Game Artist Explains the Problem With Starfield Characters Faces

Starfield facial animation
Starfield facial animation

Starfield is a big hit for Bethesda, though the game isn’t without faults. A slow start and weak main plot are the most common criticisms across Starfield reviews. Meanwhile, some players also find its characters subtly off-putting. One veteran game developer recently explained why this is, pointing out subtle but noticeable problems with Starfield’s facial animations.

Starfield’s uncanny faces

Delany King is a character and technical artist from Australia. Her work in the game industry includes titles like Dragon Age, God of War, Civilization 6, and Stellaris. In a recent Twitter thread, she broke down a few critical issues with how Starfield animates its character’s faces. These problems contribute to the unsettled feeling some players get from the game’s characters.

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The first problem concerns Starfield not properly animating the muscles in the characters’ faces. Specifically, she talks about the orbicularis oculi muscle, which surrounds the eye, and the zygomaticus major muscle in the person’s cheek. In a genuine smile, both sets of muscles would contract. If the orbicularis oculi do not contract, it gives the impression that someone is faking a smile. King uses the example of Hungarian model András Arató, best known for the “Dead Inside” meme. Meanwhile, contracting the eye muscles but not the zygomaticus muscles results in Homelander’s creepy smile from The Boys.

The way Bethesda animated Starfield characters appears as if neither set of muscles is moving. This makes it seem like the characters are faking their emotions, flashing smiles that look insincere at best and creepy at worst.

The other big problem with Starfield involves the character’s eyelids. Most people’s upper eyelids cover the top part of the Sclera, the white part of the eye. As King explains, the upper eyelid usually only rises as part of someone’s fight or flight response. However, Starfield’s eyelids don’t correctly follow the elevation of the character’s pupil. This makes many characters look either terrified or psychotic, depending on what the rest of their face is doing. As King explains, this can be a very useful expression when actors or animators do it deliberately. Unfortunately, Starfield is doing it by accident.

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