Progress – Mudbox and painting the character

This is a recent a progress I made with my character. His skin looks slightly different on these screenshots than it looks in Maya on the PC, which is slightly worrying me. I’ve added an extra paint layer on which I’ve added some pink onto his face, to make it look better as the colours seemed to me to be very cold before. I mainly painted in “Flatten to UV” mode, as it is probably the easiest and quickest way to do it in Mudbox. His face seems to be a bit to shiny, I’m guessing some lighting setup was also imported from Mudbox, but I think I can go around it in a final stage, when I set up my own lights in the scene, so I’m not too worried about it right now.







Eye brows

Last week I covered large eyes, but what about another facial feature that is also expressive and can be used in improving facial expressions and character performance? There is something about the eyes and eyebrows that draw our attention to them.  .  In “The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expressions”, Gary Faigin says : “ We instinctively feel that the eyes provide our most direct link to the person within. The brows too seem to have a life of their own”. As opposed to the eyes, eye brows are capable of bigger shape change and they also can change the shape of the eye. Later, in the same book, Faigin says: “Considering how much can be expressed by the eyes and brow, it is surprising that there are only five muscles responsible or it all (…) Our control over these muscles is so fine-tuned that we can express virtually the whole range of emotions with just a little twist here, a little lift there: our perception is so practiced that we can instantly recognize the differences.”

Eyebrows can be useful in exaggerating the performance, like in this example, from Ace Ventura(starts around 0:20):

But they can also be used in more serious performance, not as exaggerated, but still noticeable:

But let’s focus on animation, in this short clip from Pixar’s “Ratatouille” we can see that a lot of emotions is communicated through the eyebrows. Clearly the exaggeration works, we can especially see it in chef Skinner performance. Even that his brows are almost hidden under his huge hat, we can see how much more alive his performance is because if the brows:

While doing my research about eyebrows I came across a good advice provided by Pixar’s animator, Victor Navone, which says that to make the brows stand out and make sure that the audience won’t miss the movement, it is a good idea to have the brow animation preceding any head or body movement. It also can be used to show that character is thinking.  He also mentioned other tips such us:

  • As the pitch of the voice raises the brows go up
  • As the pitch of the voice lowers, the brows likewise drop
  • When asking a question where the answer is already known, the brows raise
  • When asking a question where the answer is truly unknown, the brows lower
  • Spontaneous facial expressions (surprise, fear, pain, etc.) tend to be symmetrical, where as expressions we choose to make (curiosity, suspicion, contempt, etc.) can be more asymmetrical.

Faigin G., 1990 The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expressions

Progress – unwrapped character

I’ve finished unwrapping my character today. Here’s few screenshots. I put a grid texture on a model to see if there’s any problems with my unwrapping, like stretching or overlapping UV’s.  Now I’m going into the Mudbox to paint the character and add some minor details to it.


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Large eyes

Is there something more recognisable in animation characters than their big eyes? Doesn’t matter if it’s anime, or western animation, large eyes are a troop that is very popular in the industry. It can be understandable when it comes to Japanese animation, as according to research Japanese people read faces differently to Westerners. As they live in a culture that values humbleness, modesty, a culture that is rather closed and supressed emotions, rather than expresses them, it’s easier for them to read what another person is feeling by looking at their eyes. Same research claims that Westerners, Americans in particular(as they’re were the subject of the study) look at the mouth first. This tendency could be seen in something as trivial as internet emoticons. While in the West we focus more on mouth, where J represents a smile and L illustrates sadness, emoticons used in Japan concentrate on eyes (^_^  – smile,  ;_;,  or (‘_’) – sadness).

But why would this style be popular in Western animation? As I’ve mentioned above we’re supposed to look at the mouth first. One of the reasons might be simple. We associate large eyes with things that are cute. It’s an easy way to make our character more appealing and likable. It has been started in early Disney films and it is still popular to this day. It was so popular that it influenced Japanese manga artists who used it in their work. Large eyes, small noses and chins appeal to viewers as they make them look cute, like babies, which creates the illusion of innocence and vulnerability. This style is in particular popular in Disney and the way of designing their female characters. It’s pretty well illustrated here, where we can see how different female characters would have looked with normal eyes. It’s an interesting attempt, but I think it could have been executed better, eyebrows also play an important role in how we perceive the character and they make them look weirder now.  What I’ve noticed in Mulan’s example is the fact that her large eyes are making her stand out from the crowd, straight away we can tell she’s the main character. We can also see large eyes in toys such as Bratz dolls. These dolls are overly sexualised and promote a specific image of a women, which could be harmful, especially to young girls. A Tasmanian artist, called Sonia Singh, decided to challenge this by giving these dolls a makeover. another artist, Nicolas Lamm, created a doll which is very similar to Barbie doll, but her body looks more like an average girls body, rather than super skinny Barbie dolls. What’s interesting Time magazine interviewed few children about it and the feedback was mostly positive. What’s interesting is the fact that student seemed to relate to this doll more that to the unrealistically looking Barbie.

There’s a well-known quote, which says that “Eyes are the window to a soul” – the origins of this quote are unknown, some say it was Da Vinci, others say it was Shakespeare. I feel that our emotions are always coming through the eyes, we can tell if someone is happy, or sad by looking at the eyes. They also tell what kind of person we are. If someone is shy he won’t maintain the eye contact, they will look around the room, or at the floor. When a person is confident it’s the opposite. Eye movement can also tell us what the person is thinking for example when we’re looking up this usually means that a person is remembering something that happened in the past. All of those can be used to tell a believable story through the character, make his/her expressions more interesting and also natural. I feel like the viewer might not notice it, as it’s something that we rather do automatically, not thinking about it, but character animators should be aware if this techniques. As I’m going to use a lot of close ups in my animation these eye movements will help me get my point across better.

Khazan O., 2013, The Psychology of Giant Princess Eyes [online] The Atlantic, available at: [Accessed date 18.05.2015]

2015, ‘Sexy’ Bratz dolls given a make-under [online] Daily Telegraph, available at: [Accessed date: 18.05.2015]

Stampler L., 2015, See How One Artist Dramatically Changes Bratz Dolls to Look Like Real Girls [online] Time Magazine, available at: [date accessed: 27.05.2015]

Wenner M., 2007, Americans and Japanese Read Faces Differently [online], available at: [date accessed: 18.05.2015]




Progress – modelling a character

My progress since last week in modelling my main character, Shaun. I still need to model his shirt, add details to his belt(right now it just looks like his shirt is ending there) and add a tie to him. Next would be unwrapping, texturing and rigging him. According to my timetable I should already be doing that so I’m a week behind. There’s also only two months left till the deadline so I might used my backup plan and used a prerigged character for my female character. I’ll probably make the final decision by the end of next week. I’m still not sure about his eyes, as they do look kind of creepy in my opinion, however a similar design worked well in “Hotel Transylvania”, where Dracula’s eyes were similar. Another good example from that movie is Johnny, who also has long, narrow eyes). This short clip gives a good example of how many amazing expressions Sony animators were able to achieve with this character:

It clearly doesn’t just focus on facial expressions, as there’s a lot of running around and body movement but in my opinion the expressions that character makes make the entire scene much more enjoyable and interesting to the viewer, therefore I would argue that they play the major role in making us, the audience empathise with the character.




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Hotel Transylvania - Johnny

Hotel Transylvania – Johnny

Hotel Transylvania - Johnny 2

Hotel Transylvania – Johnny 2

Hotel Transylvania - Johnny 3

Hotel Transylvania – Johnny 3


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First progress post

So last week I’ve started working on my final project, a short animation in which I’m going to show everything that I’ve learnt about facial animation this year. I’ve got to admit that it’s going a bit slower that I’ve planned, as always I have some issues when modelling character’s head. I should get it fixed by the end of this week. Plan for next week is to have this character finished and show some progress in modelling female character.

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Dead eyes characters

In my previous entry I’ve mentioned the role of eyes and dead eyed characters in films like “Polar Express”(2004) and how important the role of eyes is in expressing character’s emotions and making the character more likeable and believable. Having character’s with convincing eyes is important to the overall appeal of the character. For example let’s look at this video, it’s from the comedy show but it does rise an important issue. Conan is a what we could say is an example of a common viewer, a potential target audience. He’s not an expert in animation, computer graphics, games but straight away he can tell that there’s something not right with the character’s eyes.

In an article for The New Yorker, Derek Bradley, from Disney Research has said that “A lot of the dead-eye look can come from the animated motion of the eye rather than the static shape,”(2015) and then “If the dynamics of the eyes are not a hundred per cent correct, then it’s something people pick up on.”(ibid) Therefore I’ve decided to look at some examples of dead eye in animation and compare it to what I consider good examples of eye movement.


In this clip we can see a fair share of face close up so it gives us a chance of examining the facial expressions of the characters. From beginning it is quite hard to ignore the photorealistic design of the characters and it was already slightly off-putting. I have to say that it is hard to pick some eye movements that are out of place, it all looks well done, which is not surprising, as it was a big production. For me the fact that the eyes are design so lifelike, yet they clearly don’t look alive is already ruining the whole animation. Boy’s eyes seems to be very shiny but they are soulless.  His face is also very smooth which makes it look plastic.

“Beowulf”(2007) is another example of motion capture animation and photorealistic characters. It also has the dead eye look. Characters still seem to be soulless. Let take a look at two images from the that scene. The first one is supposed to illustrate anger, while the 2nd one is showing confusion. I feel like they don’t achieve their goals, especially the second one. It’s probably more noticeable in the video clips than in stills. Again, characters look plastic.



Queen Wealtheow from Beowulf reminded me of Queen Lillian from Shrek 2 as they seem to be somehow similar from the design point of view. In comparison to the other characters from the movie, and from Shrek’s universe she’s very close to being photorealistic. Usually characters look more cartoony or some of their features are exaggerated but she seems fairly normal, but we could clearly see that her character isn’t eerie and isn’t in falling into the Uncanny Valley.  What I’ve noticed is that her face and her eyes seem to be much more alive and natural that faces of characters in “Beowulf” or “Polar Express”.  Her expressions are always changing and don’t looks static. There’s also a lot of asymmetry in her expressions.

I’m using an example of “The Incredibles”(2004) because it was released in the same year as “Polar Express” but it was a much bigger success and it was a critically acclaimed movie. Also it focused on human characters, in contrary to other Pixar films that were focusing on toys, bugs, cars or fish. What we can notice straight away is the fact that even that characters look very smooth and maybe plastic it is not off-putting like in the previous examples. Stylized design of the characters is  definitely changing our perception of them. Again their far from the uncanny valley even that they are clearly human. When it comes to the expression again their very natural, sometimes exaggerated and asymmetrical. Thanks to this characters look interesting, alive, audience can emphasise with them and while before I said that they were soulless that it’s not the case here.

What I’ve learnt from this little analysis is the fact that there’s probably a long way until motion capture could marginalise character animators. In an effort to avoid dead eyes in characters I have to remember about the design of said character, it cannot be too realistic and when it comes to animating it, to give it some life I have to remember about eyebrows, eye darts, exaggerated movements and asymmetry.

King D., 2015, Building A Better Digital Eye [Online] The New Yorker, available at: [Accessed at: 21.04.2015]