This is something I see happening often in student work. I see a lot of over animating on the head and arms. As an animator, we all have a tendency to want to make everything move all the time. To try and accent every little line with an eyebrow move or a head nod or tilt, or add as much hand gestures and shoulder shrugs and weight shifts as possible. This ends up making everything too busy, and makes it impossible to read the most important poses or expressions because they are gone in a few frames. The shot will feel very confused.
I tell my students to find the two or three storytelling poses in the shot. The poses that you could use if you had to boil down the entire animation to just a few moments, and hold them, and still feel the emotion of the character. And build off those poses with much smaller movements and subtle expression changes that don't change the main points too much. Calm down, only make the moves when it really needs it. Less is usually more with important dialogue. The main thing is to find a great expression and pose. Basically the key is to try not to do too much at once. There are some great shots of Hopper in A Bugs Life of him threatening his bumbling brother as an example of moving within a pose.
That's not to say your character can't be walking and talking while delivering an important line. However, if he is walking, stopping, turning, making large gestures and the camera is moving during a key moment you will run into trouble in pixel land. You need to simplify when something is getting in the way of reading character's face and emotions. Find the main key pose in the shot that sells what the character is trying to say and make that read. Make sure there are not too many other things going on. If action is required for the shot then try to allow the action to happen before or after the most important phrase of the line. If you are forced to have a lot of action during the exact moment of the important dialogue, try to find ways to calm the action down to its simplest form, and lessen the contrasts of it so the main pose or expression can be read more clearly.
It's hard to know what will work in on a shot general, since there are so many variations of what kind of action is making it hard to read. But there are several tricks you can use if there needs to be action going on. You can use counter animation to stabilize the head and torso, and even the arms, if a character is running. Having the legs flying around like crazy isn't a problem if the head is fairly calm. Hang time is a good secret weapon for getting the main poses to read if a characters is jumping around a lot during dialogue. Right when a big accent is coming up, have the character jump up quickly to accent it, use hang time during your main acting pose and you should be able to read what the mouth and face is doing before he zips back down to the ground again. Think big action right before the accent, moving hold on the accent, then big action again.
Guest blogger jmart (Jason Martinsen)