Naughty Dog’s character concept artist, Alexandria Neonakis, shared some early images of Dina from The Last of Us Part 2 art-book.

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[Original Post – 30/8/2020] The Last of Us Part 2 studio animator, Keith Paciello, delves deep into the process of creating these magnificent and realistic facial animations that the game uses.

According to PlayStaion blog, the system Paciello used is called Emotional Systematic Facial Animation. “In that instance, you as a player are aiming with the controller for Ellie to look at the painting, which is triggering a ‘look at target’ placed by a designer. On top of that, I animated small eye darts (saccades) within the character’s facial idles to try and indicate an overall thought process. So animated eye saccades sitting on top of the eye-aim, work together to create what looks like focus and thought process.” Paciello stated.

But how exactly does this system works? In a nutshell, the program picks a facial expression from a bank of nearly 20 different emotional states. There are also 25 characters in the game that use this system, so Paciello had to collect more than 500 different facial expressions. These facial models are based on eyes, body language, chest movement and breathing and they are triggered by dialogue, encounters, combat and important story moments. “It brings a depth to the characters that we’ve never seen before,”  Paciello continues.

The idea for this engine came from a simple piece of… grass. According to Paciello: “Everyone was stepping up their game for The Last of Us Part 2. We were looking at and talking about how to make a blade of grass even better [in game]. In doing so, we panned up, and there was this blank face on the character. I was like, ‘Oh.’ It was then I wondered how we could simply, across the entire game, add these emotional beats to the characters, so at any point, you can tell what that character is feeling.” The artist took Ellie as the first model and began creating expressions based on easilly recognizable emotions like hapiness, fear, sadness, anger and despair.

Paciello then tasked the dialogue team to match these modeled expressions with certain line of dialogues. Therefore, these facial emotions were triggered by specific lines or events inside the game. “We could emotionally pace out our characters from the absolute beginning of the game to the absolute end of the game and blend in and out of cinematics seamlessly.” Next, Paciello designed the breathing system. The breathing system consists of six different animated breathings from normal breathing to exhausted short breath.

Finally, the team had to design poses for each of the 25 characters in order to match their emotional states and expressions. It took up to 40 different stances for each emotion set and, by the end of the production, 15.000 different poses had been created. In an interview after the game’s release, Paciello said that he was happy with the result and that he had achieved his dream. “It made me really made me feel like, ‘Okay, we’ve really pushed it.’ It’s what I wanted, it’s what I dreamt of when I pitched the idea of the system.”

[UPDATE 1 – 14/9/2020] A very talented artist and fan of The Last of Us, Mincho, created an awesome collection of scenes from the game in Studio Ghibli’s iconic art-style.

If you enjoy and want to support their work, you can follow them on Instagram where they post many fanart pieces of other popular media. Some of their creations include Joel, Ellie playing her guitar and Abby working out in the gym. In addition, sound designer Beau Anthony Jimenez, made a very interesting tweet with all the details regarding the voicing of the infected enemy types.

[UPDATE 2 – 24/9/2020] Naughty Dog’s character concept artist, Alexandria Neonakis, shared some early images of Dina from The Last of Us Part 2.

This Saturday, September 26, is known as the “Outbreak Day” where some cool looking The Last of Us art, PS4 themes and limited edition merch surface online. For seven years now, the 26 of September marks the beginning of the Cordyceps Brain Infection that started evertything in the Last of Us universe. However, this year, Naughty Dog renamed the day to “The Last of Us Day” because of the real-life coronavirus outbreak. Two days before the event, some special illustrations of Dina  from The Last of Us Part 2 were showcased by the game’s concept artist, Alexandria Neonakis.

Alexandria made a tweet of some early development art of Dina before the final release of The Last of Us Part 2. As you can see, the first images were prior to Cascina Caradonna being cast as a face model for Dina. According to Alexandria, “Early on was fairly rough, we had like some general direction though. In the veeery early days it was just do whatever you want but I wasn’t working on her yet then”. In the second picture, you can clearly notice many of Cascina’s facial expressions before Dina’s evolved into the Dina that we know today.

If you enjoy reading about the art behind The Last of Us Part 2, be sure to check the revolutionary glass-breaking mechanic that the game uses. Otherwise, here are some of the most difficult achievements in the game.

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