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Mouth Movements

By Amy Harder

After last week’s experience in the bayou, I’ve been thinking about lip synchronization and how important mouth movements are to the believability of a character.

It is so much easier to have accurate lip sync when you are performing the puppet’s voice yourself, than if you are having to anticipate the sounds of a recording. Matching someone else’s delivery style, pacing, and general voice acting is tough. So how can you make the best of a not-so-perfect situation? Here are some hints:

a scene from the bayou1 - Get to know the character. What’s the personality? What’s the backstory? If you know the type of character, then you will have an easier time getting the body movements to match. For example, for that bayou project I found myself as the primary puppeteer for a snobbish, gossipy, and sometimes devious duck named Dixie, as well as an upright, sensible, fun-loving grandpa character named Pappy. If I had played both characters with the same intensity, posture, and movements, I would have looked like an idiot. Know-it-all Dixie had to give off an attitude (much like a typical teenage female) by rollin’ her head all around, nose in the air, and an “I’m-better-than-you” posture. Pappy sure would have looked funny if he had acted that way.

2 - Get to know the content. What’s going on in the scene? What’s your character thinking? …feeling? …wanting? Our situation at that video shoot was not ideal. We had to shoot episodes that we had never heard nor had a chance to even read. And to complicate matters, we were recording out of sequence so we didn’t really know the whole story until the end of the day. You’ve heard actors asking their directors, “What’s my motivation?” Well, we found ourselves doing that a lot. One scene in particular involved a big bear and a young lost camper. Think of all the ways THAT could have gone! Insight into the story was essential if we were to act and react properly. Life is so much simpler when you know the script ahead of time. :-)

3 - Get to know the recording. Listen to it again and again. What’s the pacing? Where are the pauses and breaths? Animators will listen to each individual line dozens of times as they determine appropriate timing and movements based on the voice actor’s delivery. Listen to what the voice talent has given you and know it intimately. If you think this is too hard, name your favorite movie. Go ahead, name it. Now, tell me your favorite line from that movie. Do it just the way the actor did. Go ahead, nobody’s watching. See? You are so familiar with that line, you can deliver it just the way it was in the movie. You know it because you have spent time with it. Now, your puppet script recording may not be as exciting as that, but you should spend plenty of time getting to know it if you want to make people believe that your character is actually saying it.

In the bayou we did not have the luxury of getting to know our recordings ahead of time. We had to make the most of the few minutes in between scenes to listen and learn fast. (Our audio guy got a workout that week!) But the other thing we had on our side was practice. The best way to master lip synchronization is to just do it. Practice with the radio on your way to work. Practice with your teachers in school (just hide your hand, please). I got tons of practice at college… I went to a Christian school where daily chapel was a required event and sleeping was not allowed. So, I folded my arms so as to hide my puppet hand, and kept myself awake (and listening) by syncing to the speaker. Try that for an hour a day and see how much better you’ll get!

The point is, it takes time. It takes a determined effort to know the character, situation, and timing. And if you succeed, your performance will be believable and entertaining. And, if you’re really good, somebody might actually offer you money to do it again.

Do you perform your puppet voices live or do you lip sync to a recording?

  • Well, see… it depends… sometimes it’s live, sometimes not. (50%, 13 Votes)
  • Live..! I am the puppet… (31%, 8 Votes)
  • It’s all canned. I can’t do voices! (19%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 26


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6 responses to “Mouth Movements”

22 08 2007
Kelvin Kao (02:29:08) :

Amy, I don’t know why you are on a posting binge (overcompensating for the last few months?), but I’m loving it!

In my opinion, the hardest part of lip syncing to a voice recording is the beginning. You don’t know when the line is going to start!

22 08 2007
Amy Harder (09:04:17) :

Yeah, maybe I’m trying to make up for lost time. Of course, just because I wasn’t posting doesn’t mean I didn’t have things to say! Hmm… maybe this isn’t a posting binge… maybe it’s purging all the ideas that have been gathering! ;-) Glad you approve.

9 09 2007
mark (01:49:48) :

OK, some like to lip sinc and some like to talk live. There is a third reason for not doing it live.
I do perform most of the voices but there are many voices i can not do well, such as a womens.
I would prefare to have a natural voice on the puppet then a put on one!
also music can be edited into the mix to give it an almost disney like feel.
an 8 track digital recording studio is a must. I use a tascam. they are not the most user friendly thing around but it’s a good reliable system…

23 02 2008
Suzie Drip (07:49:57) :

I used to do prerecorded for years because we did not have enought microphones and could not get the sound out thru the stage curtain well. It took lots of practises to get the timing down. I found it was easier for beginners to start with singing a song because the rythym of the music kept them on track. For speaking tracks we found that a short musical line just before the speaking would help us judge when the first line would occur. We also needed a special line from our our front MC to help us know when they were ready for us to start the track. The same musical line used over and over for the same puppet group helped the audience know the puppets were about to come out and refocused their attention to the stage with anticipation. That short music line also gave puppets the entrance time to walk onto the stage if needed. Now I only do live puppetry with wireless mics, just because that is what my new team chose, since they have great improvisational skills and voices. It is nice to be able to improve on the script as you go but sometimes the other characters have to watch out for crazy line changes. We do the same show 3 times for 3 different ages of kids and so it helps to mature the script as we go for the older kids.

8 05 2009
Ed Atkeson (12:21:51) :

If it’s a big play with lots of dialog I use readers behind the puppeteers. Lots of practice is required.
So far I haven’t used a recorded soundtrack because I like everything happening at once, live. It’s like tightwire walking.
Nice site!

30 11 2009
Neil Mcintyre (13:58:12) :

Great information for ventriloquists, good effort. I am an amateur & enjoyed everything.
Good health & good luck.
Neil in Australia.

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