These are a few notes I wanted to bring up on eyebrows based on my own experience. It’s something I wanted to share, as I feel like eyebrows is another one of those areas that helps us sell acting better in a character. To this day I still struggle as to how much I’m using them or not. It’s a very difficult part of the face as both eyebrows and eyes two of the main areas for our character to express thoughts and emotions. I wanted to just bring up a few basic things I’ve noticed from studying old films or from my own experience animating. The drawings are pretty rough, as I wanted to mainly focus on the points.
Blocks: Brows can be treated as two blocks connected. They affect each other. Shapes should be thought as a combination of BOTH brows, not each of them separately.
Shapes: Brows & Eyes can also create SHAPES. Think of the compositional advantages this gives you. Avoid complicated shapes and think of simplicity.
Connectivity: I think of a Brow as if there is an imaginary line connecting both of them. That way, whatever on of them is doing, will affect in some way what the other one is doing. Moving just one separate eyebrow, although possible, it makes the eye area of the face somewhat disconnected.
Anatomy: It’s important to know which muscles do what. I would highly recommend going over the book by Gary Faigin on Facial Muscles, to understand what movements are caused by which muscles. That way you are not animating parts of the eyebrows for no reason. This will help riggers as well.
Volume: Brows should always keep their volume. Parts of the face can stretch, like the sides of the eyebrows. This area starts to be subjective, and up to peoples sensibilities. But I try to think of brows as muscle and skin underneath it. Muscles do stretch when being pulled.
Examples: These are some images of characters whose eyebrow work helped me on my studies from a simplicity and readability point of view.
Subtlety: This is a difficult area. The eyebrows can have really tiny almost micro movements that yet say so much about what a character is thinking. Go study clips of people thinking. A good test is to study people when they are not watching or when they are not acting as that will give you a good and more realistic idea about what muscles are being used and why.
This next example is a clip from the movie “The Green Mile” in where the character has to come up with a decision. Pay attention to all the little eyebrow movements going on. Sometimes it’s as subtle as a simple sharp little movement on the inner part of the brow.
On this next example from the film “Night on Earth”, there is a very simple brow change on the character towards the end. Simple eyebrow move that says so much about what just happened.
In the next two examples, there is limited eyebrow movement if any. In both clips it affects us differently. In the first one (Anchorman) its focus is to push the contrast therefore making the character and scene more entertaining.
The other one (Silence of the Lambs) the limited eye change or facial expressions gives us more suspense shock value based on the fact that the character is so emotionless about what he’s talking about.
Note how the director chooses specific moments in the film to switch from an objective point of view to a subjective point of view by having both actors looking straight at the camera.
I hope this helps.