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How Injustice 2 leveled up its facial animations

It took a whole bunch of cameras to make the magic happen.

Superman vs. Batman

NetherRealm Studios

Story matters. Characters matter. NetherRealm Studios knows this is true, as evidenced by its latest fighting game, Injustice 2. The game has the most fully-featured story mode you'll find in a fighter, brought to life with the best facial animations in the genre. 

Those animations are what you'll notice first when playing the game. Brendan George, Injustice 2's character art lead, and Andy Senesac, senior technical artist for cinematics, show us how they achieved them.

A new custom photogrammetry facial scanner is the big gun behind the operation, one that uses 44 DSLR cameras with 50mm fixed lenses.

"To create a single character, we capture 16 facial expressions," said Brendan George. "These 16 scans take two to three days to process on our workstations."

This helped a lot.

"The data from the new scanner made it possible for us to create a more advanced facial rig which was based on the scientific research on human facial expressions," said George.

NetherRealm Studios' new rig.

NetherRealm Studios

The facial scanning took place in a room labeled "Flesh Pits." All the rooms at NetherRealm are named after Mortal Kombat lore.

Another piece to this puzzle is all the motion capture that's done in-house at NetherRealm Studios in Chicago. NetherRealm's animation team use four head-mounted camera systems in its motion capture shoots.

"Each camera system comes equipped with a choice of three different 4mm, 5mm or wide-angled lenses that are used depending on the actor's head shape," said Andy Senesac.

It's not as easy as just capturing a performance. The team didn't like the mix of voice-overs and facial expressions found on some characters like Superman or Harley Quinn. It required a lot of manual animation to get the final result they were looking for. 

"We are working with some of the most iconic, recognizable characters in history, so getting their final animation looking just right took a lot of love and tweaking," said Senesac.

Inside NetherRealm's motion capture studio in Chicago.

NetherRealm Studios

Injustice 2 was the highest grossing console game for the second quarter of 2017. It may have launched in the middle of May, but there's a whole lot more left in the tank for NetherRealm Studios.

It announced three new additional DLC characters with its latest Fighter Pack 2, including Aquaman's arch nemesis Black Manta, a surprise reveal for Hellboy, and Mortal Kombat's God of Thunder Raiden. Fighter Pack 2 goes on sale Sept. 12, with Black Manta also available that day.

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