Class 4 - Week 1 - Choosing Dialogue

This is the day you've probably all been waiting for since you started AM: dialogue shots! The acting, the drama, the action, and the comedy; all of it at your fingertips, waiting to be brought to life. But wait! This means you first need to find yourself some dynamic, captivating , and interesting dialogue to animate... Where do you do that? And how do you know if the dialogue you've found isn't too cliched, overused, or simply doesn't work as a good dialogue clip?

These questions and more are what we'll be talking about today.

Finding Dialogue

So, where exactly do you find these audio clips? There are many ways, but probably the best is to simply go to Google and do a search for "movie audio clips", "film dialogue clips", or similar phrases. You can also do a search for a specific movie or line if you have one in mind. Chances are you'll be able to find something that will work well for you.

Here are a few good resources I've found that offer a wide range of audio clips:
And of course, there's always YouTube

Another good way to find audio clips is to go through your own movie collections, or you could rent a movie that you know has good dialogue, provided you have a DVD or Bluray burner disk drive on your computer. Once you've found a line you like from your movie, all you have to do is follow Beau's step by step guide on how to rip the clip out and save it to your computer: Ripping Movies for Reference and Audio

Clips to Use, Clips to Avoid

Now that we know how to search for and find potential dialogue, how do we then know if it's good enough to use for our animation? Here are 8 guidelines that will help narrow down your search:

Guidelines for Choosing Dialogue:

1. Do not choose dialogue from an animated film - This one is pretty simple. Choosing a line of dialogue from an animated film means that not only are you going to have to animate to an audio clip that's well known, but you'll also be competing against the animation itself, which people already see in their heads when they hear the lines.

2. Do not choose dialogue from a popular character - Rule 2 is also fairly straight forward. Famous actors, comedians, and other thespians usually have very recognizable voices and mannerisms. Just think of Clint Eastwood, Jim Carrey, or Johnney Depp, and you instantly remember what they sound like and how they act. So if you use one of their lines in your animation, the viewers will think back to where they heard that line from and who said it instead of paying attention to your animation.

3. Do not choose dialogue from a talk show - Very similar to rule 2, rule 3 has almost the same guidelines since most talk show hosts have very iconic voices, but with the addition that talk shows usually have things like canned laughter, applause reels, and other distracting sounds between the lines. Unless you're doing an animation of a talk show, it's very hard to find a place where canned laughter fits into a one person dialogue shot.

4. Do not choose dialogue from a underground/independent films - Rule 4 is a tough one. After being told that you have to avoid the popular actors and movies, the first think you might think is "Aha! I'll go the opposite route and find a more underground film to get my audio from!" and it makes perfect sense. However, the problem with underground or independent films, like Dr. Horrible, Firefly, or Farscape is that they tend to have a cult following. And who are the people in those fanbases? Geeks, nerds, movie buffs, and people with a love of film. And what kind of person tends to become an animator? Geeks, nerds, movie buffs and people with a love of film. Most animators love underground or independent films, so there's a good chance that they've know that clip very well, or have heard it before in other reels.

5. Do not choose dialogue with swearing, vulgarity, or very dark/violent themes - This rule is more of a personal choice, but can drastically affect your demo reel and potential for getting a career in the bigger studios. Doing dark, gritty, or more mature animation can be very impressive, but when it comes to getting a job, especially in a work environment that is usually more kid friendly, you're putting yourself at risk of being turned away because the content or dialogue is too graphic. Also, you have to keep in mind that everyone has different preferences, and some people, including your fellow students at AM might not like to hear swearing and crude jokes.

6. Do not choose dialogue that has already been featured in the AM Showcases - Rule 6 is a big one, because it requires a bit of research beforehand. You need to look through past showcases, see which audio clips they used, and try to avoid them as best you can. The reason for this is because the clips in the showcase are some of the best of the best animation from AM, and chances are that a lot of students, as well as mentors and employers have already seen that clip. Unless you feel you can use the audio in a very unique and different way than the way it was used in the showcase, the chances are that your work will instantly be compared to it.

7. Use dialogue with good context. It should have a start, a middle, and an end - After all those rules about what not to choose, it's time for a rule that helps narrow down the list of what you can choose! What this rule means is that you want your line of dialogue to feel like its own stand-alone line. Having a clip that starts halfway through a sentence or ends partway through a conversation will feel a bit odd and unnatural, especially if what the person is saying doesn't make any sense without the context from the rest of the conversation. Finding a 6-10 second piece of dialogue with a good beginning, middle, and end may be a bit tricky, but it will definitely pay off in the end.

8. Choose dialogue with rich subtext. No screaming arguments or shallow conversation - Finally, what this rule means is that the best kind of line to use in a shot is one with a strong subtext, or undertone to the dialogue. Subtext is a message or meaning which is not stated directly but can be inferred from the mannerisms and tone of voice of a character. This kind of dialogue is rich in possibility, and will give you some of the best material to work with and make a really well acted shot. On the other hand, a line of dialogue that's all screaming, anger, or sadness is very 2-dimensional and doesn't offer much wiggle room into what the character is "really" saying.

Let's take a look at an example: In phrase 1, we have a man angrily yelling "This food is disgusting! It's the worst thing I've ever tasted!". In phrase 2, we have a man saying very delicately between gagging and choking down bites "This food is delicious... I've never tasted better...". Both men feel the same way about the food, that it's terrible, but the first one is stating it plainly, with no subtext, while the second is saying one thing but implying something completely different with his mannerisms and tone, giving you lots of potential to play around with.

Now, this isn't a rule per say, but it is worth talking about. Radio Dramas; do we use them, or avoid them? Radio dramas seem like the perfect choice. All audio, lots of context and emotion in the dialogue, and plenty of themes from film noir, to mystery, to action westerns. However, the problem with radio shows is that their dialogue isn't the same as movies. Whereas movies have physical acting and visual cues to go with the lines, radio dramas have to carry everything in the voices, which means that in an animation it tends to feel a bit overacted and hammy. However, it really is up to you whether you think using a line from radio is what you want to go with. Just be sure that your mentor is okay with you using that kind of audio for your shot.

Mentor Preferences

With that little segway, we fall neatly into our final section! Your mentor is an invaluable and very helpful source of knowledge, and they may have a certain kind of dialogue that they want to see. Maybe they want you to avoid comedy and do drama, or vice versa. Perhaps they have certain movies that they've heard used too often and will tell you to avoid them like the plague. Or maybe they will give you awesome tips on where to find good dialogue. So be sure to always ask your mentor what they like to see and what kind of things they want you to avoid.

I hope that these tips will help you to choose strong, dynamic pieces of dialogue for your shots, and will give you a better understanding of what to look for in your acting. Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I hope it's been helpful, and if you have any questions or suggestions, you're always more than welcome to leave a comment or send us a message on AM.

Have a great week 1, and all the best on your new term!


  1. Awesome post as usual. I have been wondering how to pick a really good audio piece and you've pretty much answered all my Q's and more. Thanks! Keep up the great work.

  2. Today is the day that I should say: Ohhh man, why I haven't came here in week 1! This post is an awesome guide to this week 5 assignment. Thanks guys for sharing it! ;)

  3. thanks guys... you cleared up all my ??. much appreciated! ;)