Animation is on a very strict timeframe almost all of the time. It's a massive chore trying to get the main characters, their backgrounds, and their actions drawn and colored. One can forgive the animators for skimping on the unnecessary bits... like nine-tenths of the population of the show.
The extras in a scene tend to be ridiculously less detailed than all the other characters, if detailed at all. Expect them to lack certain items like facial features, outlines, or limbs. Occasionally, their faces may be Henohenomoheji.
But who cares? They're just there to keep the world from feeling deserted.
This is an Animation Trope, but tends to be more noticeable in anime. Contrast with Eccentric Townsfolk, where they all get at least one quirk, or Cast of Snowflakes, where even one-shot extras get detailed faces.
Should not be confused with The Faceless, nor with Faceless Goons.
Can very easily be creepy (especially if depicted side-by-side with fully detailed characters), although savvy animators will take advantage of this depending on the mood of the show.
This item is available in the Trope Co. catalog.
The background characters would randomly turn into simple white figures. Played with in a brief scene where you actually see two of them talking to each other (kind of creepy actually).
Sakaki and Kagura walk past some faceless club recruiters... and are then followed by a massive crowd of them.
At the end of first year, Yukari announced that the entire class may move up to second year. Cue the dancing outlines!
Several classroom scenes take a less uncanny, yet still budget route by replacing the students, when not the main focus of a scene, with brightly-colored cloud-like shapes.
Kare Kano did this frequently, where extras were often drawn as white silhouettes.
Parodied in Pani Poni Dash!, where nearly all the non-regular characters had obvious identical female or male designs. Or hilariously inhuman, such as a classroom of non-regulars all having flower pots for heads, or a classroom largely made up of scarecrows. To make that even more extreme they are refereed as "the rest of class" during introduction.
Cromartie High Schoolhangs a lampshade on this somewhat in one episode, where two characters who only show up for that episode and talk to the main character are drawn with as little detail as to look less like drawn characters and more like poorly constructed paper-cutouts.
The Wallflower uses this extensively - the bishonen boys' adoring masses at the school look like a multi-armed,multi-headed cardboard cut-out. Later episodes do this on the main characters as well - to be fair, the manga it's based on does this too.
Particularly common and pronounced in Atashin'chi, where even in close-up shots extras are gray, ghost-like blobs.
Pucca spoofs this trope by having the extras be pink and blue smiley gum-drop people. The series proper has a large cast of extras and no real need for them, but they're used for comedy nonetheless.
Also seen in Lucky Star. However, the "faceless-ness" of background characters vary between episodes, from humanoid-shaped blobs in earlier episodes, to outlines of people with hair, and occasional facial features. Leads to jarring effects when Stock Footage of earlier episodes is used in later ones. The most jarring part of this trope's appearance in Lucky Star is that the extras never move an inch, even when they're in the foreground. Sometimes background characters are drawn in complete detail, but are tinted blue to make the main characters stand out.
The second season of Minami-ke, produced by a different studio, replaces the skin colouring and anatomy of previously fully-animated◊ extras with silhouettes... even in closeup. Every character that didn't have a speaking part in the first series is now a black/darkened outline with hair and clothes, facial features added as required◊. Quite disconcerting◊. As the series got closer to the end, there seemed to be more drawn-in extras than black shadow, but still, what the heck?
Background characters in Mononoke are literally faceless. The exact specifics depend on the arc, but they'll have clothes, weird skin tones, and usually something... abstract instead of a face.
Zashiki-Warashi: While the background characters have hair and clothing, their skin is blank white or black with spinning flower motifs. This is especially unsettling when they are being intimate with normal-looking characters.
Noppera-bo: The abusive in-laws' faces are never shown on camera; if one of their heads is shown, the face is covered with a demonic mask.
Bakeneko: Anyone who isn't connected with the bakeneko's revenge is a half-dressed mannequinduring any action that takes place in the bakeneko's illusion or in a flashback. Again, it's very strange to see a normal, non-insane woman in bed with a blank-faced mannequin. And one person even turns from a mannequin into one of the main characters. Was that supposed to represent us realizing he was important!?
The backgound and foreground attendees of the Komiket-esque convention in the Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei anime are depicted as paper cut-outs on sticks. Not to mention that the background characters are often deliberately faceless, with a Katakana/Kanji character instead of an actual drawn face.
Sailor Moon uses this very noticeably in episodes where there is an audience of some sort. Due to the fact that the setting in this case is a darkened theater/auditorium, the Faceless Masses are depicted as shadowy silhouettes...but they also have weird white stereotypically-alien-like eyes. Rather scary, actually.
Many notable Shōnen titles that involve battling with an audience does this, such as Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh!. Pokémon is especially notorious for this as seen in details of the opening in the Latias & Latios movie in which most of the crowds on the stands were just a bunch of colorful blob-like beings... in 3D.
Doujin Work has a minor example: crowds are not faceless, but monochrome.
During the first episode of Axis Powers Hetalia where all of the nation-tans are gathered in a meeting, at most two characters are rendered. All the rest around the table are like this.
This was used for Morisato Keiichi's "dorm eviction" scene in the second TV episode of Ah! My Goddess.
Fushigi Yuugi had faceless blue people in the background in the beginning of the series, and in episode 4, all of the people clamoring to get to Miaka and Tamahome were in blue, save for two people. Near the end of the series, look-alikes of Soi and Yui appear in the crowd.
In the ARIA manga there is a variety in that extras usually still are have distinctive features, but that other Prima undines aside from the three main ones are drawn without faces.
In the Xxx HO Li C anime, everyone who isn't important is nothing more than a gray silhouette. Occasionally the silhouettes will have basic facial features, but not always. Turns out that this is very important to the plot, as Watanuki later realizes that he cannot remember the faces of anyone besides the main characters and Yuuko's customers.
In Detective Conan/Case Closed, when someone is suspiciously eavesdropping on a conversation (or whatever) and we don't know who it is, they are just a black silhouette with an utterly bald, mannequin-like head. (The eyes are still shown, though, and they're often bloodshot psychotically.) Very Uncanny Valley, and it makes the criminals seem even more inhuman. Ooh, philosophical.
At one point in the opening theme of HeartCatch Pretty Cure!, Tsubomi and Erika are chased by some formless, keyhole-shaped people. Itsuki, Kanae, Nanami and a random background student are the only ones with definite shapes, but the last two become formless by the next shot.
Durarara!! features gray, unmoving masses. When someone in a crowd becomes important, they become colored-in. This makes for a Crowning Moment of Awesome in Episode 11, when a wave of color washes over a crowd of hundreds as they are revealed to be Dollars members.
Saiyuki's mangaka has a tendency to use variation on Faceless Masses where, while they having detailed costumes and mouths, has no visible eyes other than a vague shadow. All background characters and mooks would have this, even if the panel focuses on their face.
The Lilpri anime abuses this trope. Several mass gathering scenes are full of white or blue people blobs.
Noted in the Author's Notes in the Mahou Sensei Negima! manga, where he specifically points out what background elements were added digitally, and that digitally empty blobs in the background make a scene look crowded with much less time per drawn person, enabling much larger crowds.
In Keroro Gunsou this is parodied/lampshaded with the Mob alien race, who gather in large ominous crowds.
Trapeze, by the same director as Mononoke (mentioned above), also takes a very weird approach with faceless masses. Most of the minor background characters are depicted as literal cardboard cutouts, two-dimensional outlines that move by flailing around. There's even a scene where the cutouts turn into "normal" characters one by one, by paying attention to the protagonist.
In Mawaru-Penguindrum, the Faceless Masses take the form of the stylised figures commonly seen in road signs and public service announcements
Used terrifyingly in Sister Princess Repure when any character not a sister or Wataru is shown without a face, even close up! The chef teaching Shirayuki how to cook is especially frightening.
Used a lot in Soul Eater. It's especially noticeable in dramatic scenes, where the main characters are all surrounded by a crowd of completely still, colorless students with no faces.
Antony Gormley's Field.
The Korean animated series Koongya Koongya uses it on crowd scenes, although subverted if the shot focuses on the crowd.
Beautifully (and horrifyingly) subverted in the Green LanternCrisis CrossoverBlackest Night: the combined hordes of the Black Lantern Corps (often a million strong) are all carefully detailed when they could simply have been a blob of black ink with only a few personalities at the foreground. So, too, are the Big Damn Heroes when they show up.
Happens a lot in Marvel and DC comics, especially their second-string ones. When combined with sloppy coloring in general it sometimes became a problem.
The Smurfs are a good example of this trope, since most of them are identical to each other in appearance. In both the comic books and the cartoon show, it's a good way for the creators to bring in a character who becomes prominent for a while and then easily write him out.
This leads into the song "Just Like Their Names" in The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, where Papa Smurf sings that that's the only way they could be told apart from each other.
Frequently used by Juffs in her The Lion King fancomic The Untold Journey. Any character in the background or out in the distance will be drawn without eyes.
Films — Animation
While not faceless or detailless, the background audience in the film Space Jam is very cardboard. Even the reactions look more like pictures of the characters being waved than any actual real motion. And it's rather suspicious to see three Penelope Pussycats in one shot that's outside of Pepe Le Pew's fantasies.
Averted in a rather clunky manner in the Coliseum scene of the second BIONICLEDTV movie, Legends of Metru Nui. The audience is visibly made up of individual, generic Matoran, but they are just 2D renders of 3D animations (and of varying sizes at that) pasted over each other. When the camera ventures close, the Special Effect Failure becomes evident, as some of those Matoran are huge, even if they're standing in the back.
Films — Live-Action
Live-action example: In the scale model shots from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace's podrace, the crowd is played by rows of Q-tips with dots of paint on the heads.
Live Action TV
House: While House is under hypnosis in the episode "House's Head", he remembers a bar, and looks out at the patrons but sees only a faceless crowd. After he focuses, the crowd doesn't come up again.
Used with good reason many times in 1982's Pink Floyd: The Wall. The faceless masses are represented as people wearing simple "pink masks", foam faces with two gaping eyes and a screaming mouth. It represents mindless conformity or some such.
This used to be a common trope in sport video games. The reason there was quite understandable: there's only so much memory on a cartridge/CD, and nobody could fault the programmers for spending it on the main action and leaving the crowd as a bunch of cardboard cutouts (or just a flat texture which, more often than not, looked kinda like a pizza that someone stepped on). With the latest systems, however, this is no longer the case, and thus crowd animation is part of the criteria by which sports games are judged.
Kingdom Hearts II is even worse than this trope. Background characters are often not depicted at all, to the point where we hear cheering coming from empty stands in the Olympus Colosseum. Not to mention that we never see the majority of the population of Destiny Island.
Touch Detective has them wearing really creepy Scream-like masks. Later subverted in the sequel, where while still Faceless Masses, they had a (flat) character and even (gasp!) names.
Even though they're all just randomizations of a couple of character models, the Spider-Man 2 game manages to avert this trope by having the hapless citizens of New York be fully colored, wander the city realistically, and react to Spidey; with one exception. During the "sports event" with Quentin Beck, the people in the stands are just cardboard cutouts. Heavily Lampshaded when you have Spidey crawl on the fake audience, and he says: "Even the audience is fake! Beck's the real phoney here."
Played completely straight in Phantasy Star Universe. The city areas are filled in with randomized wandering crowds. These crowds are composed of the generic male and female player models, load in only dull pinkish and bluish hues, and evaporate if you get close. Spooky.
Wario Ware: Smooth Moves has Young Cricket cut in line at a dumpling stand by dashing across the heads of the generic silhouette patrons. Once he realizes how upset they were, he apologizes and dashes back across their heads so he can wait at the back of the line.
Occurs in Dragon Age II with the citizenry of Kirkwall, as many of the citizens have an "unfinished" look to them. Granted, there are also many background NPCs who do look like people; the distinction is that they speak, or wander around.
You could always tell when someone was going to be important in Wadanohara because they actually had a face. Most of the NPCs don't.
Very prominent in RWBY, where all non-important characters are black silhouettes. Important characters tend to be given models an episode or two before they're properly introduced.
Similarly, when X is talking to Cheesecake; "Just you and me ... and Mr Sakanabana, Myrtle Ploot, Tsugumi's mom, and The Other Million or so Gay People in the Area." The latter are combined into a multi-headed mass very similar to the girls of the class.
Also, one of the earlier storylines completely wiped out all "the boys of the class", complete with a "memorial" panel; "In death you save me from having to draw you anymore."
No character in Gunnerkrigg Court is immune to this effect. When seen from a distance, even the main characters, standing alone, will be shown with Blank White Eyes (and possibly a single line for the mouth). From further away, their face will be completely blank. Crowds are generally monochromatic (and the adults are shown with rectangular, neckless heads), with just enough detail that the reader can pick out the familiar characters in the crowd. This is often used to effect, with a character's level of detail changing in accordance to how central they are to ongoing events, even while their distance to the camera remains constant. Sometimes isolatedcolor is used to make faraway characters stand out from a group. There are even certain instances of characters going "background" while still central to the frame, illustrating feelings of alienation.
Not A Villain uses these during most crowd scenes. The author affectionately calls them Blobs and has a lot of fun with the Blobs' ambition to get a face/name/persona in the vote incentives. One even managed to become a character thanks to fan input.
Most background characters in Misfile are fully drawn, but during Emily's date the artist got some ghost jokes for this scene.
In the improvised round-robin comic Ito, people the protagonists consider to be irrelevant are rendered as vegetables◊; one page later◊, they become victims to this effect as well while trying to charm a young girl into joining their (all male) drama club.
Notably averted in Concession. The author uses a "random character generator" to assign a species, gender, sexuality, and religion to each one of the extras (usually customers at the titlular concession stand), and writes a detailed backstory for them that's found at the bottom of the page. A few of the randomly generated characters have become minor or even major characters, most notably Camp Gay skunk Nicole.
Ménage ŕ 3 all but resorts to stick figures for crowds of audience members, though they get expressions... it's actually (deliberately) hilarious. You'd... uh, have to see it.
Somewhat justified in Shadownova: the crowd's lack of features is a representation of how Iris sees them.
Elan: Excuse me, huddled masses! Pardon me! PC coming through! PC coming—
Gamer Chicks had a hilariously blatant instance of this which actually became a short-lived meme, with the main character coming into the Gamestop/equivalent store where she worked, her white shirt soaked from the rain outside. What was meant to convey a crowd of people staring at her chest looked like a giant block of Cartoon Cheese shooting lasers.
Looney Tunes. Ever notice the people in the audience at major events are just fuzzy blobs?
Exception: In its early episodes, The Simpsons drew notice for being among the few animated series to actually draw each extra in the background. In later episodes, when the show had over a hundred recurring characters, the extras became unnecessary, and the animators filled out crowd scenes with fully-drawn recurrers. However, despite the level of detail displayed by extras, the background crowds were almost exclusively immobile, often to ridiculous degrees (such as figures shown frozen in the act of talking or shouting), although this was less prominent in later episodes. They also occasionally used extra that didn't make sense being there (for example, Maude was used in backgrounds several years after she died).
This is even more strongly averted in its Spiritual SuccessorFuturama, which uses computer animated (but still Simpsons-style) footage. The commentaries for one of the DVD releases states that the software they use can automatically draw a crowd of random characters for them.
Another American cartoon exception is Avatar: The Last Airbender, in which the people in the background are always drawn fully-colored, though again, not always animated.
A computer animation variant: In War Planets, the entire population of one planet, Planet Rock — apart from the royal family, who are main characters — wear identical suits of armor that conceal all distinguishing features. This was particularly obvious in a Story Arc in which the king abdicates; the new king, since he wasn't going to hang around long enough to make it worth creating a new character design, was depicted by another instance of the same anonymous armor.
Somewhat averted in Clone High; while traditional Faceless Masses are often used, recognizable historical figures are nearly always mixed in among them.
The first season filled out the ranks of the Autobots and Decepticons with extras who were generally other characters recoloured (such as Reflector and the Seekers). One of these, Sunstorm, later became an Ascended Extra, gaining toys and important roles in the fiction along the way.
In the later seasons of Ed, Edd n Eddy when they went to school at any sporting event the crowd members were just silhouettes.
Similar to The Simpsons, Family Guy had stiff moving and poorly detailed extra characters used as filler for large crowds. As the series went on and had better animations, the extras became more detailed and fluid.
Peter lampshades the trope in one episode where he tells Lois how only half of the people at their church move and the other half do not while some of them barely even blink.