Better to do shape keys or bone animation

Hi everyone,

I’m new to this stuff and I’m playing around with character animation at the moment and I started to wonder what are best practices with animation especially with facial expression.
Almost all of the tutorials I have done so far use shape keys to do lipsyncing and facial expression (except for eye tracking).
Looking through the threads here I see lots of people using complex rigs to do the same thing using bones (at least I assume that is what they are doing). So my question basically is what are the advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches and what would you recommend as a best practice.


well, an increasingly common method is to use bones to drive shape keys, so actually using both together. Check out the mancandy rig for and example, moving the bones near the face drives shape keys on the face.

actually, thats probably what you’ve seen with the rigs that “use” bones.

the wiki has more information

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shape keys can be faster to get started with and to animate, but bone rigs are more flexible (you basically sculpt the shape as you animate).

If you just want something quick and easy, use shape keys.
If you need more realism, use bone rigs.

And if you want the best of both worlds, use both.

So far, in my animations, I’ve used mainly shape keys for mouth animations but I do have a bone controlling the jaw, which gives more options for the shapes, and also, sometimes, I have a bone adding some movement to each cheek so I can push these areas.

If you have the “standard” spherical eyeball then shape keys can be a problem for blinks because shape keys move in straight lines. For this reason, I weight-paint the eyelids to bones, then the lid moves in an arc over the surface of the eyeball.

Really, it comes down to the complexity of the model. Bones would be wasted on a small Veggie Tales-type mouth but might be essential on a wide-mouthed frog with loose, rubbery lips.

It’s also a matter of experience and personal preference.