There are quite a few areas of believability that we’ve crested in video game graphics, and with the next generation of consoles closing in, developers are hard at work pushing those limits even further. In particular, animating realistic characters has been an area of continued focus. The next innovation in realistic character modeling could be hair, namely more accurate real-time hair physics.
As animators focus on creating believable characters, a lot of attention has been put into face modeling and animation. Subtle twitches of the eyes and realistic reactions of the muscles across the face help convey a certain life and emotion. Technology has come a long way to allow direct face capture and photogrammetry, as well as AI learning that can automate facial movements without animators having to manually tweak everything themselves. But if there’s one thing that can remind you that you’re still playing a video game, it’s poor hair physics.
Artists can be credited for making hair at least look good, but in motion, hair becomes memory-intensive and unpredictable. In the simplest of terms, previous iterations of hair rendering and physics have essentially hidden the multitude of strands behind what’s known as “card-based rendering.” Basically, the hair is rendered in chunks both in terms of visuals and physics. Now, however, advancements have made it possible to render and simulate each individual strand of hair.
This means that hair will properly and realistically interact with the head, shoulders, neck, and even other strands of hair to create the most realistic looking real-time hair physics that we’ve ever seen in games.
Jonathan Cooper, animator on games like Uncharted and The Last of Us, shared his excitement for the potential of the hair physics with the gif below.
Everyone’s talking about raytracing but I just want next-gen to let me twirl with this hair… pic.twitter.com/CtSojcTpyn
— Jonathan Cooper (@GameAnim) January 23, 2020
A post on FXGuide dives even deeper into how the hair physics work and the many applications it can have. It’s well worth the read if you are even a little bit interested, and there’s a great 10-minute video that also showcases the advancements in “hair tech” that will help define the next-generation of gaming. In addition to the hair movement physics, it also goes over how volumetric lighting works when cast through the hair.
It’s expected that the graphical leap between PS4 and PS5 isn’t going to be quite as massive of a jump as previous console generations, but innovations will come through things like PlayStation 5 hair physics and other processes that aren’t necessarily strictly visual in nature. Minor tweaks will now be possible with the increased power that will take things from simply photorealistic to higher believability in even more aspects of design.
The PlayStation 5 is set to release holiday 2020, and while Sony has been trickling out a few details about the console, it has yet to officially unveil the PS5 to the world. Many people are expecting a February reveal, mimicking Sony’s timeline for the PS4 reveal and release back in 2013. One thing is for certain though, Sony will not be at E3 this year to promote the upcoming console, relying instead on “hundreds of consumer events” around the world to unite the community and bring PlayStation directly to the fans.