Chris Landreth’s ‘Making Faces’ Masterclass

CL-smile222333About Chris Landreth

Independent filmmaker, CG pioneer and one of the original developers of the Maya software, Chris Landreth is responsible for the classic animated shorts The End (1995), Bingo (1998), Ryan (2004), and The Spine (2009).  Ryan received the Academy Award in 2005 for Best Animated Short Film, along with 60 other international awards.  His latest short ‘Subconscious Password’ has been appearing in festivals worldwide for the past 12 months to much acclaim, including winning ‘Best Animated Short’ at the 2013 Annecy International Animation Festival.  Chris’s films explore storytelling based on human psychology as much as photorealistic character animation, an approach Chris calls “psychorealism”.

Course Introduction

“Making Faces” is a master class 
for animators and character riggers who want to 
master the art of Facial Animation.

Since birth we’ve been hard-wired to see the minute details of human faces.  When we see a CG animated character, we know instantly when his or her face is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.  This course will focus on creating and animating the faces of human characters that are ‘right’ – that is, realistic, believable and compelling.  We’ll focus on learning the appearance and behaviour of the face, then applying this to the faces of detailed Maya characters.

Chris teaches this class in a variety of formats, ranging from 3-hour lectures to 42-hour courses with intensive, hands-on learning.

Studios, institutions and conferences at which Chris has given this class include:

  • DreamWorks, California, USA
  • DreamWorks, Bangalore, India
  • Digital Domain, Vancouver
  • Seneca College, Toronto, Canada
  • Sheridan College, Toronto, Canada
  • CalArts, California, USA
  • Harvard University, Cambridge MA, USA
  • Georges Méliès School of Filmmaking, France
  • FMX (conference), Stuttgart, Germany
  • iacc-DeTao, Shanghai & Beijing (2013)

Book now!  To reserve your place in the 3-day public masterclass email


Course Content

In this course Chris will cover:

  1. Visualizing & Drawing a Human Face from any angle
  2. The Features of Human Facial Expression
  3. Anatomy of a Human Face:  Muscles & Bones
  4. Rigging a Human Head for Animation
  5. Animating a Human Face
  6. How a Face Moves:
     Blinking, Eye Movement,
 Tongue Movement, Muscle Twitching.
  7. Speech and Lipsynch
  8. The Psychology of Facial Expression
  9. What Makes Great Facial Acting?

For extended course content, see below.


  • Duration: 3-day public masterclass
  • Date: tba
  • Location: iacc Studio (3rd Floor, DeTao Masters Academy, Shanghai Institute of Visual Art, 2200 Wenxiang Road, Songjiang, Shanghai 201620)
  • Language: English with consecutive Chinese translation
  • Student Requirements:

                  – Intermediate knowledge in computer animation with a minimum of one year experience using Maya software
                  – All equipment (pencils, paper, drawing board, computer) will be provided

  • How to book: To reserve your place in the 3-day masterclass, or for more information, email

Making Faces Masterclass 2013, Shanghai & Beijing

Chris Landreth gave the class last year in Shanghai and Beijing. See the video below, or click here for more information and pictures.

Extended Course Information

Session 1:  Seeing and Drawing Faces

1.  Introduction

Since birth we’ve been hard-wired to see the minute details of human faces.  When we see a CG animated character, we know instantly when his or her face is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.  This course will focus on creating and animating the faces of human characters that are ‘right’ – that is, realistic, believable and compelling.

2.  Drawing:  Basic Portraiture

Proportions of a human head.  Seeing and drawing features of the head from arbitrary angles.  The 3-dimensional appearance of eyes, noses, mouths, chins and cheeks.

Exercise:  Drawing a face from the front, from the side and from ¾ view.


Session 2:  Structure of the Human Head

1.  The skull and its parts:  Mandible, Maxilla, Eye Sockets, Zygomatic Arches.

How a face is filled out:  Chin, jawline, top of the head (skull), eyes and mouth (muscles), cheeks (fat), nose (cartilage).

2.  Eyes and Teeth

3.  The Muscles

  •             Sheet
  •             Linear
  •             Orbital
  •             Bone to Bone
  •             Bone to Skin

Exercise:  “Inside Out”.  Place a piece of tracing paper over a photograph of a skull.  Draw a human head that matches that skull.


Session 3:  FACS:  the Facial Action Coding System

1.  The 6 fundamental expressions:  Anger, Sadness, Disgust, Surprise, Fear, Happiness

2.  A breakdown of the muscles of the face

Upper Face Muscles/AU’s:

– Frontalis, Corrigator, Orbicularis Oculi, Levitor Palpabrae

Mid Face Muscles/AU’s:

– Zygomaticus Major, Labius Superioris, Aleque Nasi Labius Superioris

Lower Face Muscles/AU’s:

– Orbicularis Oris, Incisivus, Labius Inferioris, Mentalis, Risorius/Platysma, Triangularis, Buccinator

Jaw AU’s:

– Temporalis, Masseter, Digastric

Exercise:  Contort your face into each important Action Unit.  Make a photo album showing your own face performing each of these actions.


Session 4:   The Anatomy of Emotion

1.  How muscle actions (AU’s) combine to make humans expressive

Exercise:  Give descriptions of 12 photos provided showing expressive faces, detailing the muscles actions of the faces in the photos. 


Session 5:  Animating a face, Part 1:  Doing Nothing Excellently

What happens when we are just ‘hanging out’ with our faces, ie. doing nothing?  We don’t just ‘do nothing’ – we blink, we move our heads slightly, we twitch our face muscles.  ‘Doing nothing’ is the most basic, but in many ways the toughest exercise in acting and animating.

1.  Something from Nothing:  Microexpressions.

Examples: Andy Warhol Screen Test, Bob Dylan

Exercise:  Each student gets “Screen Tested”.  Review the videos for “doing nothing”.

2.  Jeepers Creepers:  Eye Movement

–   Blinking.  Duration of blink.  What makes us blink.  How eye movement affects this.

–   Eye tracking:  how moving eyes watch the world.

–   Saccade:  our eyes are always full of life, because they constantly dart randomly, or “Saccade”.  They are taking in the world several times a second.

3.  Facial twitches:  our muscles involuntarily twitch.  How do they move while twitching?

 Exercise:  Animate 10 seconds of your character Doing Nothing.


Session 6:  Animating a Face,  Part 2:  Speech and Lipsynch

1.  Why it’s possible to be too good at LipSynching:

Examples:  Creature Comforts (good), Hoodwinked (too good)

2.  Richard Williams, Pachyderms and Nectar:  “Elephant Juice” and “I Love You”

Lipsynched Animation is an art of approximation and careful listening.  You must listen for the BASIC phonemes, and ignore the phonemes that you don’t actually hear.  The mantra for this exercise is:  “Squint your ears”.

3.  Speech examples:

–   American Beauty, Annette Bening:  “I will sell this house today”

–   Glengarry Glen Ross, Kevin Spacey:  “Will you go to lunch?”

Exercise:  Load AVI file of Kevin Spacey or Annette Bening as an image plane into your Maya session.  Using this AVI as reference, animate your character saying “I will sell this house today” or “Will you go to lunch?” 


Session 7:  Animating a face, Part 3:  Acting with Restraint

It is really important to animate without self-consciousness, without theatrics, without unnecessary flourishes, before you get to the really over-the-top stuff.  Doing nothing is the hardest thing to do in animation.  It’s tedious and awkward.  But if you can master this, you can do pretty much anything else.  Your character will be REAL.

1.  Leakage and Subtext

Leakage in faces happens when we show one emotion but are feeling another.  The face shows this different emotion in subtle ways—facial muscles are used subconsciously that betray a more complex underlying mood.

Exercise:  Animate your character smiling.  Using animation layering, change that smile to convey an entirely different emotion.

2.  A few excerpts of great, restrained facial acting, showing leakage and subtext:

A few notches above “doing nothing”…


  • Dustin Hoffman:  American Buffalo
  • Wes Bentley:  American Beauty
  • Tilda Swinton: Orlando
  • Ellen DeGeneres:  Finding Nemo

Acting Exercise:  Six different ways to say:  “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

Animating Exercise:  Take the spoken line “It doesn’t have to be this way” and animate at least two distinct emotional states with your character.


Session 8:  Animating a face, Part 4:  Over-the-top Acting

Here are the moments of extreme emotion that are the most fun to animate and the hardest to act out.  This is cartoonland, “method acting on steroids”.  It’s all about exaggeration of real expressions and emotions.  Turning the dial up to 11.

  • Video:  Roger Rabbit
  • Video:  Citizen Kane
  • Video:  Pontypool

1.  The Scream

Screaming is the most extreme pose a face can make.  It can come to a person’s face from any of the six fundamental expressions.

Exercise: Choose 3 of the six fundamental expressions.  Pose your character into a scream driven by each of these 3 emotions.

2.  Comedy and Clown

This is what cartooning is about.  Every once in a while we do this in real life, not just in animation.  The results are hilarious and delightful.


  • Lucille Ball “Vitameatavegemin”
  • Red Skelton “New Dad”
  • Pochinko Clown, “Mump and Smoot.”
  • Video:  Mump and Smoot interview.

Exercise:  From your animation of your character “Doing Nothing”, animate him/her going into two extreme emotions.


Session 9:  Ready For Your Closeup

– Final Project:  With a voice track of your choosing, animate your character with at least 20 seconds of expressive facial acting.

– Review and Critique of Final Project Exercises