The original character design for Elizabeth, the powerful but imprisoned co-protagonist of Bioshock Infinite, was not "attractive enough," animation director Shawn Robertson told Eurogamer.
Elizabeth, with her face somewhat exaggerated and cartoon-like, was designed to be very readable in her expressions; However, various versions of her were created, says Robertson, before this was achieved. One of the initial designs, he says, was a version that was mute and could only interact with the player by tugging at their character's arm.
"The first Elizabeth we tried to do that pushed us towards hand-key was the Gibson girl we showed you," said Robertson, discussing the evolution of her character, "and she had a completely normal-looking face. Even in that early model she wouldn't have made it as a star character - she wasn't attractive enough, there were problems - but even there we could really see that in a game where you're moving around so much with a companion you want to elicit an emotional connection to, you really need to be able to see what she's thinking at all times."
According to Robertson, to get to the point where Elizabeth could elicit emotion through her face in a way that would be easy for the player to interpret, no mocap was involved.
"To be clear, there are different styles," says Robertson. "Some of the stuff other people have done with facial capture like LA Noire I think is brilliant, but when we were looking at what we needed... First we wanted Elizabeth to not have human proportions, even if you look at her face it's obvious we've given her larger eyes, a larger mouth... I mean, if you saw a real person walking around looking like her you'd think she was odd!
"The second reason is that when you capture facial data, it's like every bone has a keyframe on every frame, and from a technical standpoint it's a nightmare to work with if you want to push a specific expression or if you want to change an expression."
Simply put, mocap would make it more difficult to create particular expressions that would fit the scene.
"Hand-key really simplifies the process and lets us push her expressions just a little beyond what would maybe be comfortable for a normal human being. It also lets us iterate at that moment when we're animating, not three months ago when the mocap was shot, so we can roll with the punches on any changes or ideas that have come up for that scene as we're working on it."
Elizabeth's features are therefore not aesthetic but rather practical. The designers aimed to make it possible for players to see her expression from across the room in order to analyze the scenes at hand.
"we wanted to exaggerate her facial structure so that you could see her across the room and read the expression she has on her face. Even at 1080p your ability as a player to look at the screen and analyse what's going on - that is tough," says Robertson. "There are so many things - a gun, the UI, combat, things to pick up, you're moving constantly. So the resolution you're seeing all these things at is diminished somewhat just by the pure choice you have in what to look at. So we wanted to give Liz a nudge up, and that's why she's hyper-realistic."