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Acting And Facial Expression In Animation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 4237 words Published: 27th Apr 2017

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Our body never stop moving, no matter we are sitting, taking a rest or sleeping, our body and face keep doing different actions even it is small and unobtrusive. We have many different actions in our daily life. We can obtain different messages in these actions. For example human’s feelings, characters, health, signal from others or even read people’s mind. There is so much information covert in acting and facial expression, but what about in animation?

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Animation started with no dialog and sound. To define animation, it imitates everything move in reality word, it can also create some things does not exist and even impossible by your imagination. To create a good animation, you need to study everything which can move no matter it is organic or inorganic. Also the speed of different objects: Speed up, slow down and the rhythm. That is the basic animation sense.


This study is concerned with a communication that beyond dialog in animation – Acting and Facial Expression. Acting means all action, body language and facial expression. Animators always use them to present character’s personality and the story in animation. The reason I choose acting and facial expression is because it is an international language in communication. Animation is always present with dialog, especially in long animation.

Sometimes, facial expression and some small actions can express more messages to the audience and to deliver it faster than dialog. Without dialog, audience will focus on character’s action and facial expression, it provides audience with more imagination and better in accordance with the animation significance. I will not say acting and facial expression can replace dialog, but I am going to prove that they are the better tools to communicate with audience in animation.

Research Method

The topic is closely related with my area of practice – 3D animation. It is useful for me to produce and learn animation. From the research in this study, I can obtain more knowledge in human anatomy and the meaning and message in different action. These can support me to produce a more professional animation and improve my animation skills. I am going to research different animations, movies, television commercial which without dialog, to disassemble their script, character’s acting and camera design, especially with the reference ”Tom and Jerry”. In the other hand, I will compare them with some movies and animations which with dialog, for example: ”Ted”, ”Mr. Bean” and Pixar’s animations. Also I will research books about body language, facial expression and animation theory to support my study.


In my dissertation, I am going to divide it into five parts. After introduction, it is a chapter about acting in animation. I will start to define what are acting and body language first, to establish a basic knowledge with them. Second I will find out the relationship between acting and characters, storytelling and music. It is a very important part to research how acting affects these elements in animation. Third I will find out how animators animate inorganic things, how can acting gives them life and personality. Finally, I will have a case study of ”Tom and Jerry” to research the relationship of acting and dialog, also compare their impact.

In the next chapter – facial expression in animation, I will research what is facial expression and how it talks. There are more than thousands facial expression we have, but what do they means? Can they show our minds? Besides, I will find out the relationship between facial expression and characters and storytelling.

In chapter four – communication beyond dialog, after studying acting and facial expression. I am going to find out what the impacts of dialog in communication are and compare it with acting and facial expression. Then I will prove how acting and facial expression give imaginations and demonstrate how they communicate with audience. Finally, I will find out in animation, are acting and facial expression an aid, strengthen or a necessary elements? And the final chapter is a summary.

2. Acting and Facial Expression

2.1. Acting and body language

We express ourselves, communicate to others, show others our minds and ideas through action. Also, we always try to obtain and understand different meanings or messages through other people’s action, even our pets and other animals. Acting means all actions created by living things, a strong action can communicate a lot. To research actions, I start to study the nature of actions and I find out there are five basic actions we have since we are born – inborn actions, discovered actions, absorbed actions, trained actions and mixed actions.

When we are a baby, we already have our instinctive actions. A baby knows how to smile and suckle mother’s breast to get food, even they never saw them before. These are inborn actions. Discovered actions mean we discover them from ourselves through our experience and our environment. People cross their arms or legs in the world, it helps us to keep warm, take a rest or protect ourselves. There is also an example of discovered actions – sex. Absorbed actions are the actions we learn and copy from others. In a society, we want to get into a group no matter we are studying or working. We try to imitate their actions and the words they use. For trained actions, we need to practice and teach by the others, like swimming, dancing and cycling. Finally, mixed actions are special, we push further and mix the actions we learnt by discovering and studying new things.

When we communicate to others, dialog is not the only way. Actions show our background, character and our inner thoughts. We can deliver messages to others, it is a body language. Body language is the earliest language we know, everyone know how to use it. We cry to draw our parent’s attention when we are a baby. We use body language everyday even sometimes we did not realize them. Following different people’s research, we can now discover many secret of our body and how they talks. For examples our body angles, body shift and when we touch ourselves. There are too many body languages and I cannot cover them all, but I am going to find them out in different animations and movies, see how those animators use them to create their characters and story.

2.2. Facial expression

Acting means all body languages and facial expressions. Besides the research on acting, I want to analysis facial expression individually, because it is a main tool to communicate beside body language.

”We have come to know the face so well because it is so important to us; in fact, it is the center of our entire emotional life. From birth to death, the face links us to friends, to family, to everyone meaningful to us.”

(Gary Faigin, 1990s).

Facial expression is the motion of our face muscles under the skin. There are many emotions we have and we always express them by different movement of our facial features. We less expressed our emotion by only use one facial features, it always comes up with mix. Do facial expressions universally recognizable? By Paul Ekman, he researched that there are six categories of facial expression are certain universal: sadness, anger, joy, fear, disgust and surprise. We can find these faces every day on the people we meet, but how much can we tell from our face?

2.3. How facial expression talks?

This research will not cover all categories of facial expression, but I will analysis some of them which appear in animation and our daily life. On our face, eyes and mouth are the facial features that have the most movable range. Other than ears and nose, sometimes they can convey emotions individually.

As the research of eyes, our eyes movement and angles have different messages in them, different angles show our feelings and thinking. Combine with our eyebrows, they can have so many changes. When we communicate to others, like we speak with our friends, colleagues or even in an interview, eye contacts become a very important tool. With our words, a firm eye contact can display our confidence, fascination, serious and respect. Opposite, hesitancy and unstable eyes will show that we are nervous and inattentive. It has the same effect when we listen to others. We will also use our eyes to give signal to others. For example: in a situation which we cannot speak or in a basketball game, eyes used to show our feelings or to direct others. In animation, we can only obtain messages from the image, we do not understanding the environment sometimes. Character’s eyes will become the director for the audience in this moment. Certainly, eyes are the tool to show character’s status like tired.

Mouth is a special feature, besides eat and speak, it is the best facial feature to present joy. We can find joy or sadness for people’s mouth easily, but what else? When we feel nervous, uncomfortable and scare, we always tighten up our lips, it can let us relieve some of our pressure. And when we feel disgust, we will distort our lips, but everyone has different shape in this, it is always appear in comedy. Apart from that, a sinister smile is always a good characteristic for creating a bad character. After research on our facial features, I go on to find out more relationship of facial expression and animation.

3. Acting and Facial Expression in Animation

3.1. Acting with characters, storytelling and music

In an animation, we receive messages from different elements such as characters, storytelling and music, but what are their relationships with acting.

With the character’s outlook, we can obtain much information of him, her or it- age, sex, work, power and physique. These are the basic information, but acting can gives more or makes different. For example: character’s personality, attitude, status, ability and experience. Acting also shows the forces of gravity of the world in the story through character’s movement. I found a short animation as examples – ”One more beer!” to show how acting and body language influence characters.

In ”One more beer”, it is a very short animation and only has one character, one scene and one camera. In the beginning, a man that looks big, boorish and strong sits down in the bar. He gives a fierce face and asks for something. We notice that he is a fierce man and want a big cup of beer immediately, but the bartender gives him a small cup and pink colour’s beer. The fierce man gets angry, the bartender gives him a small umbrella and put it in the beer. At that time, the fierce man change to a naive man and drinks that small beer like a child. A big man and a small pink beer form a big contrast. Audience got cheated from his outlook in the beginning, thought that he must reject that small beer. However, he loves that. All of these are depend on acting.

”Don’t just do something, story is the difference between animating a character walking across the room, and having it walk the last mile to the electric chair. The story context will affect the way a character moves, acts and talks.” (Nancy Beiman, Animated Performance, Page 4).

Undoubtedly, acting and story influence each other in every animation. It delivers messages to audience. Sometimes a small action can leave thread or cheat audience. Also, acting can shows character’s feelings, emotion and the relationship between characters. To research storytelling and acting, I found an animation ”Defective Detective”. It does not have dialog, but it is good at storytelling.

The main characters of this animation are a detective and an old woman. The detective is a hero of the city, but he is trouble in a case with a butcher. One night, he finds something wrong on his upstairs. He thinks that is the butcher, and the butcher is hurting the old woman. He clamps up and wants to shot down the butcher, but finally it is just his misunderstanding. The animation shows the situation of the detective and the old woman parallel, they have not seen each other until the end. The old women are just cooking tomato soups, but the detective thinks that the butcher are killing her, it is all come from his fantasy only. The animator use 2D animation to express his fantasy, we can find that the detective are stupid and impulsive.

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The most interesting and meaningful part I think is the end and I want to explain those small actions in detail. In the end, they drink the soup together, but someone scream from outside again. The detective stands up and pick up his gun to show he wants to help. However the old woman uses the spoon hit his hand and point to the chair, these actions mean she told him to sit down and do not get misunderstanding anymore. He sits down immediately and shake his hand and drink a spoon of soup, to show her do not worry and he will listen to her. In the final shot, he takes a look of outside, it shows that he still confusing. This time he is right, there are many crimes happening in the building. It is very meaningful in just these few seconds, the animator is good at acting and storytelling.

Other than characters and storytelling, the relationship of acting and music is more special. Acting always follows the rhythm of the music, especially in animations which do not have dialog. Acting can strengthen and bring out the feelings of the music, and music can also strengthen character’s emotion and acting. Both of them can be the lead. The most famous example is ”Fantasia” from Disney. In ”Fantasia”, there are seven animations in this film and this film created three relationships of music and animation. First kind, it use music to tells a define story. Second kind, it is no specific plot but just follow the rhythm and create the image. Third kind, to create an animation that exists for the music. The most famous part of ”Fantasia” is ”The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. It only uses the original music for the animation, no any sound effects and dialog. It is just like a visual music concert.

3.2. Facial expression with characters and storytelling

Facial expression is an important element to help a character to create its personality and express their emotions. For me, a character which has the richest facial expression and most impressive, he must be Mr. Bean – Rowan Atkinson. He is not an animation character, but he is a really special performer which good at impress on acting. In 2002, ”Mr. Bean” came up with an animated television series. It is based on the live action series of the same name and it is a minority example. Why ”Mr. Bean” can success? I am going to find out some reasons with it.

”Mr. Bean” is a comedy written and starring by Rowan Atkinson. Rowan Atkinson created ”Mr. Bean” and described him as ”A child in a grown man’s body”. Bean less speaks, he always uses his body languages and facial expressions to convey himself. Sometimes he will speak something people do not understand, but within his voice tone and acting we can find out what he tries to present. He spends a lot of time with his best friend Teddy (A bear toy) and he helps Teddy to act. In both live action and animated series, ”Mr. Bean” is a story around Bean’s daily life and some interesting incident. To describe Rowan Atkinson’s face, he has big, clear and significant facial features. Also, combine with his changeable facial expressions, it impress on audience mind. In ”Mr. Bean” animation, animators keep Bean’s characteristics and style. They even enlarge his facial features and exaggerate his acting. It shows that acting and facial expressions are identity of ”Mr. Bean”. In the same time, that is one of a big reason why ”Mr. Bean” success.

To research on the relationship between facial expression and storytelling, I found a special example – Kuleshov Effect. It is a montage film editing effect and discovered by Lev Kuleshov which is a Russian filmmaker. It is an experiment to create reaction with editing, Lev Kuleshov wants to test if a face with no expression and fill in different objects or environment, what will audience think? He made a short movie with six shots. Also, he found three shots with different environment and put the same shot with one actor in front of them. The actor’s name is Ivan Mozzhukhin, he actually looking at nothing, he does not know what will they edit to when they are shooting at him. He did not express any emotion and that is what Lev Kuleshov wants, we cannot see any emotion on Ivan Mozzhukhin by only watching his face. Audience can only base on the environment along to infer his emotion. The viewers will think that the actor has different reactions and emotions, but actually they come from our own minds. We will admire the actor’s acting and do not realize it is affected by the scene.

So does it mean facial expression is not important? Just the opposite, in Kuleshov Effect, audience will obtain different emotions of the actor only by their experience and imaginations. This effect just right to tell us where are the source of message that received by audience. Within facial expression and storytelling, audience can receive the messages exactly from the creator and understand the inter-relationships between characters.

4. Animation Comedy

”You get to be an impish God. You get to reform the world. You get to take the piss out of it. You turn it upside down, inside out. You bug out eyes. You put moustaches on Mona Lisas. You change the world and have for a brief moment a bit of control over it. At least you get to humiliate it for a moment, and that’s what all cartoonists get their kicks from!” (Paul Wells, interview in February 1995)

Paul Wells described how to create a comedy. In creating comedy, we can become a naughty god and change the world to whatever we want. Comedy is a tool for people to relax and release their pressure from a custumal world. We must break and challenge the rules. After the initial study of ”Mr. Bean”, I go on to research on animation comedy. I want to know more about how acting and facial expression influences animation comedy.

4.1. Case study ”Tom and Jerry”

”Tom and Jerry” is a famous animation start from 1940s, every chapter is short but expressing a story individually. It is just a story start from a cat and a mouse, but why can it success and enduring to show? With the research in last part, I start to analysis ”Tom and Jerry”.

Cats chasing mouse, everyone knows it, because it is the natural instinct of cats. It is a good and simple design in characters and story. However in ”Tom and Jerry”, people always want Jerry wins and he does in the story. I think the reason is because their personality and relationships, it express from their acting. Tom is an arrogance cat and to be opinionated, he always thinks that he is the one. Jerry is cunning, but it is stems from the need for self-preservation, He is a kind mouse and always saves others who Tom is bullying. Tom always thinks he is the clever one and bully others, Jerry always takes him down because he is the real clever one. We will love to see this because to take down someone who is arrogance and to be opinionated is funny, as we want to do that in our reality society. Sometimes they are enemy, sometimes they are friend when they are facing difficulty or having the same enemy. We love to see that too.

Storytelling is a big reason that why ”Tom and Jerry” success. They have many reasons to fight in every chapter, not just about cats chasing mouse. Sometimes it is because Tom is hungry, the order from Tom’s master, revenge, misunderstanding, they want the same thing, enjoy to torture others or the third person get involved. ”Tom and Jerry” less using dialog, it will be only used in they must need it to express or describe story to audience. Acting becomes the only way to communicate with audience. The master of Tom is a character who always have dialog, it is always used by the third person or radio too, Tom and Jerry almost do not talk. We can always find many exaggerated and violent acting in ”Tom and Jerry”. Everything around the environment can be their weapons: tables, chairs, dishes, planks… sometimes they even use guns, bombs and poisons. These become the way to attract audience and make them laugh, also the signature of ”Tom and Jerry”. Music is an important character in ”Tom and Jerry” too, it is always used to strengthen acting and deliver their emotions. Music can increase the atmosphere of comedy with the big contrast, for example: a classic music and an obtuse cat. In some case, Tom and Jerry’s body will become a music instrument and play music with their acting. You can also find some chapters which are base on music to create their story. All of these are the basic analysis of ”Tom and Jerry”. I also want to describe some examples which are impressive and creative to see how it has good use of acting.

In ”Puss and Boats”, Tom is a mariner. The story starts from Tom’s ship laying down their commodity. There is a big box of cheeses with a gap. In this time, Jerry is sleeping, but the ”smell of cheese” becomes a hand and flies to find him. The hand removes Jerry from the bed and opens his eye, but Jerry is still sleeping and the picture in his eyeball shows he is eating a cheese. It shows Jerry is eating a cheese in his dream, and it is a special skill by using facial expression. Then, the hand wakes him up and shows him where are the cheese. When Jerry gets ready to get it, the hand stop him and point to somewhere because Tom is nearing there to protect those commodity. The acting of the hand is not just expressing the smell of cheese, it is only use useful to Jerry and only he can see this, because mice love cheese. The hand shows the natural of mouse, to find cheese and be careful with cats. The animator use a hand to present the relationship of cheese, mouse and cat, not just shows Jerry smell cheese and wake up. It is creative and well use on acting with character and storytelling.

In a short section of ”Mice Follies”, Tom is chasing Jerry and his friend in a small indoor skating rink. When Tom try to stop and catch them, he keeping slipping in the same place because of the ice. He keeps increasing his speed to move but still cannot move on. Coordinate with his acting, is a fast beat drums hit. With this situation, it created a very funny image. That is more effective by only using acting to present. It is a common comedy skill we can always find in ”Tom and Jerry”. To describe other example of music in ”Tom and Jerry”, I found ”The Cat Concerto”. In this chapter, Tom is a pianist. He woke up Jerry when he was playing piano in a concert. Then they start to fight. The story is totally following the music to develop. In the whole animation, they never stop playing the piano while they are fighting. Even Tom gets hurt or stop to play, Jerry will keep playing to keep the concerto go on. Every part of the piano becomes their battlefield. Every time the music starts rapidly, they will have a strong conflict. It is a really accurate story design, the animator use music to imagine the story. Even a shears become a music instrument, Jerry want to cut Tom’s finger when he is playing piano. However, Tom hides it, the sounds of shears merges with the music. Finally, Jerry plays the piano from its inside to try to push Tom to follow it. Tom exhausts all his effort to follow, but his formal dress is totally rotten. In the end, Jerry wears a formal dress to curtain call. That presented a cat chasing mouse story with a very interesting and creative way. At the same time, it is a good example how acting cooperate

To summarize, ”Tom and Jerry” is an impressive and successful animation which use acting and the elements of animation effectively. It is a good example to shows us the importance of acting in animation.

5. Communication beyond dialog

5.1. Dialog in communication

”Actions speak louder than words”, ”When we communicate only 7 per cent of the communication depends on verbal communication and the rest goes towards the non verbal communication. Of the 93 per cent- 38 percent is for voice modulation and 55 per cent is for body language.”(Professor M. S. Rao, Soft Skills – Enhancing Employability: Connecting Campus with Corporate, Page14).

6. Conclusions


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