Best I can tell, faces seem to do 90% of the acting when it comes to animation. Now, there's a good chance I may have just let slip a revealing nugget of naivety by saying that - possibly more learned and scholarly animators would opine that I'm completely wrong. As I'm still taking baby steps when it comes to this animation malarky I'll stand by that for now.
In real life, faces are generally one of the most interesting things to observe. I've inevitably been attracted to women who have been facially interesting rather than what television shows and magazines deem to be attractive. Conventionally 'beautiful' women seem, bizarrely, kinda boring to me - everything's all there, in the right place, no effort required. True physical beauty to me lies in a face that can be explored, imbibed, appreciated in its own right. Until they tell you to stop staring, or reach for the mace.
I get why they're 'hot', it's just hard to muster up any enthusiasm...
...now these faces are full of character, which to me is 1000 times more endearing.
To draw an analogy, think of popular music. You hear a song on the radio, it's been composed to meet all the requirements of 'good' music, and its appeal lasts just long enough for you to buy the single, after which you quickly realise it's horseshit. Hence the financial success of Britney. Now think of some of your favourite songs, the ones quite personal to you that you can listen to a billion times over and never get bored. When you first heard these I'd imagine they didn't instantly gratify you, and that your fondness for them is a consequence of having them grow on you over time. The shared factor is substance, the key ingredient to staying power.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, fair enough. I'm not sure many people's brains are wired the same way as mine. Kinda works out for me as I'm a tubby fucker so I have a better chance with the weird-looking gals anyway.
A great cartoonist and animator Eddie Fitzgerald wrote on his blog about his own fascination for observing and studying faces in the context of what defines 'ugly' - I'd recommend it as a read.
Uncle Eddie's Theory Corner!: How many ugly girls are out there?
When thinking in terms of cartoons, I've similarly found that the most visually appealing faces are the ones which allow for more expression. Combined with good voice acting, this is what can really allow you to suspend your disbelief and invest yourself in the plight of a character whose existence comes down to just a series of drawings. Chuck Jones nailed this, as has John Kricfalusi - in fact, any animator worth his or her salt can pull this off well.
Me, well, I'm still learning. I find there's often some ambiguity about which emotions I'm trying to convey when doing facial acting, but it's gradually improving. Looking at the concept art, the early Duck design was completely devoid of expression, and as such a more typical 'zombie'. The more I developed the script and, subsequently, the storyboard, I wanted the character to have...well, character. With some modification of the design (chiefly through clearing up his remaining eye) I worked out a way to make him more expressive. Looking at stills from the film as it comes together I think the progress is encouraging.
There's not really much you can glean from this blank expression.
Hopefully with these you get a better idea of what mood or thought process is being conveyed.
Here are some animated expression changes in line-test and full-colour form:
In this shot, we have two states of expression. Firstly a pained wince as the top of his head is blown off, then his aghast reaction when he realises he's missing a scalp. What I was hoping to depict was not pain (as a zombie I don't think he'd feel it) but rather frustration at his further disfigurement.
A little later on a mounted gun falls from the wall, which the Duck catches. This transition - from confusion as to what has just occurred to sadistic pleasure when he realises he now has the upper hand - is a somewhat amateurish homage to the evil grin typical of Chuck Jones's characters such as Daffy Duck, Wil E. Coyote and The Grinch.
Lastly, this is a quick reaction shot when he registers that the gun he's just attempted to fire isn't loaded. I wanted this to be a mortified combination of panic and embarrassment.
In a way, the shots in which all we see are facial expressions can be the most fun to do. Later on I'll go through some of the human characters in the film - meanwhile I'll sign off with probably my favourite face in the acting world right now.
I actually sat through the 'Wicker Man' remake because she was in it. That's a true fan.