Storyboarding Facial Expressions for People Who Can’t Draw

For your shooting storyboards, whether you draw your own or use the free and awesome Storyboarder program, would it nice to add some expressions? I’m going to show you how using some tips from the cartooning world. 
In my storyboarding video, I mention the importance of expressions to help convey the emotion of what you would like to show visually. 
For me, storyboards are not only an aid for the framing of people and objects, but also what emotionally do I need to convey for an edit to work. In the end, it’s all about the edit. period
If you’re not used to drawing or drawing expressions, no problem, you’ll find it’s actually easier then you think.
Think of it as a kids character flip book where they swap out facial features to create characters, but here you swap out the different elements that make up expressions: the eyebrow, eyes, and mouth.

A Fun Drawing Exercise
Here’s a fun exercise to you can do.
Draw a long circle for a face, circles for eyes about 1/3 from the top, dots for eyeballs, and nose if you want.
Then repeat this in a grid.
Now for the first row, I’ll draw in eyebrows that are just lines above the eyes
Next, I’ll add a short line for a closed mouth.
Next, a small o for slightly opened
then a U for a smile
Now an upside U for a frown
You can see how the expressions change just by using a different mouth shape
For the next row, we’ll do the same thing but with the eyebrows wider
Now the eyebrows are down almost in a V
We can open the mouth into a frown, square it with a line for clenched teeth, curve the bottom, or turned up.
You can see how the combination of different eyebrows and mouths give you different expressions that we can label such as happy, sad, shocked, and angry.

Change the Eyes
We can do even more by changing the eyes: half closed, to the side, closed, rolled up.
Even though this looks easy, there is some work to it and practice. Now when you start, you may get frustrated and trust me I know, you’re just not seeing it because we’ve edited it out. My finger hurts from hitting undo 100 times.
So don’t get discouraged. 
Now, these expressions have been straight on, looking at the camera. Let's add these to a 3/4 view of a character.

Using Storyboarder
I’m going to use the reference layer in Storyboarder, a free and awesome program and draw right onto it. What’s nice are the reference lines for the face. A vertical line of the nose, which I’ll put between the top and bottom of the ear and horizontal line for the eye. I’ll draw two ovals for the eyes on that line.
The mouth I’ll need to angle slightly. It takes a little practice.
For a profile, one eye on that line, nose, and the mouth I’ll draw half of.
There are a lot of facial expression examples online to use as a reference and I’ll list some in the description. Many are meant for cartoonists and a bit extreme at times. But you can study this and save them for reference.
Another great resource that goes into great detail on expressions is a chapter in Scott McCloud’s book "Making Comics," the third book in his Comics series. While you’re at it, get his groundbreaking book "Understanding Comics." It’s a great study of the comic medium which has similarities to filmmaking. Any visual medium outside of filmmaking is great to study and to be inspired by.

“Right Place, Right Time”
by Silent Partner from YouTube Audio Library

“The Big Score”
By MK2 from YouTube Audio Library

“Comparsa - Latinesque” Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (

Woman Voice The Wine is Quite Delightful - Posh Woman by MadamVicious

Our Amazon Affiliate Store

Affiliate Links
Making Comics by Scott McCloud

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

Links to Expression Resources
Darkspeeds on Deviantart

Facial Expressions by Norm Grock

Cartoon-ish facial expressions by existtraiesc

Facial Expressions by the Etherington Brothers