Animating Facial Features and Expressions

book review by Paul Younghusband

Facial animation is one of the most tricky parts of bringing a character to life. The process is complicated (artistically and technically in some cases), and if you get it even slightly wrong, your mistake will stand out like Daffy Duck in an episode of The Simpsons! Many books on character animation cover facial animation; usually a section of the publication is dedicated to the topic (e.g. [Digital] Character Animation by George Maestri, and Character Animation In Depth by Doug Kelly). However, Animating Facial Features and Expressions is the first book I know of that is devoted entirely to the subject of digital facial animation.

Animating Facial Features and Expressions documents the fundamental principles of facial animation and lip-synch. The book kicks off with three chapters dedicated to facial anatomy, proportions and muscle structure. Then the rest of the book is almost like a catalogue of various features, expressions and phonemes, with the exceptions being chapters covering lip-synch, weighted morphing animation, and the features and expressions chapter. The 'catalogue' of facial poses, expressions and phonemes is quite literally a facial animation dictionary, and its use as a reference guide will no doubt become invaluable to animators who have the privilege of owning this book.

The book is non-software specific; the techniques covered in the book are 'universal,' meaning that they are the fundamental principles that can be applied to almost any 3D package. This is both the book's strength and weakness. Most people naturally expect books on digital art to get software specific -- some are devoted to just one program, others cover three or four. It cuts the learning curve almost in half when you can follow step by step instructions on how to create something in your software package; this is something that has appeared in Fleming and Dobbs' earlier books, and would have been a welcome addition to this one. At the same time, the non-software specific nature of the book makes it accessible to everyone, regardless of platform or package, medium or means. This is a book for animators in general -- a nice change for the artists who spend most of their day with their head in a software manual!

In general this book will no doubt make a welcome addition to any character animator's bookshelf, and students of character animation should find this an invaluable guide to facial animation. However, as the title suggests the book does document the fundamental principles of facial animation, which means the more experienced character animator may not find any new information in the book. It could, however, act as valuable reference material to professional artists, as all in all, it's an excellent book.

Animating Facial Features and Expressions by Darris Dobbs and Bill Fleming. Rockland, Massachusetts: Charles River Media, 1999. 382 pages. ISBN: 1-886801-81-9. (US$49.95)

Paul Younghusband is editor-in-chief of Visual Magic Magazine, a publication focusing on the 3-D graphics and digital effects industries.

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to

Table of Contents
Past Issues

Animation World Magazine
Career Connections | School Database | Student Corner
Animation World Store | Animation Village | Calendar of Events
The AWN Gallery | The AWN Vault | Forums & Chats

About | Help | Home | | Mail | Register

©1999 Animation World Network