Ever wondered why Starfield NPCs look a little off when they smile? While the animation is a marked improvement on previous Bethesda RPGs, it just feels weird when they grin. And now, a tech artist has shared their thoughts on what’s going on or, more accurately, isn’t.
According to X user Delaney King, a character and technical artist who’s worked on a range of games, Dragon Age included, it’s all down to a missing (or malfunctioning) muscle. Specifically, it’s the orbicularis oculi muscle not contracting, which gives the impression of a rather forced smile. Bethesda hasn’t, it seems, factored that small muscular movement into their facial animation. That, in turn, results in those odd smiles.
We can absolutely see what she means, just looking at the screenshots provided, I’m reminded of nothing so much as British comedy rag Viz’s “Insincere Smiles” feature. “This muscle here has to contract for a smile to read as a genuine smile,” King explains. “The cheek apples should also rise, otherwise you look like you are actively resisting the smile, giving a constipated look.”
One thing I noticed about Starfield is the character smiles have an issue with the orbicularis oculi muscle not contracting to give a "Duchenne smile". pic.twitter.com/2JdR95L3Uo
— Delaney King (@delaneykingrox) September 10, 2023
King also points to András Arató, better known as Hide the Pain Harold, as a real-world example of someone whose orbicularis oculi doesn’t contract all that far. And like Starfield‘s NPCs, his smile can come off as forced, whether he’s being genuine or not.
She also criticises Starfield for exposing its characters upper eye-whites, remarking that such a move should be deliberate. In short, Bethesda still needs to work on their facial animations. She also delves into some of the other mechanics of smiling. It’s an insightful thread that is well worth poring over, especially if you plan on getting into character design.
Maybe Bethesda will sort this for The Elder Scrolls VI. In the meantime, there’s always the short term fix, being such a relentless jackass that no-one ever smiles at you. At least, that’s my excuse for every terrible, selfish, moustache-twirling in-game decision I’ve made.