 'oo'. So it starts here at 'oh' and then goes to 'oo'.
So the first thing I want to do is make sure I start at a neutral place. Again, we're starting at frame 80. You notice how the sound starts somewhere between 80 and 81. So let's at 80, set a keyframe with a neutral mouth, go to 82. It takes at least two frames to open a mouth. If you open the mouth within one frame, it's going to start popping, and it's not going to look realistic to the audience. So I'm going to go into an O. Now this is your choice, but you can pop open that jaw a little bit more to give it a little more volume.
So you can combine this 'O' sound with an open jaw. (Character: Oh.) But it will eventually come into an 'oo' sound. So if I bring this down and as I go to an 'oo', you'll notice that the open jaw and the 'oo' don't really work well together. So you need to make sure you close that Jaw down as it transitions into the 'oo'. (Character: Oh.) Then we need to close that out.
So I'm going to close that out somewhere around frame 95. You can see it tails off here. And again, just on that Dialogue slider, select it and hit 0 for both of those. So let's play that. (Character: Oh, oh, oh, oh.) So with 'O', basically you're starting with 'oh', which is a wide open 'oh' mouth and your transition into an 'oo'. Now with the open mouth, you can add a little bit of jaw motion to pop that mouth open a little bit more, if you need it for the volume of the sound.
Now, let's move over to the next sound, which is U. (Character: U.) So 'U' actually opens up a little bit some more slowly. This is one of the rare vowels that doesn't open quickly and close slowly. It's kind of has a soft open and a soft close. But again, we start this exactly the same. So we need to start from a neutral position, and then here we need to go 'U'. So with the E, it's almost like an E and an O, E-oo, EU.
So I am going to start by taking my Dialogue slider here, kind of a top-right a little bit, which gives me kind of a smile, and I'm going to open my jaw just a little bit. So-- (Character: U.) Then as we go into 'oo', I am just going to run this down the side and go transition to an O sound. And as I do that, I'm going to also select the Jaw slider and zero that out.
(Character: U.) That works pretty well, and again, let's go out beyond the end of it, somewhere around frame 118, 119, and let's zero that out as well. So, let's play this. (Character: U, U.) Okay, we can do this a little bit longer. So we can actually open this mouth up a little bit more and maybe try and get a little bit more smile there. There we go. Top-right. There we go.
(Character: U, U.) That should be better. (Character: U, U, U, U.) So remember, U is almost like E and 'oo', E-U. You want to start a little bit with the teeth showing and then end up with kind of that pursed lips. Now, the last one is the sometimes Y. So I am going to scroll over here, and let's go ahead and play the Y.
(Character: Y, Y.) It starts slow and ends slow, so it's more of a soft vowel. So it goes 'oo', I. Okay, 'oo', I. It's almost 'oo' and I. Okay, so let's start those with an 'oo'. But before we start, we need to just actually start with nothing. So I'm going to go ahead and select all of the lower face, go right where this sound starts. You can even see it here at frame 126 and set some keyframes.
Now we want to make sure we get into an 'oo' sound, so I am going to go ahead and dial that in, and you notice how it kind of ramps up to about frame 130. Then it goes into an I. So you need to open the jaw and kind of move the Dialogue slider, so I'm starting to get kind of an 'I' sound. Okay, so I think I'm actually going to make this 'oo' sound come in a little bit closer.
So we're going to select the one I had at 130. Let's move it back to 129, and also notice here the jaw is actually in-betweening 126 and 133. But this actually is not working for me, because what's happening is that this jaw is opening on this 'oo' sound. So we want to make sure that that is at 0 when this is at maximum 'oo'. Okay, so that would be at frame 129. So I will make sure that Jaw is at 0 and that this Dialogue one is at bottom- right, which is 1, -1. So let's see how this works.
(Character: Y.) So, then as this comes in, we're going to go ahead over to more of an 'E' sound and then close this. (Character: Y.) Then we can go beyond the end here, somewhere around 144, and let's go ahead and zero everything out. Make sure that we've got a neutral position. So let's play this. (Character: Y, Y, Y.) Okay, that looks pretty good.
So these are just general rules of thumb for each of the vowels. Of course, as your characters speak, they may have different inflections or different moods, so your vowels will have to adapt accordingly. But let's go ahead and just play all of this and just get a general sense of how these vowels are constructed. (Character: A, E, I, O, U, Y!) Okay, so those are pretty good. Now I've just done this very, very quickly. You can certainly tweak these a little bit more.
But this is just general rules of thumb for how to animate vowels. So go ahead and go through this track and animate them yourself, get the feel for how to animate each of the vowels, and then let's go ahead and we'll move on to the consonants next.