TABLE OF CONTENTS
what is upper lid raiser?
In FACS, upper lid raiser, or AU5, is the action that raises and retracts the upper eyelid; this movement causes the eyes to appear wider and reveal more sclera (the white part of eye).
anatomy & etymology
The appearance changes we see in upper lid raiser are the result of an increase in contraction of levator palpebrae superioris, an extraocular muscle that works to keep the upper eyelid elevated.
extraocular muscle: ocular muscles that control the external movements of the eyes
intraocular muscles: ocular muscles that control the internal movements of the eyes, e.g. pupillary reactions to lighting changes
Levator palpebrae superioris is made up of skeletal muscle fibers but works closely with a small slip of muscle containing smooth fibers. (This bit of info will come in handy when we get to the “function” section.) Smooth muscles are involuntary and work without conscious awareness. Skeletal muscles, on the other hand, are voluntary and can be consciously controlled.
Levator palpebrae superioris originates at the lesser wing of the sphenoid bone and attaches to the upper eyelid skin (making up the superficial layer) and the superior tarsal plate (making up the deep layer).
superior tarsal plate: a long plate of dense fibrous tissue (also referred to as “dense connective tissue”) inside of the upper eyelid
- Both upper and lower eyelids contain a tarsal plate.
- Tarsal plates provide support and structure to the eyelids.
- The superior tarsal plate is part of the upper eyelid.
- The inferior tarsal plate is part of the lower eyelid.
- The superior tarsal plate is shaped like a half moon (just like an eyelid!)
Levator palpebrae superioris has a strong association with a few other muscles in the eye area including the:
- superior rectus muscle: works with levator palpebrae superioris to facilitate upward gaze
- superior tarsal muscle AKA Müller’s muscle: smooth-fibered muscle; attaches to the levator palpebrae superioris and assists with lid retraction
- orbicularis oculi: acts as an antagonistic muscle
📚 TRANSLATION: 🔎 Levator palpebrae superioris originates behind the eye and attaches to the eyelid skin and surrounding areas. (See diagrams from Image 1 & Image 2 above.)
Even if you aren’t a fellow word nerd, knowing the etymology of muscle names can be extremely useful. When broken down, Latin-based muscle names often describe exactly what that muscle does. In this case . . .
- levator: type of muscle that raises or elevates
- palpebrae: eyelids (plural) vs. palpebra (singular)
- superioris: above – coming from “superior,” a relational term used to indicate that the item you are describing is above something else (In this context, “superioris” is describing the “palpebrae,” i.e. the upper eyelids.)
If “levator” refers to a muscle that raises or elevates, and “palpebrae superioris” refers to the upper eyelids, then “levator palpebrae superioris” translates to:
“The muscle that raises the upper eyelids.”
In FACS, upper lid raiser is only coded for noticeable increases in lid raising, but technically, levator palpebrae superioris is active any time the eyes are open. Levator palpebrae superioris doesn’t just function to display widened eyes; it functions to maintain lid position.
As mentioned in the “anatomy” section, levator palpebrae superioris is made up of skeletal muscle fibers but works closely with a small slip of muscle comprised of smooth fibers (the superior tarsal muscle); these complementary functions mean eye-widening / eye-opening actions between the levator palpebrae superioris and superior tarsal muscles have both involuntary (smooth fibers) and voluntary (skeletal fibers) capabilities. The smooth muscle fibers are responsible for lid maintenance and keeping the lids open; while the skeletal muscle fibers are responsible for conscious lid retractions – e.g. widening our eyes to emphasize something we are saying or react to something shocking.
emotions & states
If you subscribe to Paul Ekman’s theory on basic emotions and facial expressions, AU5 is a key player in proposed prototypes such as:
- surprise: typically with other upper face actions: 1+2 (inner brow raiser + outer brow raiser)
- fear: typically with other upper face actions: 1+2+4 (inner brow raiser + outer brow raiser + brow lowerer)
- anger: typically with other upper face actions: 4+7 (brow lowerer + lid tightener)
HOWEVER, it is important to note that while “basic emotion” prototypes are useful in some contexts, they should be considered with an air of caution.
Emotions are complex systems contingent on context, culture, and individuality. To this day, not only is there contention regarding the universality and validity of Ekman-based emotions, but scientists still have not agreed upon a standardized definition of the term “emotion.” Read more on the issues that stem from an over-reliance on Ekman-based emotions here.
Regardless of where you stand on the emotion theory spectrum (I, personally, hold a pluralist view), upper lid raiser is typically a good indicator of alertness and states of heightened arousal.
When we are tired or fatigued, our upper lid may begin to droop; conversely, when we are in an alert, excited state, our upper lid is more likely to retain a retracted position. Drugs that affect arousal states may also affect lid position. (See “retraction & ptosis” under “interesting cases & rare conditions” for more on effects of stimulant substances on lid retraction.)
The images below from designyoutrust.com’s article, “Close Up Pictures Of Tennis Players Just Look Like People Trying Really Hard To Control Their Telekinetic Power,” contain great examples of high-intensity situations where upper lid raiser makes an appearance.
upper lid raiser on different eyelid types
The physical qualities of our eyelids are diverse. As a result, upper lid raiser may look slightly different on people with different eyelid types. Be mindful of this variation when observing upper lid raiser on different types of eyes & eyelids.
Additionally, as discussed with other muscles like the frontalis, the strength of levator palpebrae superioris differs across individuals; this variation in muscle strength affects the range of upper lid raiser intensity from person to person.
common mistakes artists make
GIF 2 – Gizmo with upper & lower lid retraction
A relatively frequent mistake I see artists make with upper lid raiser is the erroneous addition of a lowered bottom eyelid to increase the breadth of eye widening.
Upper lid raiser is called “UPPER lid raiser” for a reason. As mentioned in the “anatomy” section, the levator palpebrae superioris muscle fixes onto the top eyelid and pulls it up & back. The only effect levator palpebrae superioris has on the lower eyelid is somewhat counterintuitive: When its force is strong, it actually raises the lower eyelid. (Refer back to GIF 1 in the “what is upper lid raiser” section.)
While at first glance the idea of an eye-widening action further enclosing the eye at the lower lid level might be surprising, if you consider the mechanics of a strong levitating force, it makes sense that as a secondary effect, the lower eyelid would be dragged upward.
If you are working on a creature (like Gizmo in GIF 2) or a stylized human, by all means, throw in a bottom lid retraction with your upper lid raiser. If you are aiming for realism, however, lay off the lower lid – unless you’re adding a slight raise from the upward pull of the top lid.
There is an exception to these suggestions, but it involves interesting cases and rare conditions. (See next section.)
interesting cases & rare conditions
The following conditions are included due to their influence on eye aperture. Some are directly related to the levator palpebrae superioris muscle, and some are indirectly related.
It is humanly possible for the eyes to pop out in such a way that both the upper and lower lids are forcibly pushed back to expose more eyeball. One such case includes globe luxation (WARNING: Link contains photos of eyes bulging dramatically from eye sockets.)
Globe luxation is a rare condition where the eye can pop out of the socket. This displacement often occurs due to head or eye trauma.
retraction & ptosis
On the less extreme end of the abnormal eye-widening spectrum is a condition known as “eyelid retraction.” Lid retraction occurs when the eyelid is displaced to be more retracted during resting positions than is typical. This retraction leaves the eyes looking wider and unusually alert.
A common natural cause of lid retraction comes from a thyroid condition known as Graves’ Disease; however, lid retraction can also be caused by chronic stimulant abuse from substances like cocaine and amphetamines.
The reverse condition is known as ptosis. Ptosis refers to the drooping of the eyelids. While mild to moderate upper eyelid ptosis is generally a consequence of aging, it can also be caused by a variety of other factors and substances.
Though upper lid raiser is one of the simpler facial actions, there are still many factors to consider when representing this shape. Lid type, eye shape, and muscle strength are some of the larger factors affecting upper lid raiser‘s overall appearance; however, because of our unique anatomy, there are always additional factors to consider on a case-by-case basis.
For a deeper dive into eyelid diversity, please reach out for consultation. See my Services page for more information.
- Haschek, Wanda M., et al. Haschek and Rousseaux’s Handbook of Toxicologic Pathology. 3rd ed., Elsevier/Academic Press, 2013.
- Ohnishi, T. “Levator Palpebrae Superioris Muscle: MR Evaluation of Enlargement as a Cause of Upper Eyelid Retraction in Graves Disease.” Radiology, 1 July 1993, pubs.rsna.org/doi/abs/10.1148/radiology.188.1.8511284.
- Knight B, Lopez MJ, Patel BC. Anatomy, Head and Neck, Eye Levator Palpebrae Superioris Muscles. [Updated 2021 Feb 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https:// www. ncbi.nlm.nih. gov/books/NBK536921/Sendic, G. (2021, May 31).
- Sendic, Gordana. “Levator Palpebrae Superioris Muscle.” Kenhub, Kenhub, 31 May 2021, www. kenhub. com/en/library/anatomy/levator-palpebrae-superioris-muscle.
- Micheau, Dr. Antoine, and Dr. Denis Hoa. “Levator Palpebrae Superioris.” IMAIOS, IMAIOS, 18 Mar. 2021, https:// www. imaios. com/en/e-Anatomy/Anatomical-Parts/levator-palpebrae-superioris.