PowerPoint People – Expressions, etc.

This series has been about creating characters to illustrate our marketing and sales stories. In the first post, I showed you how simple figures can be constructed and “posed” to represent a surprising range of situations. The second post added costumes and other features to create individual characters. This post will show you how simple facial features and other tricks can put your characters in recognizable emotional situations.

Here’s Mike with the elements of his face selected:


The brows, nose, mouth and profile ear are Arcs; the eyes are Ovals and the front view ears are Rounded Rectangles. Notice that the eyes and brows are foreshortened in the profile. The line width is consistent with the rest of the features. In some of the expressions (later), these shapes are changed.

Following the theme of this series, I have kept the face very simple. Yet, as you will see, a surprising range of expressions can be created with these simple elements.

I could have drawn the eyes as white-filled ovals with a “dot.”  Although this would offer additional expressiveness, I decided to keep it simple. You may want to experiment with the eyes.

Here’s Millie:


This are the same elements as in Mike’s face except the nose is a little smaller. The mouth is red (Millie’s personality seems to have crept in).

You may not like the way that the brows collide with the hair. This is not unusual in comics; the brows may leave the face entirely. You can fix this if you want to by re-designing the hair.

You can search the internet (cartoon/comics faces/expressions) to find examples and various styles of faces registering emotions. Use these for tips and inspiration.

In our case, expressions are formed by simply manipulating the brows, eyes and mouth. Here’s Mike with a range of expressions from smile, to grin, to laughter:

exp3The smile is the original face. The grin opens the mouth and raises the brows. The laughing face is created mostly by the brows and eyes (angled lines) although the mouth is more open. In general, more intense expressions use the brows and eyes in a similar way.

In examples from other sources, you may find additional facial features (“frown lines,” forehead wrinkles and such). For simplicity, I’ve not used these but you may want to experiment with them.

Here’re examples of sadness:

exp4The first sad expression modifies the brows to extend down the side of the face (I don’t know why this works) and the downturned mouth. The brows and closed eyes along with a more downturned mouth create a sense of despair.

Here’s Millie in two stages of surprise:

exp5Raised brows and the rounded mouth provide a surprised look. The bigger mouth and straight angled brows create a more concerned expression

Here’s a couple of angry expressions; the compressed eyes and squarish open mouth transform irritation into fury:

exp6Here, mismatched elements signal confusion while angry eyes and a wide grin create a vengeful expression:

exp7Over the years, comic strip artists (a vanishing breed) developed a vocabulary of symbols representing emotional states and other aspects. In 1980, cartoonist Mort Walker cataloged (and whimsically named) these objects (“symbolia”) in The Lexicon of Comicana. Remarkably, these symbols are almost universally understood and can be used to signal or emphasize emotions. Here’re some examples:

exp9Sweat droplets (“plewds”) indicate effort or stress. The wavy line (“indotherm”) suggests heat or anger. The light bulb (with “emenata”) represents an idea and the starry objects (“squeans”) show intoxication.

Comic artists also use symbolic content in speech balloons:

exp10The question mark indicates confusion or uncertainty. The thought balloon can show a character’s preoccupation, in this case, with money. The typographical symbols (“grawlixes”) represent profanity. The balloons are built-in PowerPoint shapes (Callouts).

Of course, the payoff for all of this is to combine poses, expressions and “symbolia” to create characters actively participating in our stories; here are some examples.

exp11The running figure includes horizontal lines indicating speed (“hites”); the construction worker includes “swalloops.”

By the way, adding faces to the figures makes the addition of facial hair, glasses and earrings feasible for a little more diversity:exp12If you would like a free copy of a PowerPoint file containing these objects, please use this form:


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