Developer Defends Starfield’s Facial Animations; Says “Faces Are Hard”

Fans aren't entirely sure they buy it though.

                                                                            Story Highlights

  • Delaney King, a character tech artist, recently took to Twitter to explain why Starfield’s facial animations feel so off.
  • According to them, the game doesn’t properly contract major muscles, which gives the faces a fake feeling.
  • They concluded that designing faces is hard, but fans have noticed this to be a recurring issue with Bethesda games.

Delaney King, a character tech artist, who’s worked on a number of titles including God of War, took to Twitter recently to explain Starfield’s less-than-stellar facial animations. The developer mentioned the game’s character smiles have a major issue which gives them such an unnatural appearance. This is the orbicularis oculi muscle which does not contract in-game like it does when people smile in real life.

This results in NPCs having a “fake smile” or a “liar’s smile”. In addition to this, King mentioned another reason why the smiles in the game look so off.  The cheek apples should also rise, otherwise, you look like you are actively resisting the smile, which leads to a very constipated look. This might be why a lot of NPCs in the game look actively displeased to even speak to you. 

Facial Animations in Starfield
Facial Animations in Starfield

King continued that there’s another muscle that isn’t working as it should. This is the zygomaticus major muscle. It contracts when a person smiles, pulling up the corners of a person’s mouth upwards. But in Starfield, it simply doesn’t do this. This continues to add to the uncanny look the game’s NPCs have. Players have already noted some of these issues but were previously unsure how to put into words why the animations looked weird.

King stated that they aren’t sure if the solution Bethesda is using for their faces is facial capture fed into bones or blend shapes. But the result most certainly requires a manual tweak pass to get the smiles working again. As is, the smiles and facial animations in the game are downright creepy. For what it’s worth, the developer mentioned that movement in these muscles does exist. But right now, it’s not in coordination with the mouth.

There are plenty of other insightful takes in the full Twitter thread. But the conclusion that King drew in the end, was simply that “faces are hard“. According to them, getting good facial animations is something that requires tons of people from several departments to coordinate together. And even then, you need a decent amount of time and money to do it right. 

Add in the fact that they all require a good understanding of human facial anatomy, expressions, and visual communication, and it becomes clear why even a large studio like Bethesda might struggle with creating polished facial animations for a title as big as Starfield. That said, even with King’s insights, some fans feel like it’s not a good enough justification.

Bethesda games often come under fire for having creepy-looking NPC faces. And much of this can be credited to the aging Creation Engine. With tons of other games nowadays having much more expressive and realistic facial animations, Starfield’s poor attempt at it sticks out even more. Baldur’s Gate 3, for example, has been praised for its animations despite its large amount of cutscenes and dialogues.

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Amama Farrukh is a News Reporter on eXputer who’s been passionate about playing and writing about games since an early age. As a die-hard God of War fan, she’s really into gory hack-and-slash titles that get her adrenaline pumping. She’s got a bachelor's in Business Administration and several years of experience reporting on the gaming industry. Experience: 3+ Years || Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration || Previously worked as a Freelancer || Published 100+ News Stories

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