Beginning in January 2018, the FAIGIN FACE BLOG continues at Gary Faigin's new website, www.FaiginVFX.com, created for professionals, such as CGI artists, plastic surgeons and vision scientists, who are focused on the expressive power of the face.
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Which Animals have FAKE Facial Expressions?
more...Human Facial Expressions
Figure 1. Here is one sad Brontosaurus.
Cartoon animals have been a staple of animation since well before Mickey Mouse. Winsor McCay’s "Gertie the Dinosaur" (Figure 1) made her debut in 1914, and right from the start this gigantic animated sauropod was depicted with very human expressions, like joy and sadness.
Dinosaurs, like all reptiles, have no facial musculature whatsoever. It would never occur to the viewer, however, to question the “rightness” of McKay's expressive creation; our human bias is overwhelmingly in favor of accepting animal faces as capable of expressing emotion in the same manner as human faces.
Facial expression is a universal language. That fact has not been lost on designers of informational signs and posters, who use highly simplified faces to communicate to a broad audience without the use of words.
It's refreshing to see such emoji-based signage well done, as in the Food Safety Rating chart, shown in Figure 2. Published by the Public Health Department of King County (where I live), these signs warn customers about the food safety practices and number of violations cited for a restaurant's kitchen. I have no quarrel with the designer's facial expression progression from Neutral, to Slightly Happy, to Very Happy, to Laughing. It's very readable and it easily tells me which establishments to patronize, or avoid.
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.
This woman is not acting.
She is truly terrified!
Extreme fear is notoriously hard to depict, both for animators and actors.
Unlike the other cardinal expressions, good reference material for the face of terror (the level of fear I’m discussing here) is scarce. There are few candid photographs that clearly show a very frightened person.
The reason for the lack of photographic reference is obvious – situations which are dire enough to solicit terror are fortunately rare, and rarer still are photographers who are detached enough to take useful photos. It’s far easier to find terrific pictures of anger, sadness, joy, and even surprise. The movies, usually a reliable source of reference material, are not particularly useful in this case, as even good actors rarely achieve a convincing configuration, as shown below.
You don't need two eyes to
There are two key criteria that we use to judge the quality of a particular facial expression: clarity and intensity. If a face has high clarity, more than 80-90% of viewers will agree on the emotion it is portraying. Intensity, on the other hand, is a measure of how strong that emotion appears to be. As you might imagine, faces with high intensity generally also have high clarity, and less intense faces are somewhat harder to interpret.
But not necessarily! With certain expressions, like anger, it is possible to have faces with both low intensity and high clarity, allowing an artist or animator to successfully portray a full range of emotional states, from mere irritation to full-on rage like our one-eyed, mythological friend, the Cyclops.
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.
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