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Book Review: 'Facial Expressions, a Visual Reference for Artists'

The Animation Pimp travels to a galaxy far, far away and gives us his thoughts.

Anyone who has worked at or toured an animation studio has seen the small mirrors at each animators desk. And no despite rumor, animators are not all narcissistic. The mirrors have a purpose. Animators drawings convey emotion through expression. It is important how the characters legs and arms are posed, the amount of stretch, the depiction of how the wind is hitting the character, but especially important are the contortions of the face. It isnt unusual to see an animator grimacing, yawning, or laughing maniacally into their mirror just to see what the action looks like. (Laughing maniacally may be observed at other times, of course).

Mark Simon has come up with an unusual book, very reasonably priced, that may possibly save a few dislocated jaws in Facial Expressions, a Visual Reference for Artists. This is a volume of photographs aimed primarily at the animator, but could be used by any artists who put people in the artwork they do. Mark came up with the idea for the book while he was building his own reference library of different faces to draw. He says, I realized that I was not the only artist to need this type of reference.

A Wide Range of Faces

Each of the more than 3,500 black-and-white photos conveys a particular emotion fear, amazement, surprise and our friend the maniacal laugher. In addition, the photos are of different face and nationality types, giving the artist a wider range of face types to draw from. The photos are of 50 male and female models, ages 20 to 83. Some are fat, some thin, longhaired to bald, glasses and no glasses in full front, three quarters and profile. All of the models are identified by name and age. At the end of each group of photos is an example drawing that has been made from observation of the pictures, in a great variety of styles. All of these are credited with the artists name. Model and artist contacts are thoughtfully provided in the back of the book.

In addition to a being good reference work for the professional, this book could be a powerful teaching tool, with the artist studying the photos and using them as a take off point for dozens of drawings. Just picture one of the old masters using this book to draw the faces in one of those crowded forum or market scenes.

Galleries of Photos

The table of contents tells a lot about the book. It is divided into sections titled, Skull Gallery, Kissing Gallery, and Hats and Headgear Gallery, to name a few. The Expressions Gallery is the main meat of the book, and is sub-divided by age. This section is all photographs. Actually, there isnt much text in the book, but it doesnt need it, the photos are what you buy a book like this for.

The first Gallery is appropriately Skulls, because, as Mark says in the opening paragraph of this section, The shape of the skull determines the structure and look of the face, and the movement of the jaw affects how we look when we speak. Then the muscle structure is shown by covering the bare skull with an overlay of clay. This illustrates how the working of the muscles in various positions of the mouth can alter the shape of what you are seeing. Most animators have taken at least one anatomy class, and they know how invaluable this knowledge is in drawing an exaggerated expression.

A real help for animators is the Phonemes Gallery, a section that is, in essence, a panorama of mouth charts. These show the shapes made by the mouths on the different letters and sounds of speech used most often. Mouth positions are shown both front and side view, with a variety of head types. This is very useful when marking up a scene. The Hats and Headgear Gallery has all sorts of hats on all sorts of heads. It also has things like a gas mask, a helmet with spectacular horns, scuba gear, and an astronaut all in full face, three quarter and profile. The one that looks like it was the most fun to do, though, is the Kissing Gallery. Buy the book and see.

Impressive Credits

Marks experience in animation is impressive, with more than 25 years of entertainment experience. Mark co-developed and co-directed the Timmys Lessons In Nature animation series seen in the Spike & Mike Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation. As an animation producer and director his credits include Timmys Lessons In Nature, My Wife Is Pregnant, Scary Things, Suburban Cinderella, as well as commercials and industrials. Other credits include The Waterboy, seaQuest DSV, Two Much, McHales Navy, In Search Of, The Cape, Second Noah, 1st & 10, Midnight, In Dangerous Company, Deathrow Gameshow, Kill Krazy and the ever popular Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity. Mark, at 12 years old, was designing his own line of skateboards for Schwinn Bikes. He has won more than 36 international awards for animation.

Marks Other Books

This isnt the only book he has written. He is the author of the excellent Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film, which was excerpted on AWN. He also wrote Storyboards: Motion In Art, and Expressions. He has published articles in Animation Magazine, Animation World Magazine and Cinefex. He is the owner of A&S Animation Inc. ( and Animatics & Storyboards Inc. ( Marks comicstrip, Hollyweird, is now appearing daily online at

One of Marks is many sides is as president of Animatics & Storyboards Inc., the largest storyboard studio in the southern United States. Its website has this to say about him, Serving as company president and chief inquisitor, Mark is widely regarded as one of the nations leading storyboard artists and scholars. (Hes written a definitive book on the subject and tours the country lecturing to anybody wholl listen.)

Facial Expressions should be in any serious artists library, for, as the back of the book says, if you want to make faces, here is the resource.

Facial Expressions, a Visual Reference for Artists, by Mark Simon Watson-Guptill Publications, 256 pages, $19.95

Libby Reed started out at Walt Disney Studios in the 50s on Sleeping Beauty as a painter. She has worked at numerous commercial studios, spent 16 years as a fashion illustrator and wound up at Film Roman as a color designer under Phyllis Craig. Libby has two children, (one is Alex Reed, animation producer at Electronic Arts) and four grandchildren.