If you really want to test the quality of a game animation, look at the characters’ faces. Facial animation is one of the most difficult and complex tasks in any form of animation. In 3D animation, it has long been an industry-wide pain point.

Studios have invested in research and development and experimented with cutting-edge technology and techniques in an effort to make their facial animation more lifelike and expressive.

However, if the recent release of Mass Effect: Andromeda has taught us anything, it is that even top tier studios with big budgets can struggle with facial animation. If you aren’t familiar with it, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a RPG game developed by BioWare and published by EA. It is set in a future in which you and your spaceship crew are exploring the Andromeda galaxy, light-years away from Earth, for a new home.

It has received mixed reviews, but many criticisms were in regards to issues with the animation and dialogue.

Why was the animation particularly difficult?

In RPG, the face is a key part in how players communicate, just like expressions are key in real-life interactions. For Andromeda, the high level of customization and multiple dialogue paths made it exceptionally hard to keep up with the appropriate animation for the player commands.

One of the main ways that film animation differs from games is that all of the dialogue in a film is scripted. In games, that isn’t always the case. It can change based on different scenarios and player experiences.

As you can imagine, unscripted animations are more challenging than scripted ones. Each conversation path needs to be animated and studios often employ engines and conversation tools to do so. Algorithms are often used to create dialogue and facial animations. This is similar to how NaturalFront’s one-click animation software tool functions. Instead of painstakingly matching audio to mouth movements manually, which can take hours and still have inaccuracies, technology helps to match up the audio to the animation.

In the animation industry, this can be a major time-saver, but studios and animators are recommended to review it and tweak as necessary for quality purposes. It’s likely that the Andromeda creators were racing against deadline and didn’t get to review.

Andromeda developers have since released a patch to fix the earlier issues, but the Internet outrage over the character faces and issues still shows just how much realistic facial animation matters to gamers. Animation technology like NaturalFront, is a valuable tool for animating professionals and hobbyists. At times, mathematical equations and algorithms can be more effective in producing anatomically accurate 3D facial models and animation. However, as the Andromeda example points out, you can’t eliminate the importance of talented and creative human animators and their role in the process.