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Creating Realistic Facial Expressions

Author: Naniette

Tools Needed

* DAZ Studio

* Poser

* Victoria 3.0 or model of your choice

Support Files



In this tutorial I will show you how to create more realistic looking expressions, a very common mistake people make is just posing the mouth, when we usually use our whole face to express how we feel. I will cover the main expressions: Sad, happy, surprised, angry and scared. It is mainly for DAZ Studio users but it can be adapted for Poser.

When creating a facial expression we have to think about what we want to achieve with the character we are posing, is it a realistic looking character? Or a cartoon character? What is this character like? This really affects how the expression should be, if we are going for a more realistic look, we wouldn't want to give our character an extremely exaggerated smile.. It just wouldn't look natural. In this tutorial I will focus on realistic expressions.

One thing that helps is, as funny as it may sound, looking in the mirror while you make different expressions, and see what parts of the face you move. And how your face looks when in a ~neutral expression'. A good practice exercise is to take someone's picture, and try to recreate their expression.

Anyway let's begin, start DAZ Studio (or Poser) and load Victoria, you can use a morphed Vicky if you want, I will be using her ~normal' face, we will be creating our own ~Default' expression, what I mean is, how our character looks when she is expressionless.

You may notice I have not included the exact values I used for every expression, this is because what I am trying to do is help you create your own expressions. I have included a pose preset of my default expression. (DAZ Studio).

Step 1: Default Expression


When creating your own default expression, consider the personality of the character you will be creating. Is this person usually happy? Or is he/she more serious? Save this expression for we will go back to it a few times! Here is mine, I made her eyebrows arch, made her smile a bit, and wince her eyes. Also close her eyelids a bit for a more relaxed look. I have also put the frown on negative values (don't overdo this or it will look ridiculous) to make her mouth curve upwards. As you can see it is a subtle expression, it's meant to be a rather neutral one.

Step 2: Saving Expressions

In Poser go to the expressions tab, if you want, create your own folder, if not just save it in the default one, choose add to library and write a descriptive name.

In DAZ Studio choose save as - pose preset, navigate to your content folder ( or create your own folder inside the content folder) and write a descriptive name, I named mine default.

Make sure you save it to your content folder (or your own folder inside it), DAZ Studio won't read your file if you put it anywhere else, this dialog box should appear


Choose morphs and click OK. Your new expression can be found under the Studio folder in your content tab.


Step 3: Expressions ' Sad and Happy

Let's start by making her look sad..


Here I have made her frown, used the brow worry and brow frown morphs, an important detail in people's faces, is that we usually don't put both eyebrows at exactly the same height, we may bend one more than the other, or bend our mouth more to one side, the only parts of the face that usually do go in the same direction are the eyes. I made her blink more and put the wince1 morphs on negative values, to widen the eyes a bit.

For the mouth I made her frown, a little more to the right side, and put the smile1 and smile2 to negative values. Also I made her pucker her lips a little.

A common problem with expressions is the eyes, they are really important when creating expressions, they say the eyes are the windows of the soul' so they should reflect how your character feels.

Let's do something with her eyes..


Much better! I have rotated the eyes to the side, and closed her pupil a little to make it look like she is looking at something. Also I moved her eyebrows down a little, to give her a sadder look, and I used the lipdown purse to make her lip move up a bit.

You can experiment with this, try moving the eyes in a different direction, moving the eyebrows up or down, to create unique expressions. The more you practice the better results you will get!

One important detail of the eyes is the pupil, if we see something that we like, the pupil dilates, if we see something that angers us or something we dislike, it tends to constrict (close). Also the effects of light on the pupil, will make it open or close. To read more of how a human pupil works go here or if you wish to know about the anatomy of the eye go to this page.

If you want to create realistic looking characters, reading a bit of information on the human anatomy will help a lot!

She's looking so sad, how about a happy face?

There are as many types of smiles as there are people, some smile with their mouth closed, while others open it showing their teeth, if you look at someone's face when he/she smiles, you will notice once again that the mouth doesn't bend the same on both sides, we raise our cheeks and the eyes seem to wince.

First I go back to the default face' now let's make her smile!


Here is the result.. I made her eyes close a bit with the blink morphs, and wince a little, one thing I should mention is that the wince1 and wince2 can be combined to create different looks, for the mouth I have used the smile, smileright, smileopen morphs, and open mouth, don't overdo the smileopen or you will get undesirable results! I have dilated her pupil a bit, not much (5.6), just enough to make it appear like she is looking at something she likes.

Let's make her smile with her mouth closed, for this we go back to our default face and start from there.


This is how mine turned out.. I used all the smile controls except for smile open, as you may have noticed, we should combine all the different controls to get better results, another morph I used is the LipLowPurse to raise her lower lip a bit, and the LipUpPurse to lower her upper lip, which is something I've seen some people do when they smile.

We can improve our expression by moving and/or rotating the eyes and of course we have to pose her! (Which should be usually done before, but since the tutorial is about expressions, I skipped the posing.)

Let's continue with the next step..

Step 4: Expressions ' Surprised and Angry and Scared

When people are surprised they tend to raise their eyebrows, widen their eyes, open their mouth and drop their jaw. Surprise is a difficult to capture expression, even in real people, for it is a rare occasion when we really are surprised. We can be surprised for different reasons, it can be due to fear, or happiness, etc. Ok, let's continue. As always I go back to my default face. And from there I got to this


I made her eyes widen by moving the blink and wince morphs to negative values, the brows are arched and raised, (BrowArch, BrowUp), For the mouth I used the open lips and open mouth morphs, combined with the MouthO morph and moved her lower lip down a bit (lowerlipdown), I found her upper lip was too high, so I moved it down by putting the upperlipraise to negative values.

Ok let's move on to anger, when we are angry we tend to lower and bring together our eyebrows, the mouth can be closed, pressing the lips, or open widely to scream or speak with anger.

Again we go back to our default face' here's my angry face


I have lowered her eyebrows using the BrowDown morphs, and the BrowUp in negative values. Also I set the BrowWorry to negative values and increased the value of the BrowFrown morphs. This lowers the eyebrows and brings them together. I increased the EyeWince1 value, a LOT (77.6), and a bit of the EyeWince2, this gives the effect of an angry look in her eyes.

I made the nose wrinkle to add some lines in her face, for the mouth I increased the frown value a bit and the snarl, I made her snarl more from the right side, I noticed her lips looked strange so I lowered the lips, by setting the LipUpRaise to negative values (-2.4) and increasing the value of the LipLoDown morph to 13.9, the mouth still looked too closed so I increased the OpenMouth to 10.9.

Fear and surprise are related, when we are scared raise our eyebrows and widen our mouth a lot like in the surprise expression. To me it's one of the hardest to capture, here is what I have done:


It's a mixture of fear and surprise.. I used a LOT of morphs to create this expression, for the eyebrows I increased the value of the following controls: BrowArch BrowUp BrowFrown and BrowWorry. I set the Blink and Wince1 to negative values to give her eyes a wide look. I made her frown, again a bit more from the right side, I made her mouth open, (OpenMouth 40.4) widen and I increased the values of the MouthA and MouthO morphs.

Step 5: Other Expressions


Of course there are many other expressions, but these are related with the basic expressions, if you learn how to capture the basic ones correctly, you are perfectly capable of recreating others.

Step 6: Pose lighting and expression


Pose lighting and expression should complement each other, we stand depending on how we feel, it is also a way of expressing, a pose can inspire sadness, power etc. As for the lighting it can make or break a scenes mood.

In my opinion you should always pose the character before modifying the expressions

Step 7: Don't overdo it

We want our expressions to be clear and precise, so that the viewer can identify what our character is feeling, yet we don't want to overdo the morphing of expressions or we will end up with unwanted results. If you are doing a cartoon character, you can exaggerate a lot more, as cartoons are usually based on exaggeration. Here is an example of an expression gone too far:


Her forehead is wrinkling way too much and it just doesn't look right. This is one of the things we want to avoid.

Step 8: Conclusion

Thank you for reading this tutorial, I hope it was useful for you. Remember that when creating realistic character, studying anatomy can really help us, and observation can be one of our greatest tools! I think you may find this site useful, it has TONS of information on human anatomy and expressions from a scientific point of view.