What's inside:
Anatomy of Facial Expression

about anatomy of facial expression book 1

People can notice fake emotions. So creating a Genuine facial expression takes knowledge that has to be learned

The human face is not only a surface with eyes, a mouth, and a nose through which we read essential information about the world around us, but it is our primary non-verbal communication tool. It is an instrument with the highest precision. 

Humans are created with the ability to read the slightest changes in the surrounding world and especially in other people’s faces. Historically this has been beneficial in the social environment and has saved our ancestors’ lives. Interestingly enough, this works both ways as other animals have learned to read our faces too. Dogs, for example, but none as good as we humans.  

Facial Expressions Smile From Anatomy of Facial Expressions book

When a person receives visual information first, it reaches the Thalamus, which sends parallel information to all the necessary parts of the brain. The two that interest us most are the Visual cortex (area in the brain that is creating visual images), and the Amygdala (tests information for an element of danger). This function can make us afraid at the same time, while we are creating a visual representation of what frightened us.  

Body language and facial expressions are evolutionary and are much older than verbal language. Children are born with this skill. A human baby can identify positive facial emotions earlier and more accurately than negative ones (Boyatzis, Chazan, & Ting, 1993Camras & Allison, 1985Widen & Russell, 2003). Their accuracy increases between 3 and 7 years of age. The ability to recognize emotional facial expressions is innate in us. 

Some studies have provided convincing evidence that facial expressions for the basic emotions are universal. It means that facial expressions are the same for all humans on the planet, no matter if you are an Eskimo, European, or from a tribe in the Brazilian jungle. (Ekman & Friesen, 1971Ekman et al., 1987Ekman, Sorenson, & Friesen, 1969Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002Izard, 1971).

Our body knows what we see even before we see

To characterize this phenomenon, let’s imagine this situation. A husband bumps into his angry wife. The visual information from the angry face of the wife enters the eye of the husband; the eye sends a neural signal to the Thalamus. 

The Thalamus sends neural information directly to the Amygdala and the Visual cortex. It means that we know that we are in trouble even before our brain had time to generate a visual image of the angry spouse, immodestly we have an adrenaline release in the blood. Our consciousness might not be aware of what exactly happened, but as the evidence, we have some feeling, “Hey, something is not right.” Even tiny details in the surrounding environment and especially in people’s faces can make a huge difference. That’s why it is so important to be precise when you create a human face. 

The most popular object of art at all times is human. It does not have to be lifelike. It just needs to trigger our body to react somehow as if it was real. Our eyes are continually scanning our surroundings, and a unique area in the brain called the Fusiform face area – FFA is analyzing if there are any human faces around. Sometimes it sees faces when there are no faces. This phenomenon is called Pareidolia. A famous example of Pareidolia is the so-called “Face on Mars.” 

The skinned figure, usually in the form of a plaster cast, wax, or marble sculpture, allows studying the arrangement and shape of muscles, veins, and joints. While there are écorchés of animals, particularly of skinned horses, the great majority of écorchés are depictions of the human male figure.

Face on moon expressions found on objects

After our scanner has identified a face valued with an element of danger, the next level of analysis is the quality of the emotion. You’ve probably heard about a Fake smile. Between a Genuine smile and Fake Smile, there is almost no difference. There is a small difference in the form of the face, but it’s much more significant in our perception, and everyone immediately sees the difference. 

real and fake smile facial expression for artists by uldis zarins

Even small details can me a huge difference

Real emotions are almost impossible to fake. That is why we need to learn the nuances that differentiate fake and genuine emotions. And to know it, you have to understand not only the anatomy which creates the movement, but you have to have the tools and language with whom you can describe the change. The best way to do this is with some coding system. In the Anatomy of Facial Expressions book, we use Paul Ekman’s created FACS (Facial Action Coding System). 

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

Is the knowledge about facial movements unique in Anatomy of Facial Expression? Facial physiology is a well-described topic, authors as “Carl-Herman Hjortsjö,” or a much more recent one “2002 Joseph C. Hager Update to FACS.”


What all these works have missed, though, are excellent images. Usually, when describing a facial movement, the names of the muscles, the code, and maybe a black and white photograph are present. 

But what matters most to artists is the visual aspect. Images and understandable visual information and not much factual information or Latin names. For the animator, how it works is essential. 

… For artists, the essential part is how it looks ...


Do facial muscles create the form of the face?

When we think about human anatomy for artists, usually the first thing that comes to our mind are facial muscles. Do these muscles create the form of the face? Yes and no. The typical skeletal muscle, as we used to know, with its shape creating the body’s form, is almost absent in the human face.

An exception is the mastication muscles like the Masseter and Temporal muscles with a distinct form. In the face, we have facial mimicry muscles, and they themselves are very thin, almost formless. They move shapes based that are mostly fat based. 

tree human heads 3D model renders for 3Dartists
Zaygomatic mucle group description with coding system

How about different genders and ages?

The fact that we understand the anatomy of the face and how the facial muscles work is not enough. You need to understand the shape. The shape is made up of bones and soft tissue. But are we all the same? No, of course not. In addition to the individual morphology, which is infinitely diverse, there are formal features of different ages and genders. Anatomy of Facial Expressions book touches these subjects, like ethnicity, but for far more detailed information and additional topics are going to be described in the upcoming book – Form of the Head and Neck


Mandible differences in male and female comperssion 4a10a5f2 8687 4c12 ad7d f46c5c15c69e


Age difference in human skull for artists

Interested in the Anatomy of Facial Expression book?

Anatomy of Facial Expressions. It’s a specific book. Compared to Understanding the Human Figure book which describes the world of creating a fully human form. This book dives in-depth. With the task to understand and help create specific Facial Expressions and it’s anatomy. Specially created for artists.

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