Nowadays you have rigging plug-ins like RubberHose and Joystick ‘n Sliders to help make your characters come to life in After Effects. Curious on how difficult it would be to make a facial rig with only the standard AE tools, I set out to make a rigging setup for a 3D looking head/face.
One of the things I found challenging was the shadow alongside the face, this shadow gives the head extra dimension. I needed it to move with the head controller, but in such a way that it would grow bigger and smaller depending on the face its position.
I decided to use 2 seperate planes, forehead and snout. Since these could move independently it made it easier to keep the curve in the shadow that indicates the form of the snout. With expressions I made them “squash and stretch” depending on the position of the head controller, to imitate the shadow moving along with the head.
For the face I put focus on the eye and mouth animation to bring the character alive.
The eyes consists out of 4 elements: pupil, shadow, flare and blink. I added a shadow and flare to give the eyes some extra dimension, which also allows for more expression. Both move together with the eye, only with a minor delay, which makes it seem they both move seperatly within the eye. The pupil has, just like the head, its own controller. This way the character can look around independently from head movement.
Blink and mouth animations are based of the same method. Both are pre-composed and each stage of movement is only 1 single frame. These are connected to a slider, with which both are controlled. Picking a slider number will bring out the illustration for that particular value. For example: the mouth consists out of 3 frames with 3 different poses, their values are 0, 1 and 2. Depending on the audio I would pick a slider value and keyframe these.