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Here's a Nintendo example:

Super Mario 3D World

Specifically, the animation of the pupils seems not to animate the geometry.

How is this done?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This might be relevant to the question \$\endgroup\$ – ssb Sep 3 '14 at 1:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent! thanks ssb, that's what I was looking for. \$\endgroup\$ – Hoser24 Sep 3 '14 at 2:57
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There can be a texture with the pupils and generous padding around them. On render, geometry just changes UV coords to sample from texture - hence smooth pupils movement on static geometry.

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