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Bojack Horseman Lipsync For Netflix

We completed all of the lip sync for Season 2 of Netflix’s Bojack Horseman. Every character. Every line. In a VERY talky show. What is lip sync, you ask? Good question! It’s just a fancy way of saying mouth animation! And in these kinds of shows, mouth animation is achieved by essentially applying pre-drawn mouth shapes to each spoken syllable in the dialogue track.

Wait! You Guys Just Animated Mouths?

That’s right! The production studio we worked for, Bigstar Animation, is based in Korea and had very few English speaking animators. Because of that, they needed native English speaking animators to be able to properly animate the dialogue. Our studio was the first stop in the animation process. And despite what you might think, this was one of the most challenging projects we’ve worked on. Read on to learn why!

The Process

Bigstar broke down every episode into a series of shots based on the episode’s animatic. The animatic lines up all the storyboards and times them out to the dialogue track. Think of the animatic as a very detailed, shot for shot guide to each show.

Bigstar sent us the following data for every episode: a bunch of spreadsheets indicating all of the shots and any special instructions to follow, all of the character designs, all of the rigged heads for each character, a Flash file for each shot in the episode that in turn contained a Quicktime loop of the animatic for that shot. This is all very standard when doing contract work for a studio. The idea is that animators should be able to open their assigned shots, drop in the character heads that are speaking for that shot and start animating.

Here’s what a typical shot file looks like before we bring in character heads:

Then, the animator brings in all of the character heads for a shot. Inside each head are shapes corresponding to each phoneme a character needs. Phonemes are standard across all characters and include shapes for things like: M, O, Ch, T, F, etc. But because characters also have emotional states, each phoneme is drawn in a happy, sad and neutral state. Here are some example phonemes for the character Kyle:

Once the animator brought in all the character heads and positioned them to generally correspond to where the characters were drawn in the storyboards, the animator could animate the lip sync by scrubbing through the audio and setting a keyframe each time a character spoke a new phoneme. Animators repeated this process for every character that spoke in the shot.

Harder Than It Looks

In reality, the job was tricky mainly because of how how resource intensive the characters were. While Bojack Horseman might look like a simple show, there is actually a lot of detailed texture work that goes into each character and those textures ate up tons of memory. Even on our best machines with high end graphics cards and 32GB of RAM, certain shots would simply not load or would force the animator to wait many seconds to simply jump from frame to frame.

The Clock

We had only 1 week to animate each episode. And since Bojack is a very talky show and typical episodes ran about 25 minutes, we could count on over 20 minutes of lip sync animation to churn through each week. To complete the job, we needed close to 12 animators working at the peak plus a supervisor to make sure the work was of high quality. If we were given more time or had less resource intensive assets to deal with, this project would have been much simpler. But being able to contribute to one of the great adult animated series of the last 20 years was well worth the effort!

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