By Justin Putney
 
Created
20 December 2010
 

Requirements

 
Prerequisite knowledge

You should have a basic understanding of Flash; experience with character animation is also helpful. (Flash CS3 Professional or later is required.)
 
 
 
Additional requirements
 

 
User level

Intermediate
 

 
Required products

 
Sample files

Matching dialogue to a character's mouth in order to create the illusion of speech is known as lip-syncing. This effort often consumes more time than any other animation task because you need to make adjustments on nearly every frame. In fact, lip-syncing short animations (even only 1–2 minutes long) can involve hours of tedious labor.
 
This article explains how to make lip-syncing in Adobe Flash Professional CS5 as painless as possible by utilizing the SmartMouth extension to automatically analyze audio content and assign corresponding mouth shapes. That's right: you can sit back and relax your hands, back, neck, and eyes while SmartMouth processes the audio in the time that it takes the audio to play back, and then matches each frame using a speech algorithm. You'll also learn how use the free FrameSync extension to quickly make manual adjustments and tweaks to your character animation.
 

 
Introduction to lip-syncing in Flash

The basic unit of speech is known as a phoneme. The mouth shape and facial contortions that correspond to phonemes are known as visemes. Animators generally refer to phonemes and visemes interchangeably, even though they are technically different concepts. The standard set of about seven phonemes/visemes (mouth shapes)—not including a closed mouth—are sufficient to create the illusion of speech on an animated character. The SmartMouth Flash extension includes a sample set of those shapes (see Figure 1).
 
The phoneme guides found in SmartMouth.
Figure 1. The phoneme guides found in SmartMouth.
This small set of phonemes corresponds to a wide array of spoken sounds. The full range of sounds that are covered by this small set of mouth shapes are listed in Table 1.
 
Abbreviated phoneme Full letter list Corresponding examples
none No vocal sound (or inaudible)
A A, I ah as in "cat," a as in "say," i as in "kite"
O O, U, (W), (R) o as in "boat," u as in "clue"
E E, (I) e as in "street," eh as in "trek"
S C, D, G, K, N, R, S, TH, Y,Z s as in "stress," t as in "tent"
L L l as in "lull"
M M, B, P m as in "might," b as in "back," p as in "pass"
F F, V f and v as in "favor"
Table 1. The full phoneme list.
Note: Letters in parentheses denote that some sounds made by those letters (for example, W and R) produce a viseme—specifically puckering of the lips, similar to the visemes produced by U and O sounds.
 
By reusing a small set of mouth shapes, you avoid reinventing the wheel on every frame. Instead, you can simply leverage the repository of mouth shapes that you've already created.
 
 
Existing methods of lip-syncing
Flash animators have developed many techniques to speed up lip-syncing in Flash. The three most common methods are swapping symbols, nesting, and nesting with labels. Each of these three methods utilize reusable mouth shapes for phonemes.
 
The swapping method involves creating each phoneme in its own symbol and then swapping the symbol shown on each frame to match the audio at that frame.
 
The nesting method involves placing all of the phonemes along the Timeline within a single graphic symbol. By manipulating the First (frame) value in the Property inspector, you can control which frame of a graphic symbol's Timeline is displayed (as shown in Figure 2). The nesting method is a bit more organized and efficient than the swapping method, but it does require that you memorize (or write down) the frame numbers that correspond with each mouth shape.
 
 Looping allows you to control which frame of a graphic symbol is displayed.
Figure 2. Looping allows you to control which frame of a graphic symbol is displayed.
The nesting with labels method is identical to the nesting method, except that frame labels are added to the graphic symbol's Timeline to identify each distinct shape. The labels make the symbol's Timeline easier to navigate—and they can read by SmartMouth and FrameSync, eliminating the need to memorize frame numbers.
 
The sample project in this article focuses on using the nesting with labels method. To add a frame label, select a keyframe and enter the desired label into the Name field in the Property inspector (see Figure 3).
 
Select a keyframe and enter a frame label in the Property inspector.
Figure 3. Select a keyframe and enter a frame label in the Property inspector.
All manual lip-syncing in Flash relies on scrubbing. Scrubbing refers to the act of selecting the playhead in the Timeline and dragging it across a single frame. Any audio layers that have their Sync property set to Stream will play the scrubbed frame's audio (assuming Control > Mute Sounds is off), allowing you to hear a small fragment of speech. Scrubbing is a time-consuming user action because it requires a lot of precision using a mouse, track pad, or stylus. It may take a couple of scrubs on a single frame to identify the sound. Using one of the three methods described previously, you can scrub and update each frame to use the correct mouth shape symbol until the entire Timeline has been synced.
 
 
Where the SmartMouth extension fits in
SmartMouth works natively with the three methods discussed previously and edits your Timeline directly, as if you'd made the edits by hand; the Timeline and symbols remain completely editable. This flexibility allows you to make desired customizations, adding personality and subtlety to your character, just as you would manually, but in a fraction of the development time.
 

 
Setting up your file

The file setup required for SmartMouth is identical to that of a file that you lip-sync manually. The file must contain mouth shapes (in a single symbol or in several symbols) and a layer with the audio set to Stream. For SmartMouth to distinguish speech properly, your targeted audio layer should contain only one character speaking at a time with no music or sound effects. Before setting up your file, install the SmartMouth and FrameSync extensions so that they can be accessed in the Flash authoring environment.
 
 
Installing the SmartMouth and FrameSync extensions
The Adobe Extension Manager makes it really easy to install extensions. Follow these steps:
 
  1. Download the SmartMouth and FrameSync extensions.
  2. Unzip SmartMouth.zip.
  3. Double-click SmartMouth.mxp to install the SmartMouth extension. This launches Adobe Extension Manager CS5 (which is installed automatically with Flash Professional CS5). If this step does not work properly for you, or if the wrong version of Adobe Extension Manager opens, launch the Extension Manager separately. Click the Install button and browse to select the SmartMouth.mxp file.
  4. Read the license agreement and click Accept if you agree to the terms. You will receive an alert from Adobe Extension Manager when the extension has been successfully installed (see Figure 4).
 Installing the SmartMouth extension just takes a few moments with Adobe Extension Manager CS5.
Figure 4. Installing the SmartMouth extension just takes a few moments with Adobe Extension Manager CS5.
  1. Repeat steps 3 and 4 to install the FrameSync.mxp file. Close Adobe Extension Manager.
  2. Launch (or restart) Flash Professional.
  3. Locate the sample files folder that you downloaded at the beginning of this article. Open the smartmouth_adc_demo_start.fla file provided in the sample files folder, or begin by creating a new ActionScript 2 or ActionScript 3 FLA file to use your own content (SmartMouth supports both versions of ActionScript).
You're almost ready to begin lip-syncing. First, let's review the setup in the provided FLA file; if you prefer, you can create some mouth shapes and add a custom audio file to replicate your own version of the project.
 
 
Creating mouth shapes
In the smartmouth_adc_demo_start.fla file, double-click the symbol in the mouth layer to enter symbol-editing mode and view the mouth symbol's Timeline. You'll find that the mouth symbol contains artwork for several mouth shapes on separate frames—and that each frame is labeled with its corresponding sound or purpose. Several frames have between added between the keyframes to make the labels visible on the Timeline (see Figure 5).
 
Double-click the symbol to view the labeled frames within the mouth symbol.
Figure 5. Double-click the symbol to view the labeled frames within the mouth symbol.
In the next section, you'll see how these frame labels facilitate a smooth workflow in both SmartMouth and FrameSync.
 
 
Placing audio on the Timeline
The other essential component for lip-syncing in Flash is streaming audio. If you return to the main Timeline (Edit > Edit Document) in the provided FLA file and select a frame on the audio layer, you'll see that the audio's Sync property has been set to Stream (see Figure 6).
 
 Set the Sync property to Stream in the Sound settings within the Property inspector.
Figure 6. Set the Sync property to Stream in the Sound settings within the Property inspector.
To recreate these settings from scratch, you would follow these steps:
 
  1. Create a new layer and name the layer descriptively (with a name like audio).
  2. Import an audio file to the Library (choosing File > Import > Import to Library).
  3. Select the desired starting keyframe on the Timeline.
  4. In the Property inspector, choose the imported audio name from the Name menu under the Sound heading.
  5. Use the Sync menu to choose the Stream option.
Once your project includes the mouth shapes and a streaming audio layer, you can begin lip-syncing.
 

 
Running SmartMouth

Now comes the easy part. After ensuring that the mouth shapes and streaming audio elements are in place, the SmartMouth extension can do the heavy lifting:
 
  1. Select the mouth layer. This selection indicates to the SmartMouth extension which layer and which range of frames (in this case, all of the frames) that you want to target.
Note: If you have not yet purchased a license for SmartMouth, the trial will limit you to 60 frames per run. For this example, that means that you'll need to run SmartMouth a second time, with a new frame selection to sync the entire 97-frame audio stream. To purchase a license, you can right-click (or Control-click) inside the SmartMouth interface and choose the option to Purchase a license. Alternatively, you can also visit the Ajar Productions site.
 
  1. Choose Commands > Lip-sync with SmartMouth to launch SmartMouth.
You may have noticed that SmartMouth has discovered most of your desired settings automatically (see Figure 7). Each setting is worth a closer look.
 
SmartMouth analyzes and automatically determines the intended settings by using information in the current FLA document.
Figure 7. SmartMouth analyzes and automatically determines the intended settings by using information in the current FLA document.
 
Input settings
The input settings determine which parts of the Flash document will be analyzed (see Figure 8).
 
 The SmartMouth input settings for the sample file.
Figure 8. The SmartMouth input settings for the sample file.
The Audio Layer menu determines which audio layer will be analyzed. Since the sample file only has one audio layer, this setting is obvious. However, when working on files that contain multiple audio tracks, always check that the Audio Layer is set correctly.
 
The Mouth Layer determines which layer will be referenced and updated with new mouth shapes. By selecting the mouth layer first, you ensured that SmartMouth would automatically select this layer.
 
Additionally, by selecting the entire mouth layer before running SmartMouth, you automatically populated the Start Frame and End Frame fields. These field determine which frames of the Flash project are analyzed by the SmartMouth extension.
 
 
Choosing an output method
The Action menu determines the output method (see Figure 9).
 
The SmartMouth output settings for the sample file.
Figure 9. The SmartMouth output settings for the sample file.
Actions determine the behavior that takes place when the audio analysis is complete. Available actions include the following:
 
  • Overwrite keyframes: This action overwrites any existing keyframes that correspond with changing phonemes.
  • New keyframes only: This action respects any existing keyframes and creates and applies mouth shapes only on new keyframes.
  • Guide layer only: This action does not alter any symbol instances but creates a guide layer with detected phonemes displayed as frame comments.
  • Export to XML: This action has no effect on the Timeline but it enables you to save analyzed phoneme data as a simple XML file. The XML file can then be used to lip-sync a character dynamically with ActionScript.
For this example, leave the Action set to the default setting: Overwrite keyframes.
 
The Mode setting displayed in Figure 9 controls which lip-syncing technique will be applied. The Symbols, Frame #, and Labels modes correspond to the swapping, nesting, and nesting with labels techniques, respectively. The Labels mode has automatically been activated because the symbol inside the Start Frame on the mouth layer contains a symbol with frame labels.
 
The "Limit to" menu is only active in Symbols mode. It allows you to limit the items in the phoneme menus to a single folder in the Library.
 
 
Assigning phonemes in SmartMouth
Since frame labels have been provided for the various mouth shapes, SmartMouth has automatically matched those labels to the available phonemes and rendered previews of each mouth shape (see Figure 10).
 
The phoneme guides, thumbnail previews, and selectors with automatically populated frame labels displayed.
Figure 10. The phoneme guides, thumbnail previews, and selectors with automatically populated frame labels displayed.
You can change any of the mouth shapes that will be applied by choosing a new item from the corresponding menu. This selection causes the preview to instantly update. There's no need to change any of these settings if you're following along with the sample file. Click the Tell me, SmartMouth button to analyze the file (see Figure 11).
 
 SmartMouth begins analyzes the audio after you click the Tell me, SmartMouth button.
Figure 11. SmartMouth begins analyzes the audio after you click the Tell me, SmartMouth button.
Once the analysis is complete, the keyframes are added to the mouth layer (see Figure 12).
 
SmartMouth automatically adds the keyframes to the mouth layer after completing the analysis.
Figure 12. SmartMouth automatically adds the keyframes to the mouth layer after completing the analysis.
In most cases, you may choose to touch up a few keyframes, but these tweaks are often minimal adjustments. Play Figure 13 to see how well SmartMouth analyzed and applied the mouth shapes to the sample file. In the example, only one keyframe was altered (the last frame was changed to a smile to reflect the character's pride in reciting the quote).
 
This content requires Flash To view this content, JavaScript must be enabled, and you need the latest version of the Adobe Flash Player. To view this content, JavaScript must be enabled, and you need the latest version of the Adobe Flash Player.
Figure 13. See how well SmartMouth can lip-sync automatically (click to play the animation).
 

 
Refining lip-sync movements

If you'd like to make manual changes to your lip-syncing project, there's a tool to speed that up, too.
 
 
Making changes
Making changes is no different than lip-syncing from scratch, except that some of the keyframes are already laid out. Since the sample file includes frame labels (or you added them yourself when you created a new FLA file), you can take advantage of the FrameSync panel that was installed with the FrameSync extension.
 
 
Using the FrameSync panel
The FrameSync extension speeds up manual lip-syncing by providing quick access to the a graphic symbol's Timeline and symbol instance properties that can be altered with a single click. Follow these steps to see how it works:
 
  1. Select the mouth symbol on the Stage.
  2. Open the FrameSync panel (choose Window > Other Panels > FrameSync). When the FrameSync panel first opens, it will be empty.
  3. Select the auto convert to keyframe and auto refresh check boxes (see Figure 14).
 When enabled, the Auto Convert to Keyframe option automatically adds keyframes and the Auto Refresh option automatically updates the FrameSync panel's display.
Figure 14. When enabled, the Auto Convert to Keyframe option automatically adds keyframes and the Auto Refresh option automatically updates the FrameSync panel's display.
Now you'll see all of the frame labels displayed in the FrameSync panel. Updating a mouth shape is as easy as selecting an item in the FrameSync panel (see Figure 15).
 
Use the FrameSync panel to quickly make manual adjustments to mouth shapes.
Figure 15. Use the FrameSync panel to quickly make manual adjustments to mouth shapes.
If you're using Flash Professional CS5, you can also take advantage of some of the newer features provided in the FrameSync extension. The frame controls make scrubbing a thing of the past (see Figure 16). Simply click the play audio button (middle button) to play a single frame of audio. After listening to the frame, you can choose the appropriate mouth shape and click the next frame button (>) to move on to the next frame.
 
 The frame controls allow you to play a single frame of audio and navigate through frames without leaving the comfort of the FrameSync panel.
Figure 16. The frame controls allow you to play a single frame of audio and navigate through frames without leaving the comfort of the FrameSync panel.

 
Where to go from here

Now that you're familiar with using the SmartMouth and FrameSync extensions, you can save yourself hours of time while lip-syncing in Flash. For more information on the tools and techniques mentioned in this article, visit the resources listed below.
 
SmartMouth extension
 
FrameSync extension
 
General lip-syncing techniques
 
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License+Adobe Commercial Rights
 
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license, pertaining to the examples of code included within this work are available at Adobe.