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When the storyboard is finalized, the entire soundtrack for the animation is recorded. This track includes music, dialogue, and narration. Most sound effects, such as doors slamming and springs boinging, are also included in this stage, although sound effects are commonly added to fill in the soundtrack after the animation artwork is complete.

A host of digital audio tools let you record and mix digital music and sound effects. Recording programs, such as Macromedia's Deck II and Digidesign's Sound Tools, let you record multiple tracks of compact-disc-quality digital audio directly onto your hard disk. You can mix tracks, sample sounds, and add special effects such as special filtering to make audio sound as though it were recorded in a music hall or cathedral. You can also add stereo effects to create surround sound, for example.

For simpler audio processing needs, single-track sound programs—such as SoundEdit 16 (see Figure 4.1) and SoundForge XP, which come with Macromedia's Director Studio for the Mac and PC, respectively—provide comparable functionality. A great feature of all digital audio programs is that they let you view sound as a visual waveform, so you can see the points where sounds change in the audio, which makes it easy to pinpoint sound cues. Many sound-editing programs also let you layer from two to an infinite number of tracks, so that you can add music, narration, and an endless depth of bells, whistles, and gongs.

Figure 4.1. SoundEdit 16 shows a visual waveform of a sound file.

Many video-editing and animation programs have basic audio-editing functionality built in, so you may not need a separate audio editor.

Sound Effects

When an animation's layers are combined and rendered into a single movie, it is time to mix it with the audio track and to add final sound effects. These effects, which can be anything from the sound of footsteps to the ringing of doorbells, are distinguished from the main soundtrack in that the animation is created to synchronize to the soundtrack, whereas the sound effects are usually synchronized to the animation when it is finished.

Old-style animators use an expensive process to combine their visual and audio tracks onto a single film reel. For digital ani mators, the process is greatly simplified. Many animation programs simply let you import soundtracks and sound effects into their own audio track and to synchronize them with any frame of the animation.

Exposure Sheets

When the sound track is recorded, the sounds are logged on a giant spreadsheet, called an exposure sheet or X sheet, at the point where every sound or important change in music occurs (see Figure 4.2). Each second of sound is broken down into units: 24 for film, 30 for video, or as few as 8 for Web animation. Each unit corresponds to a frame of animation. On the exposure sheet, each column represents a component of the animation. Descriptions of the action appear in the far-left column, dialogue and beats of music are in the second column, layers of animation cels are in the subsequent columns, and animation and camera instructions are in the far-right column.

Figure 4.2. An exposure sheet contains all the direction for an animation.

In Figure 4.2, each row represents a single finished frame of animation. This exposure sheet becomes the animator's guide to drawing cels and, depending on your workgroup, may become the master "to-do list" as the animation goes from animator to assistant animator to inking artists, coloring artists, and effects artists and camera operators or their digital equivalents.

Digital Exposure Sheets

Exposure sheets are a basic function of cel animation systems in software, including Animo, Animation Stand, Retas Pro, and SoftImage Toonz. Expensive, full-blown cel animation studios that provide ink and paint functions are available as well.

X Sheet 95 (see Figure 4.3) and ANIMAC are basic exposure-sheet programs that handle organization of frames and playback of line tests but leave advanced painting functions to other tools, such as Photoshop.

Figure 4.3. X Sheet 95 is a digital exposure-sheet program.


Any spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft Excel or ClarisWorks, makes a handy place to create an exposure sheet. Alternatively, you can simply create a blank exposure-sheet form by using the table function in Microsoft Word or another word processor, or you can build a comparable form in a database, such as FileMaker Pro.


Dialogue presents an unusual challenge to the animator: lip synching. To effectively animate dialogue, the animator creates the animation drawings to match the recorded dialogue. Dialog animation is an art form unto itself, because the animator has to match the movements of the mouth to the sounds.

On the exposure sheet, sounds are broken down by syllable, which are then animated as phonemes—discrete chunks of sound characterized as consonant sounds and vowel sounds. The drawings are done to show these sounds in the movements of the mouth. Often, several words or even whole sentences are animated as a single movement of the mouth, using mouth positions that match the important phonemes. It is almost impossible to animate a mouth movement for every syllable of speech, so an animator usually strives to create an accurate impression of speech by accenting important sounds with mouth and body movements.

In limited animation, which uses only partial movements of a character, a character's mouth is sometimes the only part of the scene that moves from frame to frame.

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