Art Comics

Using FACS to create emotions

A breakdown of 64 unique movements that the muscles in your head are capable of making and how to combine them to create realistic emotions in your art.

The 64 movements a head can make

If you’ve read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics you’ve probably seen his awesome guide on how to create emotions in your art by mixing and matching six base emotions.

It’s a brilliant guide and there’s even an app now that lets you fine tune the mixtures, dial the intensity up and down, and create a simple base template to draw off. But what if you want to take things a step further? Then you need FACS.

What is FACS?

Originally developed in the 1970s by Carl-Herman Hjortsjö, FACS is the Facial Action Coding System. It’s a breakdown of 64 unique movements that the muscles in your head are capable of making. Things like puckering lips, raising eyebrows, blinking. Similarly to McCloud’s guide, it offers up a template on how to mix in these movements to create the emotion that you are looking for. And, more than that, it allows you to create any shape or action you would want a face to do. Here’s how it works.

The main movements

Inner eyebrow raise


Inner Brow Raiser

Frontalis, pars medialis

The inner part of the eyebrows raises and the forehead wrinkles

Single outer eyebrow raiser


Outer Brow Raiser (unilateral)

Frontalis, pars lateralis

The outer part of one eyebrow raises and the forehead wrinkles

Outer brow raiser


Outer Brow Raiser

Frontalis, pars lateralis

The outer part of the eyebrows raise sand the forehead wrinkles


Brow Lowerer

Depressor Glabellae, Depressor Supercilli, Currugator

The eyebrows drop and pinch inwards slightly towards the nose

Lid raiser


Upper Lid Raiser

Levator palpebrae superioris

The upper eyelid raises and the eyes widen

Cheek raiser


Cheek Raiser

Orbicularis oculi, pars orbitalis

The cheeks raise and wrinkle the eyes slightly

Lid Tighener


Lid Tightener

Orbicularis oculi, pars palpebralis

The eyelids tighten

Nose wrinkler


Nose Wrinkler

Levator labii superioris alaquae nasi

The muscles in the nose pinch around the area between the eyes and along the bridge

Upper lip raiser


Upper Lip Raiser

Levator Labii Superioris, Caput infraorbitalis

The upper lip raisers and lines appear on the cheeks beside the nose

Nose deepener


Nasolabial Deepener

Zygomatic Minor

Nostrils flare

Lip corner puller


Lip Corner Puller

Zygomatic Major

Mouth bends into a smile and lengthens

Cheek Puffer


Cheek Puffer

Levator anguli oris (Caninus)

Cheeks expand, mouth bends into a smile





Cheeks dimple and tighten at the corners of the mouth, lines appear on jawline, mouth bends into a smile

Lip depressor


Lip Corner Depressor

Depressor anguli oris (Triangularis)

Lips bend downwards into a frown

Lower lip depressor


Lower Lip Depressor

Depressor labii inferioris

Lower lip thickens

Chin Raiser


Chin Raiser


Chin becomes more defined and ridges appear on it, lips tighten and become smaller

Lip pucker


Lip Pucker

Incisivii labii superioris and Incisivii labii inferioris

Nose narrows, lips get tighter, ridges appear like a tighened purse string on the upper lip

Lip stretcher


Lip Stretcher


Lips get longer and narrower

Lip funneler


Lip Funneller

Orbicularis oris

Lips get shorter and thicken, cheek skin tightens

Lip Tightener


Lip Tightener

Orbicularis oris

Lips get thinner, cheeks get added definition

Lip Pressor


Lip Pressor

Orbicularis oris

Similar to 23, lips get thinner, cheeks get added definition

Lips part


Lip Part

Depressor Labii, Relaxation of Mentalis (AU17), Orbicularis Oris

Lips open, teeth visible

Jaw drop


Jaw Drop

Masetter; Temporal and Internal Pterygoid relaxed

Bottom jaw drops, face lengthens

Mouth Stretch


Mouth Stretch

Pterygoids, Digastric

Face gets longer, shape changes, cheeks stretch, nose widen

Lip Suck


Lip Suck

Orbicularis oris

Lips narrow and slightly pucker, lines appear around the jaw and cheeks, nose narrows

Lid Droop


Lid Droop

Relaxation of Levator Palpebrae Superioris

Upper eyelid drops and eyes narrow




Orbicularis oculi

Eyes narrow, outer edges of eyes wrinkle

Eyes closed


Eyes Closed

Orbicularis oculi

Upper lashes meet at the bottom of the eye




Orbicularis oculi, pars palpebralis

Eyes narrow, outer edges of eyes wrinkle, defined lines under the eyes, area around the temples gets more defined




Levator palpebrae superioris; Orbicularis oculi, pars palpebralis

A mix between eyes closed and squint for the closed eye

Head turn


Head turn

Muscles in the neck activate

Head lift


Head up

Muscles in the neck relax, feature lines on the face bend downwards

Head down


Head down

Neck isn’t visible, feature lines on the face bend upwards

Head tilt


Head tilt

Mucles in the neck activate, head turns slightly

Head Forward


Head forward

Muscles in the neck activate, head gets bigger

Head back


Head back

Head gets smaller, double chin

Look left


Look to side

Irises and pupils move to the side of the eye and become more elipsical than circular

Look up


Look up

Irises and pupils move to the top of the eye and become more elipsical than circular

Look down


Look down

Irises and pupils move to the bottom of the eye and become more elipsical than circular, upper eyelid closes over top part of the eye

Combining movements to create the base emotions


6 eyes on 12 face



1 eyebrows at 4 height with 15 mouth


1 eyebrows at 3 height with 5 eyes and 26 mouth



1 eyebrows at 3 height with 5 and 7 eyes and 26 mouth and 20 cheeks


4 eyebrows with 5 and 7 eyes and 23 mouth



9 nose with and 15 mouth

What next

Try creating a few of these by drawing the individual components, e.g. the eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, mouths and wrinkles, then mix and match them to create different moods and expressions.

Try creating the actions in a mirror too to get and figure out which movements you use when feeling an emotion. Do your cheeks raise when you smile? Do they dimple?

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