Expression and Emotion in Sculpture (Sculpting Concepts) (Digital Sculpting with Mudbox)

It is expression and emotion that draws us to a sculpture, and capturing that emotion is an art, as well as a science. Psychologist Paul Eckman, one of the leading emotion researchers, created an entire process for documenting how the muscles in the face express emotion. This documentation is known as the Facial Action Coding System (FACS). In recent years, FACS has been increasingly used by many 3D modelers and animators to create lifelike emotions in digital characters. FACS measures the facial actions of expression in Action Units (AUs). Often an AU is produced by more than one facial muscle at a time. For example, a natural smile incorporates many specific facial muscles. As a result, the AUs of a smile as compared with that of a grin or grimace are very different.

To understand how much the face and the body can change during an emotional response, place both hands lightly over your face as you try to express different emotions. First, think about sadness and really feel it, become aware of what your face and body do during the emotion of sadness. You will most likely find that brows move down, your lips pout, your entire face pushes forward, but you will also notice that your shoulders will sag and your body most likely will pull into itself. Try another emotion like surprise or excitement: notice how your eyebrows raise, your eyes widen, your mouth drops open, and you will feel your shoulders will push back and chest push out. Try the same experiment, this time looking in a mirror. It is a great idea to keep a mirror by your computer when sculpting for this very reason.

Researchers have also discovered that when we watch someone expressing an emotion, it initiates empathy in us in two ways. First, our own facial muscles will often mimic the expression that we are viewing. Second, mirror neurons in our brains cause us to “feel" the observed expression. Thus, the simple act of viewing an emotion being expressed can invoke that same emotion in the viewer. Therefore, having a thorough understanding of how emotion is expressed on the face and in the body will help you produce sculptures that are more natural, attractive, and that emotionally involve the viewer.


As you have learned from this topic, successful sculpting is far more than just having the right tools or the right software. Creating unique figurative sculptures that are appealing and that engage the viewer requires a fundamental knowledge of anatomy, form, proportions, gesture, and emotion. Throughout this topic, we will continue to reference these concepts and help you learn to apply them. However, if you haven’t already, it is important that you embark on the process of mastering these important topics.

In the next topic, you will be introduced to Mudbox’s interface, tools, and workflow, and you will also attempt your first Mudbox sculpture.

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