This will be a shorter post than that on Vanilla Blinks, not because there’s less to say, but because there’s too much. As we saw, there’s a lot of quantifiable information about the generic, spontaneous blinks that we do all the time. Imagine how much could be written about variations on standard blinks!
But instead of trying to write a book, I’m going to point a few things out, post some samples, and leave it to the reader to study the varieties of blink types is the rich reference material we’re surrounded by every day (like, real life, movies, TV, etc.).
There are three basic blink categories: spontaneous, voluntary, and reflex. Hopefully those categories are self-explanatory. Eye Movements 4 was about spontaneous blinks, but regardless of their type, all blinks exhibit a similar pattern. For example, the upper lid accounts for virtually all of the closure, and the closing phase is always much faster than the opening phase. The overall duration of a blink is also very similar among all three types, though spontaneous blinks tend to last slightly longer.
It’s really in the pattern of blinks and in blink variants that we see real variety. By ‘blink variants’ I refer to half blinks, eye lid fluttering, twitches, rapid successions of blinks, and so on. Just as an absence of blinks can show someone is concentrating or angry, the pattern of blinks and blink variants can speak volumes about our character’s internal states. Take this example, from Truffaut’s wonderful The 400 Blows:
This is a large chunk of a beautifully acted conversation between young Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and his mother (Claire Maurier). (SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to know a key plot point, skip the rest of this paragraph.) Briefly, Antoine has seen his mother with another man. Mother and son have a poor relationship; she never wanted him and mostly ignores him. Now, in an effort to make a pact with him not to say anything to his step-father, she tries to connect with him, and bribe him with the implied promise that she’ll be a bigger part of his life.
Watch the difference in blink rates between the two characters. You don’t need to know the story to know who is anxious and who is skeptical. Nor is it difficult to judge the internal state of the mother, as she gains, then loses, confidence in her little speech. Just watch her eyelids.
I first really noticed this scene when I was rewatching the film with the sound off and while ignoring the subtitles. It amazed me how many blinks and flutters and half-blinks Maurier packs into several of her phrases. It occurred to me that if an animator tried this, they’d be shot down in a, well, in the blink of an eye! Which is a shame, because this is rich territory. Imagine how dead this series of shots would be, being two talking heads, without the contrast in the two character’s eyes, without the huge variety in the rhythm and variety of blinks.
What I don’t see in these shots is much that can be broken down into rules, beyond the ones I described in the last Eye Movement’s post. I think it’s more useful to just study and notice what goes on. Try step framing through this sequence once or twice.
I could easily analyze these shots for hours, there’s so much to see. What’s great is that it’s easy to find similarly excellent scenes where skilled actors reveal themselves in with their eye darts and blinking. Go pick some of your favorite scenes and look just at the eyes, and you’ll see what I mean. Then try to sneak some of that subtlety and nuance into your own animation.