Although video game graphics continue to improve every year, depicting intimacy in a human and convincing way is still tricky. More often than not, when things get hot and heavy in games, it tends to look stilted and wooden. But in its new trailer for The Last of Us Part II, Naughty Dog delivered a master class in intimate animation, and the most striking thing was how much attention the studio put into the smallest details.
Just look at Ellie’s expressions in the early moments of the footage. Notice the way she raises her eyebrows, bites her lips, how small tendrils of her hair sway naturally. It’s even more compelling for the ways it isn’t perfect: her face is lightly sweaty and her hair is slightly matted, just like it would be in a room full of people dancing and letting loose. See the way characters look at each other, the way their eyes shine when their gaze falls on a certain person; it’s almost as if there’s a real human being there, not just pixels. Then, when Ellie and the other woman kiss, look at the way Ellie’s lips pucker hesitantly and then lock with the other woman, how their necks crane and shift as the kiss unfolds.
Fans keep raving about this moment online because it is remarkable in how well it captures something so unremarkable. These subtle details are easy to miss precisely because they are so natural; they look the way people are supposed to look in our most awkward and intimate moments — something we aren’t accustomed to seeing in games, but one that creates an instant connection to the character.
The next day, Director and writer, Neil Druckmann, co-Game Directors Anthony Newman and Kurt Margenau, as well as performers Ashley Johnson and Shannon Woodward got together to discuss the creation of the now-viral scene. Apparently, Woodward had to learn choreography to do the first part of the trailer, though they ended up using only seconds of the dance.
Turns out, making a scene this good required a ton of work. Druckmann explained that the studio could only shoot eight people at a time, so the scene had to be shot in batches over a couple of days. To capture Ellie’s expressions, Druckmann said that Naughty Dog developed more advanced facial capture, and created more complicated facial rigs. While these advances made for better motion capture, the rigs made it difficult for the actresses to get close to one another. Everyone agreed that getting the kiss was really awkward, even if the final product looks fantastic.
With such a complicated rig, the two couldn’t actually get too close. Instead, the pair had to go cheek to cheek and pretend to kiss the air. And yes, the two really did make the sounds you hear in the trailer, at least when their cables and hands weren’t getting stuck on the rig. All of this for a small portion of a scene — but judging by the reaction online, it was worth it.
Update 5:47PM: Added information about how the kissing scene was created.