In answer to your question re best techniques for facial animation. I'm sure there are many methods. the method I used comes from a tut on AW site called 'blendshape' or something similar.
SCROLL DOWN TO BOTTOM OF PAGE (KEVIN'S POST) "DOWNLOAD HERE".
About 1.6 meg download.
Anyway, here is a link (Simply Maya) to a head that I created in 2001 for Uni. I think it has something like 25 blendshapes driven by dynamic attributes that procedurally drive each facial muscle for a multitude of expressions. Open the trax editor and click on the character for head>mouth>eyes, etcc. from there use the dynamic attributes in the channel box and MM button to interactively change the value.
Hope this helps.
Mayan elder......only in years.....