Fig. 1 - Sad face expressed through
subtle facial cues.
Fig. 2 - Sad face bordering on grief.
It doesn't take much to look sad. Of all the emotions, sadness can be portrayed with the least facial movement. I found a particularly good photograph of slight sadness in a newspaper recently, and I decided it would make a great subject for this month's blog.
The face of the young woman in Fig. 1 is obviously sad, but the marks of sadness on her face are slight enough to be reckoned in movements of a fraction of an inch. She tugs at our heartstrings, but with so little actually going on!
The woman in Fig. 2, by contrast, has a face that is much more contorted in sorrow - the eyes, forehead, cheeks, mouth, and chin are all dramatically distorted and reconfigured; it's the way someone looks just short of weeping. It is hardly surprising, when comparing the emotional intensity of the two women, that 100% of test-takers agreed that the woman in Fig. 2 appears more sad than Fig. 1. 100% results are not that uncommon with really strong expressions.
Occasionally, however, subtle expressions can also receive unanimous results from test takers. Case in point, the unhappy woman in Fig. 1 tested as clearly and unambiguously as her near-crying counterpart, with 50 out of 50 random participants agreeing she was sad.
The Subtle Signs of SADNESS
The FACE of TERROR : Secrets from a Haunted House
Annoyed to ENRAGED : An Illustrated Guide
Five Rules for creating ANGRY Eyebrows
Maximize Emotional Impact : LOWER Face "Hot Spots"
Maximize Emotional Impact : UPPER Face "Hot Spots"
The Animator's Challenge: Innovative MOUTH SHAPES
Monster “Mike” Wazowski has one bulging eye, no nose, lips or ears, but his mouth shape is recognizably human.
As animated characters descend down the imagery ladder from realistic to stylized, the design of almost every facial feature can be highly-original and still depict an emotionally-believable creature: head shapes can morph into monsters, robots or teapots; noses can be replaced by a snout or a ball; eyebrows can disappear or hover above the head; eyes can be reduced from two to one… It’s not terribly difficult to create a full range of expressions without an eyebrow, or a nose; even eyes can be elongated into towering ovals with tiny irises and still be read coherently.
But mouths are a different story.
SMILES : For Animators, Less can be More
Notice the gleaming smile on the woman behind the speakers!
Why do stylized expressions work so well? The whole world laughs along with Mickey Mouse, and grins along with Bugs Bunny and Tweety Bird, even though their faces are visually a long ways from their human counterparts. We immediately and unambiguously identify with their emotions, and relate to them as though they were flesh-and-blood actors. Small children "get it," as well as octogenarians.
The Stylized SMILE : Mouth Shapes that Work
Joy, in its many degrees, is by far the most complex and interesting facial expression.
As many artists have discovered, the smile is quite difficult to render and can come with an almost unlimited degree of nuance. Realistic smiles, in particular, which are judged in terms of sincerity and inflection, require an understanding of how to depict tiny differences in detail.
FACES in PLACES : The "Pareidolia Effect"
It’s impossible to look at these seaside binoculars and NOT see a face. Our brains have evolved to detect faces in our environment – vital for survival purposes – even when our rational selves knows that what we are responding to is very unlikely to be alive. When we are presented with the minimum facial pattern of two spots above and one spot below, we not only see a face, we assume, as above, that the face is the expression of a sentient being which carries with it a corresponding emotional state; here, a sort of giddy happiness.
So many faces. So many ways to express emotions. Faigin examines facial expressions in movie stills, cartoons, fine art, illustrations and photographs and shares his insightful analyses in his monthly blog.