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Expressive Skull

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Solid bone skulls that can make facial expressions

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
Stolen_Moment on Dec 6th 2017 at 8:05:07 AM
Last Edited By:
Stolen_Moment on Dec 9th 2017 at 10:25:01 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

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Despite their complete lack of skin and muscle, characters with their bare skulls for a face can express their mood with their eye sockets and jaws just as well as any other flesh and blood character.

Even though the skull is a mostly static set of bones, many creators, particularly in animation, opt to have their skeletal characters have the ability to bend and stretch their eye sockets and jaws to in order to make them seem more lively. They can furrow their eye sockets into an angry expression or widen them in surprise as if they still had eyebrows, their jaws can bend into a scowl or a big smile that ends at the cheekbones and so on, as if it's the bone that creates the facial expression and not the muscle.

Compare to Expressive Mask. See also Skull for a Head, where this trope is usually used, and Dem Bones if the rest of the body also happens to be nothing but a skeleton.


Examples

Anime and Manga

  • Brook from One Piece can emote with his eye sockets, shifting from a neutral to a battle ready angry expression frequently.

Film - Animated

  • Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas uses this, although it's questionable whether Jack is actually a skeleton or is a living creature that happens to resemble a skeleton.

Light Novel

Video Games

  • The Character Portrait for Breath of Death VII's skeletal protagonist Dem shows him with both eyebrows... er, eye sockets furrowed.
  • The skeletons from Darkest Dungeon shift from malicious looks on their skulls as they ruin your party to pained and worried expressions when they're taking hits.
  • In Discworld II, Death and other animated skeletons do occasionally exhibit the ability to contort their eyebrow area and eye sockets to show some degree of emotion, as well as being able to blink with eyelids that are apparently part of the skull. It is kept toned down though, as they generally keep a neutral expression.
  • In DragonFable, many skeletons have expressive skulls. The most prominent one is Captain Davey, an undead pirate who's eye sockets can narrow and widen.
  • T-Bone, the giant skeletal train conductor from Cup Head rises with a furious attitude, constantly shifts his eyes sockets as he searches for the player, and sports a big smug grin in his defeat card if he successfully kills the player.
  • Heroes of the Storm featured a downplayed example of this trope during the reveal trailer for Kel'thuzad. Blizzard Entertainment went with an Animesque style of animation rather than a more traditional one. This included Kel'Thuzad making his Glowing Eyelights of Undeath squint and his face contort in an evil grin.
  • Papyrus from Undertale has eye sockets that bend around on his face as he lacks the glowing eyes that his brother Sans has, which can even grow eyeballs in their place if he gets particularly frustrated/goofy. The brothers also have mouths that are permanently stuck in joyous, cheek-to-cheek grins befitting their personalities.

Web Animation

  • Lewis from Mystery Skulls Animated typically looks angry (and he usually is) with his eye sockets, though on occasion they relax into more somber moods.

Web Comic

  • Xykon of The Order of the Stick is a lich and his skull is surprisingly expressive, even if it can't do an Evil Laugh. Of course, the rest of his body is also moving more than a normal skeleton.

Western Animation

  • In The Book of Life, the residents of The Land of the Dead are depicted as skeletons whose faces are almost no different than the faces of living people, aside from being made of bone, having empty sockets with glowing pupils, and having no nose. As such, the undead have exactly the same range of emotion as the living. Possibly justified, seeing how the story is being told using wooden puppets.
  • In Coco, the spirits of the dead appear as skeletons, but they can contort their mouths and eye sockets to make expressions. It helps that they have eyeballs. Justified by the fact that they're spirits, who obviously do not conform to logic of the human world.
  • Atomic Skull and Blight from the DC Animated Universe both have skulls for heads, which tend to be just about as expressive as every other villain.
  • Grim from The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy uses this to downright silly degrees, even forming lips with the rims of his teeth/jaws at some points.
  • Skeletor of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is usually stuck with a permanent angry expression over his eye sockets, but occasionally he can show other expressions beyond anger, and in one rare case, even form a warm smile.
  • A Real Magic Skeleton from OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes has the "eyesockets as eyebrows" variant, though sometimes he'll just be given actual eyebrows. His mouth also makes a half zero, which stretches and compresses depending on his mood.
  • Lord Hater from Wander over Yonder is a large green eyed skeleton in robes, and yet he's just as fluently animated as the rest of the cast.

Feedback: 26 replies

Dec 6th 2017 at 8:53:08 AM

Grim from The Grim Adventure Of Billy And Mandy is a skeleton and his skull is capable of emotions.

Dec 6th 2017 at 9:44:31 AM

"Sprightly Skull" sounds like a skull that hops around. Expressive Skull works better.

Contrast Frozen Face.

Dec 6th 2017 at 9:46:49 AM

^Alliteration, although the trope is more about expressions than it is about being lively.

  • In Coco, the spirits of the dead appear as skeletons, but they can contort their mouths and eye sockets to make expressions. It helps that they have eyeballs. Justified by the fact that they're spirits, who obviously do not conform to logic of the human world.

Dec 6th 2017 at 9:50:41 AM

I was going to use Expressive Skull but figured that it might be a bit snowclone-ish to Expressive Mask, Expressive Accessory and Expressive Shirt. If it's alright to add in another Expressive X though, then great idea.

Dec 6th 2017 at 11:10:40 AM

^^ The issue with snowclones is names that require knowledge of other tropes to make sense. The "Expressive X" pages still make perfect sense in a vacuum.

Dec 6th 2017 at 12:53:12 PM

^Thanks for the clarification, I do feel silly now though. Will probably keep brainstorming for a descriptive and fitting alliteration if possible, but right now Expressive Skull sounds like the best option

Dec 6th 2017 at 1:46:54 PM

This right here is DEFINITELY a trope. Added my hat!

Dec 6th 2017 at 7:41:07 PM

  • Xykon of The Order Of The Stick is a Lich and his skull is surprisingly expressive, even if it can't do an Evil Laugh. Of course, the rest of his body is also moving more than a normal skeleton.

Dec 6th 2017 at 8:59:49 PM

  • A Real Magic Skeleton from OKKO Lets Be Heroes has the "eyesockets as eyebrows" variant, though sometimes he'll just be given actual eyebrows. His mouth also makes a half zero, which stretches and compresses depending on his mood.

Dec 7th 2017 at 1:23:22 AM

  • In Discworld II, Death and other animated skeletons do occasionally exhibit the ability to contort their eyebrow area and eye sockets to show some degree of emotion, as well as being able to blink with eyelids that are apparently part of the skull. It is kept toned down though, as they generally keep a neutral expression.

Dec 7th 2017 at 1:30:53 AM

Heroes Of The Storm featured a downplayed example of this trope during the reveal trailer for Kel'thuzad. Blizzard Entertainment went with an Animesque style of animation rather than a more traditional one. This included Kel'Thuzad making his Glowing Eyes Of Undeath squint and his face contort in an evil grin.

Dec 7th 2017 at 9:57:55 AM

  • In The Book Of Life, the residents of The Land of the Dead are depicted as skeletons whose faces are almost no different than the faces of living people, aside from being made of bone, having empty sockets with glowing pupils, and having no nose. As such, the undead have exactly the same range of emotion as the living. Possibly justified, seeing how the story is being told using wooden puppets.

Dec 7th 2017 at 11:16:52 AM

  • Undertale Skeleton brothers Sans and Papyrus have skulls that carry expressions in them, with Papyrus ranging from excitement to annoyance from his brother's delivery of puns, and Sans' being a Perpetual Smiler even in dire situations.

Dec 7th 2017 at 11:52:34 AM

Dec 7th 2017 at 12:25:47 PM

Fan Works

Dec 7th 2017 at 12:51:19 PM

For the Nightmare Before Christmas example, note that Jack's appearance is very intentionally heavily stylized. Considering that the movie is Stop Motion, it probably would have been easier to just give him a more realistic skull, but since the creators were largely Doing It For The Art, they intentionally made him more flexible to make his character more dynamic.

Dec 7th 2017 at 3:10:24 PM

I think this draft is strong to launch

Dec 7th 2017 at 3:38:04 PM

^^ Yeah you have a point, Jacks skull always did strike me as something a little on the beefy side but calling it a stylized skull is fair enough

^ Hopefully, feel free to shoot some ideas for quotes, page images/captions and more examples though. I like Grims face here since it's what came into my head the most when I imagined this trope in action, but maybe you guys can think of a good alternative.

Dec 7th 2017 at 9:08:06 PM

Dec 7th 2017 at 9:16:45 PM

We need to move the Video Game section to before Web Animation before we can launch. V doesn't go after W.

Dec 8th 2017 at 1:49:42 AM

  • Examples section
    • Added a line separating the Description and Examples section.
    • Added the word "Examples".
    • Changed media section titles as per Media Categories.
    • Namespaced work names.
    • Italicized work names as per How To Write An Example - Emphasis For Work Names.
    • De-capitalized (Lich).
    • Alphabetized media sections.

Dec 8th 2017 at 2:40:32 PM

  • In Dragon Fable, many skeletons have expressive skulls. The most prominent one is Captain Davey, an undead pirate who's eye sockets can narrow and widen.

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