Animators need to be able to act and understand body language in order to produce convincing results in their animated characters. I have always enjoyed observing people and analyzing what motivates a certain reaction in someone. Many of the gestures we produce are culture-specific (such as the "thumbs-up," which is an expression of approval in the U.S. and traditionally known as an obscenity in the Middle East). But research shows that there are other ways in which we express our emotions universally. This is an indication that expressions, like smiling, are innate and are not learned from our environment.
Dr. Paul Ekman conducted research on the universal emotions: joy, anger, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, and contempt. According to Ekman and his Facial Action Coding System, humans can produce up to 10,000 different facial expressions by using various combinations of our 40 facial muscles! Ooh-de-lally!
Here is a video in which Ekman shows examples of different emotions and explains his research:
Here Ekman analyzes Kato Kaylin's testamony in the O.J. Simpson Trial:
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