Mission Statement

Improve facial animations in games through studying and applying personality traits and the emotional spectrum, demonstrating how they could be procedurally animated.

Issues in facial animation that I would like to address:

  1. Over-exaggerated expressions used on high fidelity models.
  2. Lack of expression where faces are overly stiff and characters look like dolls with dead eyes.
  3. No variation between characters with different personalities.

Paul Ekman and “Microexpressions”

Paul Eckman is a psychologist who studied the faces of people around the world and concluded that emotions were not socially learned.1 

He coined the term “microexpression” which is the involuntary expressions that our faces make in response to stimuli. He categorized six emotional states; sadness, anger, contempt, disgust, surprise, and fear.

We only think about expression when we want to use our body for communication on a conscious level. And a lot of the time we aren’t very good at faking internal states. If someone is playing a role in a social situation, it’s often expected of them, but much of the time we aren’t fooled by the performance. Which I think is one of the reasons why great actors are fascinating. – Paul Ekman


Naughty Dog applied FACs (Facial Action Coding System) to their animations in The Last of Us. The muscle and anatomy considerations applied to the model and animations were used to improve their rigging pipeline.

See Judd Simatov’s presentation on character rigging and modeling in The Last of Us: here.


A player can be taken out of a game when they begin to notice the same animations showing up over and over again. With facial animations, two characters of vastly different personalities can be using the same animation for “sad” or “angry”. Some game teams take the time to work on these individual animations and they work. Good examples are Tell Tale Games and Naughty Dog.

However when you have smaller teams or a limit on the number of animations used and created for characters, especially custom made player characters, the use of repeated animations can take a player out of the experience. Some examples of this would be in smaller games like Life is Strange.  Or hugely scoped games who have so many characters that sharing animations is a requirement, like in Fallout, The Witcher or Dragon Age.

Procedural Traits

I want to simplify some of that animation work by combining it with procedurally driven animations that modify the character’s expression based on their emotional state and what their personality is like.

Project Goals

My first goal will be to study facial expression and applying some subtlety to character faces by considering the involuntary “microexpression” of the character along with the character’s unique personality.

My second goal is to use a character trait system that will alter the expression the character is displaying.


1.Aesthetics: Establishing a style between exaggerated and realistic to focus on the methods and avoid the uncanny valley.

2.Applying: Studying and appropriately applying psychology and acting.

3.Technical: Not having a bloated and buggy, slow rig. Applying traits and emotional states in the engine.

4.Relevance: Convince animators I’m not attempting to make them obsolete. Make this approach possible in a production environment.



Kaszowska, Aleksandra. “Am I in Trouble? Interpreting Facial Expressions.” Emotion on the Brain. December 8, 2014. http://sites.tufts.edu/emotiononthebrain/2014/12/08/am-i-in-trouble-interpreting-facial-expressions/.

“Profile of a Psychologist: Paul Ekman.” Cognitive Consonance. http://cognitiveconsonance.info/2012/08/21/240/.

Plutchik. “The Nature of Emotions.” The Nature of Emotions. http://www.fractal.org/Bewustzijns-Besturings-Model/Nature-of-emotions.htm.

The Myers & Briggs Foundation. http://www.myersbriggs.org/.

Heffner, Christopher L., Dr. “Chapter 3: Section 2: Hans Eysenck’s Structure of Personality.” AllPsych. http://allpsych.com/personalitysynopsis/eysenck/.

Mapes, Diane. “How to Spot a Fake Smile: It’s All in the Eyes – NBC News.” NBC News. March 30, 2011. http://www.nbcnews.com/health/body-odd/how-spot-fake-smile-its-all-eyes-f1C9386917.

Ekman, Paul, Dr. “Parents’ Guide to Inside Out – Paul Ekman Group, LLC.” Paul Ekman Group LLC. 2015. http://www.paulekman.com/parentsguide/.

Character Rigging, Animation and Storytelling

Naughty Dog. “Making of Uncharted 4 Nathan Drake.” Computer Graphics Digital Art Community for Artist Job Tutorial Art Concept Art Portfolio. December 11, 2014. http://www.cgmeetup.net/home/making-of-uncharted-4-nathan-drake/.

Simantov, Judd. “Judd Simantov on character rigging and modeling in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us” Game Character Academy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myZcUvU8YWc

Simantov, Judd. “Uncharted 2: Character Pipeline” GDC Vault. http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1012552/Uncharted-2-Character-Pipeline-An.

Nelson, Paul. “Designing Branching Narrative.” The Story Element. 2015. https://thestoryelement.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/designing-branching-narrative/.

Croshaw, Ben “Yahtzee” “Making Faces – A Bioware Story.” The Escapist. December 16, 2014. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/video-games/columns/extra-punctuation/12762-Improving-Bioware-s-Conversation-Animations-With-Mocap.

White, Olivia. “Firewatch Took Away Our Ability to Be Good People, and That’s Where It Shines.” Polygon. February 12, 2016. http://www.polygon.com/2016/2/12/10966494/firewatch-agency-campo-santo.

Procedural Content

Davidson, Kim. “Sponsored: Go Procedural – A Better Way to Make Better Games.” Gamasutra Article. http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/233899/Sponsored_Go_Procedural__

Hosking, Claire. “Opinion: Stop Dwelling on Graphics and Embrace Procedural Generation.” Polygon. 2013. http://www.polygon.com/2013/12/10/5192058/

Moss, Richard. “7 Uses of Procedural Generation That All Developers Should Study.” Gamasutra Article. January 1, 2016. http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/262869/7_uses_of_procedural_generation