Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tying the Face Together

Based on my last two posts about the brows and mouth, I wanted to talk about tying it all together and getting the face to feel more fleshy and the parts all working together.

Getting it too all work together:

Something that really stands out to me in Disney 2D animation is how well the facial expressions are designed so that all the parts work together. When I first started dialogue shots at Animation Mentor, I found in my own animation there seemed to be a tendency for the top and bottom halves of the face to feel quite separate. 

So I asked one of my mentors about this, and he said; "Make sure you get the entire face involved". What I found that meant was that all the muscles in the face are connected and when you make an expression on your own face, or on your character, all the parts are effected by each other. 

I recently bought a little camera that allows me to shoot slow motion video up to 1000 frames per second. The quality is really low at that speed (and its too slow anyway for facial stuff), but at 240fps it looks great. I recorded a line of dialogue with me acting out the words so that you can see how much is going on in the face and will be the basis of what I am talking about (don't laugh at me!)

Slow Motion Video Reference at 240fps

So this is how I have been trying to get that feeling more into my work. Remember, I am still just learning this stuff too and I am sure there are many other ways to do this. None of these things are rules, but just things that I have found has worked for me along the way. 

The brows and upper eyelids:

When the brows press down or stretch up they seem to have an effect on the upper eyelid. This eyelid is pushed and pulled into shapes by the brow. 

This however does not mean that the eyelids must always follow the brow, quite often they can lead the action prior to the brows movement.

The mouth corners and cheeks and bottom eyelids:
As the mouth corner raise in a smile the cheeks also push up under the eyes. The same happens when the mouth corners drop, the cheeks drop too. In CG animation I have found you can copy this animation from the corners the cheeks and scale it down to make sure they are related (and some instances delay it by a frame too).

When the cheeks raise and lower the seem to push and pull the bottom eyelid as well. In a big smile the bottom eyelids would push up and the same in a big scream the cheeks pulling down would also pull on the bottom lids. 

The jaw and nose:
As the jaw opens and closes it also seems to pull and push up on the nose. Go on, try it! No one is watching. Hold your finger against your nose and open you mouth and you will feel the nose pulling down. 

All of these things combined can really make you facial animation feel much more fleshy. Have the skin being pushed and pulled, squashed and stretched and making sure these elements are all effecting each other really makes it all feel tied together. 

A great example of all of this working in animation can be seen in the Disney film, 'Tangled' (I know, I keep showing it, but damn, the animation is so good!) This shot is of Mother Gothel:

The Eye and Mouth Zipper AKA Making them Sticky:
When watching a lot of live action and animated footage frame-by-frame something that really stands out is how the eyelids and mouth seem to be naturally sticky. Once they are closed together they seem to want to stay that way so that when they opening it feels like you have to really pull them open. 

I know some CG rigs have an eyelid or mouth zipper control, but unfortunately on Bishop from Animation Mentor it does not and we have to do it manually. (Which actually helps when learning how this effect works - so its a good thing!)

As the eye opens, one section is chosen to pull open first. The lids lift up and then one part pops open before the rest following in a zip like action. Take a look at this great example from Ratatouille:

The same thing happens with the mouth. Usually it is the middle section of the mouth that pops open first and then is followed by the outside edges. But if someone is talking out of a certain side of their mouth you can open the edge first as well. 

There is an extra part of the mouth and eye pulling action that also needs to be explained. The lids and lips need to feel like they are stretching and pulling prior to unzipping. In the mouth this is done by pulling the jaw open, but keeping the lips closed and having the corners and lips pull down as seen in the diagrams above. 

Head Squash and Stretch:
Finally, something that I think really helps to make all of this tie together again is a small amount of head squash and stretch. Some rigs allow the top and bottom parts of the face to be handled separately, but even with rigs like Bishop a global squash or stretch can add a lot too. 

These Preston Blair drawings from the book 'Advanced Animation' really explain this well:


  1. Really nice post Mike, keep them coming. You're doing a great job writing all of this down. Thanks for that.

  2. Awesome!! Yeah...Having Them All written Down.. Its very Helpfull... Thanks Mike..