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Making Minifigs Talk

By Max Goldberg (Super Cameraman)

Digital faces look great. If you do them right. The problem with digital faces is that they are so easy to mess up. Almost always, the faces look out of place because they look too sharp, or just don't look like they are actually on the face at all.

With the method I am about to show you, the faces will always look like they are really there because they actually are.

The only software you need is Papagayo and Microsoft Word (Or something that lets you make labels). Papagayo is a program that lets you import a WAV or MP3, view the waveform frame by frame (You can change the framerate to match your movie. I recommend 15 fps) and choose a mouth for each frame. To make this even easier, Papagayo lets you type in what is being said, and it will put the correct mouths on the waveform. You just need to drag and drop the frames where they should go.


Now, you need to make the heads. Each mouth shape will have one head. (Unless you have 3 blank heads, then you can print one on each side to save heads.) The shapes look like this:

Download this ZIP file. It contains not only the images needed to make the faces, but images to put into Papagayo so you can see what the actual animation will look like before you even turn on the camera.

To get the faces on the head, I used clear labels from Avery. They came free with some 3 ring binder dividers, but you can probably find something very close to it. They need to be at least as tall as a minifigs head. I used "Avery Index Maker 5 Tab."

In whatever program you choose to use for making labels (I chose Microsoft Word and followed the instructions that came with the labels) import the pictures with the white background from the zip file. Resize each picture so they are 6.25mm tall and print them out on the labels.

Use an exacto knife to cut on the thin grey line in the picture, and stick the face on the head. Wash your hands before you do this. I didn't, and I got all kinds of things under the label. Try to be careful and put each sticker in the same place on each head. If you cut them out right, there shouldn't be much room to mess up.

If you are really against modifying minifigs permanently, you could skip the next step, but doing it will make animating so much easier.

Get some sandpaper, or a nail filer, and sand the neck of your chosen minifig. Make the neck small enough so if the minifig is attached to a baseplate, the head will come right off without moving the minifig. Since you're taking the head of almost every frame, sanding it will save you from having to also reposition the minifig.

Now animate! Look at your Papagayo project. If frame 3 has an open mouth, make sure that frame 3 of your animation has the open mouth head. Do this until every frame from Papagayo is animated. USE ONION SKINNING TO PREVENT CRAZY FACE MOVEMENT. Some people are complaining that matching the face for every frame is very hard. It's NOT. Just use onion skinning. I'd recommend AnimatorDV Simple, but SMA also has onion skinning.

Good luck! Here's a test film proving that it works!


Copyright for this Article - Max Goldberg©


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