Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mouth Shapes

To continue on from last week with the discussion about brows I wanted to move onto the next most expressive part of the face, the mouth. We first look at the eyes for attitude, but the mouth should complement the eyes and work with the rest of the pose. It has so much that can add to the expression and help convey so much character and personality.
(Remember, these are just things that have worked for me and not hard and fast rules. I am sure there are many other things that work too and lots of other things for me to still learn!)

For me, two things really stand out when I think about the mouth; Appealing Design and Specific Shapes. 

Appealing Design:
Appeal is such a elusive thing to obtain, but for me it is one of the most important elements in animation. You know when you get it right because it looks so good that you just can't look away from it! 

Animation wise, a film that I think oozes appeal is Disney's Tangled. Glen Keane and Jin Kim did so much amazing development work and design which I think really helped create some of the most appealing CG characters to date. 

These drawings are by Jin Kim for the Mother Gothel character in Tangled. The mouth shapes are really great and are so appealing to look at. 

I know that during the production of The Incredibles at Pixar, they look a lot at Disney's 101 Dalmatians for great mouth designs and lip shapes. This model sheet by Milt Kahl of Jasper is fantastic. It has tons of character and all the shapes have so much squash and stretch and fleshiness to them. 

I really like Shane Prigmore's model sheet for Coraline too. The mouth shapes have loads of asymmetry to them. 

When designing mouth shapes I am looking for straights against curves, for squash and stretch, for asymmetry,  for simplicity in the curves (even though complex mouth shapes can and should be used, its keeping the lines simple that makes it much easier to read) and knowing when to favour the upper or lower teeth. 

In CG, mouth shapes and quickly become really ugly. Sometimes this a problem of the model and how the rigging and shapes have been developed, but a lot of times it is also trying to over complicate the mouth or push it into poses that are trying to match real life ie. rotoscope it too closely rather than caricature it and reduce it to the essence of the design. 

Specific Shapes:

Everyone talks and moves their mouths in completely unqiue way, and the mouth should be unique to the character that you are working on. At Animation Mentor we are given a library of mouth shapes to work with on the character, Bishop. My advice which is the same advice from my mentors at Animation Mentor is; don't use it! 

The library is default/stock and completely lacks character. In many cartoons the same few mouth shapes are used over and over. This is the same with the library, it looks robotic and formulaic. The mouth shapes need to be designed for every dialogue scene based on who the character is, and how he or she is feeling at that moment. 

Just take a look at any great film or watch yourself in your video reference and you will be amazed at the crazy shapes! Designing good and appealing shapes is hard, but loads of fun too and it adds so much to the character and personality of the scene. A hick might talk out the side of his mouth, an angry woman might pout, a tough guy might talk through his teeth with very little lip roll. 

A character that is loads of fun to watch for expression and mouth shapes is Peter Lorre (he also has an awesome voice!) Just take a look at these great mouth shapes! This is all from The Maltese Falcon (I am planning on animating a shot from it very soon). 

I really liked this one of Burl Ives. I did a shot with a kindly santa elf and watched a fair bit of Burl Ives for inspiration of the mouth shapes for that piece of animation. 

This is great too - Robert Ryan talking out the side of his mouth! 

Wow! Look at this for crazy:

A movie a love to watch for really specific expressions and mouth shapes is The Odd Couple with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon (two of my favourite actors). 


  1. What a great blog Mike, there's a huge amount of great tips. It's a pleasure to read it and I learn a lot :) Please continue keep on updating this blog hehe!

  2. What a great blog Mike!! lots of awesome infos!!
    It's really a pleasure to watch it at every updates so keep on make us learn more and more!!!


  3. thank you kindly :D :T :] :) :P