Automatic Analysis of Facial Actions: A Survey

Brais Martinez, Michel F. Valstar, Bihan Jiang, Maja Pantic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


As one of the most comprehensive and objective ways to describe facial expressions, the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) has recently received significant attention. Over the past 30 years, extensive research has been conducted by psychologists and neuroscientists on various aspects of facial expression analysis using FACS. Automating FACS coding would make this research faster and more widely applicable, opening up new avenues to understanding how we communicate through facial expressions. Such an automated process can also potentially increase the reliability, precision and temporal resolution of coding. This paper provides a comprehensive survey of research into machine analysis of facial actions. We systematically review all components of such systems: pre-processing, feature extraction and machine coding of facial actions. In addition, existing FACS-coded facial expression databases are summarised. Finally, challenges that have to be addressed to make automatic facial action analysis applicable in real-life situations are extensively discussed. There are two underlying motivations for us to write this survey paper: the first is to provide an up-to-date review of the existing literature, and the second is to offer some insights into the future of machine recognition of facial actions: what are the challenges and opportunities that researchers in the field face.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalIEEE transactions on affective computing
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 25 Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Action Unit analysis
  • Computer science
  • Databases
  • Encoding
  • Face
  • Face recognition
  • facial expression recognition
  • Feature extraction
  • Psychology
  • survey


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