While our primary means of communicating with others may be through words, we also tell others so much through our body language and facial expressions - even things we do not mean to. In animation, capturing facial expressions is crucial to creating relatable characters. If the audience doesn’t believe that an animated character is feeling the emotions they say they are, then the audience will cease to see the character as a ‘living’ being.

So, for this project the goal was to investigate how a single frame of a character’s face could communicate a distinct idea or emotion. I created a series of facial expressions communicating the 5 following ideas:

1. Hatching a devious plan (“Crafty”)

2. Screaming at a spider (“Terrified”)

3. Someone reacting to someone else stepping on something they forgot to pick up (“The Cringe”)

4. Considering what to eat for lunch (“The Thinker”)

5. Being childishly mad because they didn’t get their way (“The Pout”)

Rough cartoony sketch of a girl with a large smile on her face.Rough cartoony sketch of a man concentrating.Rough cartoony sketch of a man looking impressed.Rough cartoony sketch of a man looking with an evil, crafty expression on his face.Rough cartoony sketch of a man looking terrified.Rough cartoony sketch of a man looking furious.

The process for accurately capturing these ideas in facial expressions involved a research phase, where I experimented with different facial expressions through sketches and looked for good reference images. Though I found some decent images online, I found that I couldn’t quite find the exact emotion I wanted to be conveyed, so I made my own reference images, making sure to really exaggerate my facial expressions so that I could do the same with the character rig in Maya. (Mery Rig courtesy of

The next stage involved creating the facial expressions on the character in Maya, and also posing them in a fitting position which complemented the facial expression. Lastly, I positioned the camera at an angle which best showcased the expression, and lit the scene to create an appropriate atmosphere for the expressions.