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Stop Staring: Facial Modeling and Animation Done Right

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Animation has got to be the greatest job in the world. When you get started, you just want to do everything, all at once, but can’t decide on one thing to start with. You animate a walk, you animate a run, maybe even a skip or jump, and it’s all gratifying in a way people outside of animation may never be lucky enough to understand. After a while, though, when the novelty aspects of animation start to wear off, you turn deeper into the characters and find yourself wanting to learn not only how to move, but how to act. When you get to that place, you need more tools and ideas to fuel your explorations.

Animation is clearly a full-body medium, and pantomime can take years to master. The face, and subtleties in acting such as the timing of a blink or where to point the eyes, can take even longer and be more difficult than conquering pantomime. Complex character, acting, and emotion are almost exclusively focused in the face and specifically in the eyes. When you look at another person, you look at their eyes; when you look at an animated character, you look at their eyes too. That’s almost always where the focus of your attention is whether you mean for it to be or not. We may remember the shots of the character singing and dancing or juggling while walking as amazing moments, but the characters we fall in love with on the screen, we fall in love with in close-ups.

Stop Staring is different than what you may be used to in a computer animation book. This is not a glorified manual for software; this is about making decisions, really learning how to evaluate contextual emotional situations, and choosing the best acting approach. You’re not simply told to do A, B, and C; you’re told why you’re doing them, when you should do them, and then, how to make it all possible.

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