It’s all in the eyes. Heard that before? Actors and truth-benders have turned it into a mantra but a study of Psychological Science done by Dartmouth College has concluded that without a pair of realistic eyes, chances of believably replicating life are slim. Thalia Wheatley who conducted the study with Christine Looser said: “There’s something fundamentally important about seeing a face and knowing that the lights are on and someone is home,” a rule that can easily be applied to video game characters. There was a phase not too long ago where virtual humans were all blessed with ridiculously shiny eyes, undoing all the work done by hours of motion-capturing and photorealistic texture mapping. One such game that springs to mind is Uncharted 2. I remember my amazement of the voice acting, gorgeous graphics and subtle movements of the characters actions but when Chloe looked back at Nathan after being handed a beer with eyes that appeared empty and covered in gloss, the facade was ruined. Michael Fahey of Kotaku who first wrote about the study praised the recent Enslaved for getting it right and featuring peepers full of soul, something Ninja Theory are ever so good at. Their first game, Heavenly Sword, was a little over-dramatic but the great work done by Andy Serkis and the team made the cut-scenes a genuine thrill.
Wheatley and Looser’s study began with the photographing of doll faces and videoing them morphing into similar-looking human mugs (seen after the jump), asking volunteers to pin-point the moment when they believed it appeared most lifelike. That with other studies all resulted in test subjects determining that eyes are the most important feature for instilling life. I would like to add that coming in a very close second has to be the mouth. It’s what I personally notice first and something I focus on in video game characters, hoping that the virtual cake-holes don’t just look like slabs of rubber with a slits, as so many tend to do. Not to harp on about it but Rockstar’s upcoming L.A. Noire looks to have mastered the art of lip movement with their ultra-sensitive capturing technology. Possibly a byproduct of making believable gangsters and 50s criminals whose eyes are often obscured by squinting or fashionably tilted hats.
The full study is quite interesting for anyone trying to breath life into inanimate objects. Get the eyes as realistic as possible and the rest should follow suit.