Take That! A Sly SMILE Enhanced by Good Character Design
Credits: Kung Fu Panda 3, based on characters created by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by 20th Century Fox, 2016
This animated movie still is a great example of good character design and effective rigging. Kung Fu Panda's expression is the Sly Smile (P. 228-229) in my book, “The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expression” -- a combination of a frown and the closed-mouth smile. The panda uses two eye strategies that only exist in the world of stylized characters: the hyper-alert eye (extra eye white shows above and below), and the unibrow, where the function of eyebrow and eyelid are combined in one brow-mass shape. The key is to occlude the upper eye so that the eye white (and iris) are obliquely cropped. Having the expression so much stronger on one side than the other is effective with less intense faces like this one, where the expression is being “demonstrated” as much as felt. The black surround makes the all-important eye shape read with extra clarity, always a good thing.