Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Full Info Blowout From Dev Panel: “Graphics Tech, Drake’s Character Model, Physical Based Shading”

At PlayStation Experience event, Sony and Naughty Dog showed the first ever gameplay footage of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, it looked astonishing. Following the reveal event, Naughty Dog hosted a developer panel “Modeling Nathan Drake: Bringing an Iconic Character to PS4” at PSX and provided details on some of the graphical features that development team have used for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

At the panel, Ryan, the Lead Character Artist provided details on water and environment/surroundings affects on movements of game’s lead character Nathan Drake. Ryan said:

“This shows how the water affects Drake’s hair. Normally when the hair leans over, the weight of his hair makes it lean left or right due to the gravity of his head. It’s very subtle but his hair is affected by his position of the body, the shader of his hair also changes so it seems that his hair is hanging down.”

“When he gets in and out of water, it will affect his shader and make it more shiny and all the fancy that makes it [look] awesome. We are working back and forth with many other people and many other departments, so the person who is handling the wind also works on the shaders and he works on the mesh which allows us to work on the wind.”

When he goes under a waterfall, the water seeps in his shirt.

As Drake walks around he will be affected by the environment and plants around him or he affects the plants. The tech we used for the plants is the the same tech we used on his shirt and the plants actually inspired Drake. So when we saw how the plants were moving, that made me go to the artists and discuss how can we actually have some of this stuff affect Drake’s shirt.”

Yibling Jiang, Shader Artist at Naughty Dog, provided details on how they are implementing physical based shaders in the fourth installment in Uncharted franchise. In addition to this, Yibling also talked about development team’s secret weapon “Shader package”, the tech Naughty Dog are using to overcome the challenges in rendering physical based shading.

“We add a lot of stuff to make him look worse. In order to get movie like quality [visuals], we need physical based shaders.”

“In order to deal with this we have a Secret Weapon called Shader Package. Basically we put all the researches and smart people ideas, all together in a black box and so we can tune the mud or we can tune the fabric or sand. It’s just so easy to adjust and boom, the final result is really cool.”

You can check out all the information provided by Naughty Dog at “Modeling Nathan Drake: Bringing an Iconic Character to PS4” panel below (thanks to our friend at DualShocker)

  • A lot of sculpting is still done by hand, but a new program allowed to get really natural draping of the clothes on the character. Everything is described in a reference sheet that describes the wrinkles, how the clothes are worn or muddy.
  • The clothes wearer through a lot of iterations. Even the shirt’s half tuck was very challenging to do right.
  • A lot of detail was then added in the sculpting program, but fabric textures and stitches were added later. Those are done through shaders, which allow higher resolution fabric details than in the past.
  • All the folds and wrinkles on the clothing were carefully designed, including the fold on the back on the back of the shirt. Rigging also had to be considered, so things also have to bend and deform without looking unnatural or warped.
  • In last gen design a lot of the small details were designed on the diffuse channel (the color map) while doing it in shader helps a lot in keeping the level of detail in the game itself. No detail is lost during gameplay.
  • Different texture maps had to be done for certain animation, like when the fist is clenched, because the knuckles pump out and would stretch the primary texture, so you can see more detail on the knuckles when drake punches people.
  • Sculpting is done in ZBrush, that allows to get all the detail necessary on the model.
  • Drake hair even has hair and minuscule details around the nails.
  • Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4 looks more natural than in Uncharted 3, with modeled eyebrows, stubble and so forth.
  • Head scanning is used only for reference, because Drake isn’t modeled over a real actor, so head scans can’t be used to actually model him.
  • Making Drake still look like himself was the most challenging part.
  • Drake had to look more weathered, because time has passed and he has been through a lot.
  • A lot of details have to be put in the wrinkles to make expressions look natural.
  • A lot of the weathering is added on the shaders, including sand, dirt, stitches. There’s subsurface scattering and eyes include a reflection and their own shading.
  • Physically based shading has been used to get graphics with quality similar to a movie.
  • When the sun, the camera angle or the light changes what you see changes, but in the previous generation the artist just had to paint those changes on the objects. Due to the power of the PlayStation 4 physically based shading can be added to do those calculation instead.
  • To achieve the movie look it’s necessary to reproduce all the shading features as close as possible to real life.
  • Each material has to have its own rules as to how it reacts to the light.
  • In order to actually help the artists understand the shading concepts shader packages were created, with all those rules and details.That way they can simply turn off and on different level for materials, also adjusting the size of the details.
  • The riggers put joints inside the model to let Drake move. and figure out how to make all the materials look like they’re part of the environment.
  • The wind makes Drake’s shirt move, and it’s the same wind that affects the trees, drake’s hair, chest hair, his collar.
  • Each individual piece of hair has its own wind effect.
  • The intensity of the wind also affects Drake’s hair. The windier it gets, the more the hair will move.
  • Water also affects Drake’s hair, so when the hair is wet, it also weighs more. Since it’s more affected by gravity, it’ll lean more to one side or the other depending on the position of Drake’s body. The shader also changes to make it look like it’s wet and it sticks closer to the head.
  • Water affects everything on Drake, changing the shader to make materials look wet.
  • There’s a subtle effect that makes water gradually seep into clothing.
  • When Drake walks around he affect the plants, using the same technology used on his clothes. It’s actually the movement of the plants that inspired the tech.
  • Great efforts have been made to make Drake’s skin more organic and to have more of his face move compared to Uncharted 3.
  • Uncharted 3 has 120 possible face poses. In Uncharted 4 there are 850 possible face poses.They can also be combined.
  • Facial posing is broken down based on realistic facial muscle movement. Facial poses also realistically affect the neck. Things like the nostrils can be animated the cheeks can puff. This all will combine with the wrinkle map.
  • The animators can move the eyes and the eyelids will react automatically. Even with the eyes closed there will be subtle and realistic movements of the eyelids as the eyes move inside.
  • There are a lot of discussions on a character’s looks and conventional beauty standards. Concept Artist Ashely Swidowski mentioned that she’s the first female concept artist to work on Drake, but she’s not responsible for his chest hair and muscular pecs. Those are Neil Druckmann’s idea.
  • The resolution of normal maps and wrinkle maps is 1k (1080 x 1080).
  • It’s a challenge to stay away from the uncanny valley, but being able to sculpt details to high realism, combined with good anatomy and a slight degree of stylizing helps into avoiding it.