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Facial Expressions - How To Use Them

DOUK at 12:31AM, July 22, 2009

Add some depth to your character's actions, for styles from Anime to Animesque to Cartoony.


(5 star average out of 4 votes)

Hello, call me Douk. Well, don't call me anything, I'm just a bunch of words on a screen. Chances are I'm sleeping or out at work or something when you're reading this. But I'll be thinking of you no matter what. You, who reads this and learns, just what makes a character really scared, or angry, or thoughtful. These faces will never give you up, never let you down…

Anyways, this is split up into Two Parts: Different Styles, The Actual Faces, Part 1 is a brief explanation on how your faces should be in your own style, and not a stock ‘square mouth circle eye scream’ (unless that IS your style, then by all means go for it). Part two is the meat of the Tutorial. The lovely Mizumi will be warping her fine face for us in this, as images to refer to.

Part 1: Different Styles


Different Styles for Different folks, its takes Different Styles to move the world, so they say. Chances are you've got your style down and you know how to pull off the basic faces. Like :|, :), :D, and :(. I can't teach how to assimilate the faces in your style, that's your own observational responsability, but I can teach you how to tell if you go too far.
A trick that helps me is to make a collage of all the faces (of a single character if its a story comic, otherwise just all the faces) through out your best work or most of your archive. Skim through all the faces and try to group them in your head. If any look like they don't belong, or in some cases seem like they were drawn by someone else, chances are one of your readers noticed that too. This doesn't mean you should keep your faces relatively normal, a little craziness won't hurt, as long as it fits in your comic.
Imagine if the head from the left side of the image (from Awkward Zombie) was used in a comic from the right (El Goonish Shrive). It would look out of place and not in the style of the author, because its so radical. Likewise, if the author of Awkward Zombie uses animesque, smaller faces more often, the audience will feel underwhelmed. Keep that in mind when trying to use faces as the main humor point or to signify an important plot point being revealed.

Part 2: The Actual Faces

Image: From left to right, proud, awe-inspired or dumbfounded, positive, heartbroken, disappointed, furious.

Finally, the bread and butter. Lets get to a few examples shall we?

HAPPY: As a person gets happier and happier, their mouth becomes bigger. Either in a :D or just a crazy grin. If a character is ecstatic they won't just be standing around, their body will be either jumping for joy, raising hands in the air, something to signify high adrenaline. Try to remember the last time you were thrilled at something, you may have thrown a fist into the air if it was a result of your actions, or closed palms as if thanking an angel for your luck.
Depending on the situation, their bodies will be as happy as their faces. Remember that if a characters is pretending to be happy, their eyes should show that they're pretending. Unless you want the audience to be fooled too, the mouth should be smiling but the eyes perhaps in a worried state, or sad. They will most often bare their teeth this way, accompanied with a ‘heh heh, yeah sure.’

ANGRY:Anger, madness, grrtality, whatever you want to call it. Expect to use this a lot in a story based comic, and occasionally in strip-a-day. There are many reasons one could be angry, they learned something bad, they did something bad, or they're just cranky. If your character is cranky it can be used as humor by scrunching up the face more than normal, exaggerating the anger. The mouth shouldn't be like in the above image, it should be a big pout, so mouth=sad, eyes=furious.
If they're genuinely angry, they can show it by raging their mouth or body. If they decide to scream, mouth sizes can be messed with! If they're angry and are going to fight, they should grind their teeth with a slight under-bite in some cases. Large frowns are for when they're at a loss for words, but female characters tend to angry-pout more than males. Experiment to see what mouth sizes work for your style.

SAD: did someone call whine-one-one? Because I think i hear a WAAAAAAAMBULANCE! Yes, your character is sadder than a bunny whose mom was shot by me in front if its eyes. Stupid rabbit I hate rabbits. … Anyways, there are many types of anger and happiness, but only a few, if any, types of sadness (that can be distinctly shown). If your character is just bummed out, a simple frown should do. nothing special. Crying is often regarded (to me) as one of the ways to really show your style and make it fresh or unique. The anime-style “large mouth with waterfalls of tears” or the “wavy mouth, shining eyes”. The “Large eye with quivering puppy dog lip” is sadness that implies that you are trying to make it better. Usually when a character does the ‘puppy dog’ face they are trying to convince someone to do something other than the undesirable outcome.
'Manly' or tough characters and ‘feminine’ or soft characters have different ways of showing the same sadness. Eyebrows slanted like <:( are common for both. A tough or manly character should try to hide his sadness by keeping a straight emotionless mouth. Like fake happiness, the eyes will always reveal the true emotion. Softer or younger characters will no doubt let the waterworks go, starting from a tear with a quivering lip (for younger) or a frown (with older). Your style, like I said, is put to the test when you draw a sobbing character. You can choose how the tears flow, down the cheek, or up in an arc. Characters don't usually talk when they're crying, only to yell about what they're crying about (eg: You killed him!, I wanted the last slice!). Soft characters will bury their face into their arms, while tougher ones look away or stop the tears. Sadness can be varied greatly on the sliding scale, so its up to you to decide how greatly a tragedy or other plot device affects a character.
Tip: A single tear is usually used to show that a stone faced, not-caring character can show emotion, albeit when everyone's away of course. Its not cliche, its part of a formula for drama, and it works.



So there you have it, how to use faces to shape your character. If you feel that this wasn't indepth enough, or if I missed something big, or flat out told wrong information, drop me a line at 1-800-IDONTCARE. Just kidding, tell me any thoughts you have, I'd be glad to see how you used this tutorial!

Depending on the success on this one, I might make a sequel more in-depth. Ciao for naaao!

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