taking one frame at a time since 1999

Hello all,

I’m new here, and was hoping that I could find some help as I am learning to use Dragonframe. I have contacted their tech support personnel, but they have not responded to the following questions.

First, please understand that I am brand new to the world of stop motion... I have created a few little films for my own amusement using DF, and had good success up until I reached the point in which I decided to make my characters speak. I am reading through the DF User Guide, but haven't found answers for my questions. I have a rudimentary understanding of Photoshop, and am learning as fast as I can. All that said, it's possible I am just missing the big picture here - I am, after all, a beginner. Hopefully with your help we can clear things up!

At present, I am struggling to understand the audio portion of the process, in particular how to design a face set using Photoshop and import it into DF. By following instructions I found online and referring to DF’s User Guide for Windows, I was able to easily understand how to import DF’s test face set, “Dr. S Monkey,” and play with the facial expression layers in order to match the sound of the vocals on a simple audio track I had imported from my own files. I have not yet experimented with the lip sync feature. My trouble came when I attempted to create my own face set and import it. Since I would like to animate faces on plastic toys, rather than clay creations, I expect to create separate layers (a sequence of images of a mouth/eyes, for example) which will be overlaid onto the original stop motion image/film – basically, 2D animation over photography. (Think of something similar in appearance to Robot Chicken!) The plastic toys I am using already have faces, so they are not “blanks” (such as a blank Lego head without a face I saw in one tutorial video) – but obviously, I’d like them to appear to move their mouths when speaking.

I would love a basic walk-through of the process of importing/exporting images into Photoshop, and how to go about creating layers within groups (I’ve done these tasks more than once, but I want to be 100% sure I’m doing it correctly for DF’s requirements). I understand that the images need to be sized either 200 x 200 or 300 x 300, using RGB and layers within groups with specific titles for both mouth/eyes, etc. I have been able to (I think) successfully create a PSD file of mouths (layers within a group) with a basic background layer (separate from the mouth group). When I attempt to import it into DF, the program tells me that it has imported. I can see the file when I click on “Manage Face Sets,” but I cannot seem to “open” it to use them. Whenever I click “Import Character,” Dr. S Monkey appears with his complete face set.

If I completely delete Dr. S Monkey, will it help in any way? How should I import/size/set up a new character?

Do I need to have a still image (photograph) in order to create a layered 2D “moving mouth” on top…

Or, should I make a moving mouth to be placed over a moving image (series of photographs)…

Or, do I need to create individual images of each facial expression (created separately) and import every single one of those into a layered group, then alternate those animations in place of a still image?

If I am to make a moving mouth over an image… do I need to size the mouth differently from the background layer in order to make it appear proportionately correct? Once I have created the shapes and imported them into DF, how do I situate the mouth over the correct part of the face?

Thanks in advance for any assistance you might be able to offer!!

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I don't know any of this, I don't use face sets.  I haven't seen Grecodan around here for ages, he did painted on mouths for his film and might know.  I do remember he said it was a lot of work.  

I import the audio track of the voice into DF, then animate the puppet mouth to fit, using the sound as a reference.  My puppets are usually moving around or turning their heads as well as talking, so it would be hard to fit a pre-made set of mouths or faces to the puppet.

I do add eyeblinks, but I don't do that in Dragonframe.  I do it in image editing software (TV Paint Animation in my case) after the shot is completed, and paint the eyelids on in a separate layer to suit each particular frame.  Same with the mouths, stock images would not usually match the angle of the puppet head very often.

I also don't know anything about this, but I do know a bit about photoshop and importing/exporting images etc, and I have a idea of what the problem might be. You can't import a photoshop file (psd) into DF. You need to Save As some kind of typical image file that DF can use - either a Jpeg or a Tiff usually. 

I don't really even understand much of what you're saying - but of the 3 options you posted, only the third one sounds right to me - you need to create a series of still images and each one them becomes a frame. That's the way animation works, whether it's stopmotion where you create the individual frames through photography, or 2d, where you draw them and photograph the drawings. It sounds like you're talking (in the first 2 options) about making some kind of layered individual file and importing that - unless Dragonframe has some way of using that then I seriously doubt it's done that way. But like I said, I don't know anything about doing lip sync. 

Actually, I just went back and re-read your third option, and I'm not sure it makes any sense either:

"Or, do I need to create individual images of each facial expression (created separately) and import every single one of those into a layered group, then alternate those animations in place of a still image?"

Only the first part of it makes sense to me - yes, you need to create individual images of each expression. After that I'm lost. A layered group? Huh? Animation is simply a series of individual frames that create the illusion of movement. Unless Dragonframe uses layered groups, in which case disregard everything I've said. 

I've gathered something else from what you've said as well now - it sounds like you want to use the drawings you make in photoshop and digitally superimpose them over the face of the puppet. That can be done obviously - anything can be done in the realm of pure digital. But that would be a lot of hard work and extremely difficult to figure out, as Nick said, how to angle the drawings so they match the angle of the puppets head in each frame. Usually people just use the lip sync expressions as a guide to figure out which phoneme they need for each frame, then they have a series of sculpted faces or stickers that they affix to the puppet frame by frame. 

If you do want to digitally superimpose your drawings onto the puppets face, that can't be done in Dragonframe. It's only a framegrabber with a few extra bells and whistles, used mainly just to check your animation as you go. You'd need to learn how to use either photoshop or after effects really well to be able to match up the drawings at various angles for each frame, and I think it would be a massive nightmare job. 

The DragonFrame mouth function is only there for animation reference, it's not a tool to put the mouths into the shot. Before starting a shot, one would use the mouth function in DragonFrame to "track read", or figure out which mouths to assign to each frame of audio. Then, if you have a set of sticker mouths or replacement mouths/faces, the DragonFrame mouth tool just shows you which mouth to put onto the puppet at any frame. I believe you can also export the data into a  program like After Effects which is where you would actually be putting the mouths into your shots. Hope that helps.

I hadn't picked where you mentioned PSD files. I wouldn't expect DF to import those, especially if they have more than one layer.  But After Effects would.  Like Scottie and Strider have said, the framegrabber is not where you would do this.   I don't know what a layered group is either, unless it is a sequence of numbered PSD images in a folder, which have more than one layer.

 I guess you want a 32 bit image that supports transparency, since you would want the mouth with a clear background that lets you see the face of the puppet behind it.  I usually make PNG image sequences for greenscreen shots, I key out the background in After Effects then save as 32 bit PNGs so I can lay the creature over any background without having to re-do the keying.  

Here is Grecodan's film where he added the mouths in post.  Often they are just a black dot, but even then he had to track the movement of the puppet's head, frame by frame, to make the mouth move with it.   Wish I could find where he talked about the process, I think he regretted doing it that way.

If you want to make the puppet face the camera and hold still while it is talking, adding the mouths in post would be easy.  But I never seem to do that - my character raise and lower their heads, lean forward, gesture, do anything but hold still while talking.  So I have simple movable mouths on my puppets, not always able to shape different vowel sounds or consonants very well, but they can at least flap their gums like muppets so you know who's talking.

Replacement mouths give the best range of expressions, but making a whole set of sculpted 3d mouths is a huge amount of work.  Simpler 2d mouths are a practical alternative.  I would consider sealing the puppet head surface so I could draw on it with a whiteboard marker and wipe it off, so all that movement would just be there naturally.  All those shots in Dan's film where the puppet is moving but the mouth doesn't change would then require no mouth animating while shooting, and post work at all.  Another way is to use the stickers that Scottie mentioned, you can stick them on and peel off when you need to make a change.

If I did have to add the mouths in post I would load all my images into TV Paint (or After Effects, or Photoshop maybe) and draw the mouths on a layer over the top.  (Not sure how well PS actually works with whole sequences of images, it has the option but because they already make AE for moving images, it seems a bit half-baked to me.  And I have TV Paint which is like Photoshop for video so I didn't have to persist.)  You might duplicate some mouth images so they could cover more than one frame.  You might need to move the mouth, or stretch or squash it to match changes in angle as the puppet head moves, or you might just re-draw them.  If I was going to do any zooms or pans in post, I would do the mouths first, save those combined images, then do the pans on the combined image.

Thank you all so much for your input! I apologize if my original post was difficult to understand. Strider interpreted me correctly when he said "it sounds like you want to use the drawings you make in photoshop and digitally superimpose them over the face of the puppet." That is exactly what I was trying to do, based on my apparent misunderstanding that the Dragonframe mouth function could be used as a tool to put the mouths into the shot, rather than simply for animation reference, as Scottie D. pointed out. After reading through your responses, I think the best way to accomplish what I was originally intending to do would be to first shoot the scene using Dragonframe, then draw the mouths in using an image editing software. I have access to After Effects (although I've never used it), so I'll probably opt to give that particular program a try first. However, I'm totally open to alternatives, such as using stickers or the like... don't want to make this harder than it has to be.

Thanks for the link to the video, Stopmo Nick - I will check that out! Heading into a busy weekend, so I need to wait a few days to get back into this project, but I wanted to check in during the meantime and say thanks for all the great ideas - I really appreciate it!

Is there an alternate place you can save the Mouth Sets, which doesn't require an Admin user/password?

EDIT: I'm the IT Admin, not an animator.  We want to allow non-admin user profiles the permission to save Mouth Sets files into the Dragonframe > Resources > Face Sets folder, without having to authenticate with an Admin user/password.

David Hunter said:

Is there an alternate place you can save the Mouth Sets, which doesn't require an Admin user/password?

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