MANFACE: Perfecting CG Spotty Skin

Imperfect makes for perfect. My head is spinning.
The battle of Uncanny Valley is where CGI finally triumphed over reality: pixels stood proudly over humans showing off their parametrization maps and tone mapping that accurately depicted the imperfection of human skin and declared victory over reality. The first shot in the war fired when researcher Jorge Jimenez released this work on real-time realistic skin rendering, showing off the difference SSSS (Sexy Separable Subsurface Scattering – okay, I added that first ‘S’) makes.

The video is best viewed in HD, or there’s a demo that gives you a whooshy intro and control over the rendering if you hit the spacebar.

Separable Subsurface Scattering (Real Time) from Jorge Jimenez on Vimeo.

Jorge’s blog post on the subject, portentously called “The Day Has Come”, delves into his fascination and reasoning behind focusing on the epidermis:

I think there is still a lot work to do. Probably the most important one will be rendering realistic facial hair. It will be my dream if my skin research helps to improve the rendering of humans in games; I truly believe that more realistic characters will inevitably lead to deeper storytelling, and more emotionally-driven games.

That excited me. His focus is in games, rather than just making it happen without caring for the tech behind it. He’s attempting to boil down the ridiculous power it takes to make the scene above happen so it’s accessible, not just a proof of concept. That said, I’m wondering how much I’d care or even notice if there was realistic backne generated on a character. I am notoriously rubbish at connecting on anything other than a superficial level in games: I’ve never once not tried to whack Half-Life 2’s Alyx to death.

Via Reddit.


  1. Dhatz says:

    THis needs to happen with more important things, like texture compression and AO/IL(which I must stress should only be used in tandem). Also hair rendering is far far away(detailed textures for now), first we urgently need adaptible tesselation and soft body physics. But knowing the most drastic realism-ruiner that is shadow acne should have been gone LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG ago, not many will even attempt these before the new consoles come.

    • Jackablade says:

      Shadow acne? That’s a new one to me.

    • Quxxy says:

      From what I remember about shadow maps: shadow acne is basically where lights are almost but not quite parallel to a surface. At those points, the resolution limits of a shadow map get exacerbated, leading to an ugly pattern. I remember Gears of War 2 having it pretty bad in places. If you ever look at something with dynamic lights and see “shimmering” on a smooth object between the light and shadowed parts, that’s shadow acne.

      It can also happen with naive implementations on the backs of self-shadowed objects. Essentially, the shadow map and the on-screen depth buffer are “fighting” as to whether any given pixel is or isn’t in shadow.

      These problems don’t exist, as far as I know, for shadow volume approaches (like Doom 3).

    • Dhatz says:

      volumetric shadows like Jedi Academy, GTA SA, F.E.A.R. or doom are unfortunately not being improved or even used in current graphics. F.E.A.R. and Condemned had multiple layers(4) for smoothing edges, however I had to force Supersampling AA because MSAA glitched on the softened shadow edges. I guess you have to be extra good to try non-mainstream graphics hmmm.

    • othello says:

      Volumetric shadows are have a high fillrate cost and are dependent on scene geometry. Additionally, you won’t get soft shadows with them.

      Shadow maps are used in most games and suffer from severe aliasing problems. This can be improved with new methods of using the shadow maps or increasing the shadow map resolution, but in the end you will still have problems.

      Yeah, so there’s no easy solution to shadows.

    • Durkonkell says:

      Anyone with an interest in shadowing from a developer’s perspective should check out the Infinity dev blog on that subject. Here’s part 4, you can follow the links back to the previous parts. If you follow through all four parts, he discusses the different ways to implement shadows and the difficulty of getting an acceptable solution when your smallest ship is just a few meters big and the largest is over 5000!

      Long story short, shadows are hard.

    • That Lamer says:

      @othello I don’t see why anyone would want this over non soft shadows: link to

      Skyrim is the worst example but by no means the only one.

  2. DuddBudda says:

    I have the latest Flash and FF 10 but it tells me I can’t view the video :( gonna have to download the the demo. Oh the Humanity !

    • Dhatz says:

      I have problems with flash crashing when I load YT vids in high resolution from 0:00, happens in chrome and ff. but not always.

    • paterah says:

      My flash repeatedly crashes in chrome for days now. Hoping it’s not on my end but it most likely is.

    • battles_atlas says:

      Videos have been fucking up in FF for weeks now for me. Was blaming FF but maybe I should be blaming Flash

    • requisite0 says:

      I was having issues with the newer Firefox’s and Flash with my 6870. I disabled hardware acceleration in Flash, and the GPU acceleration in Firefox, updated to the latest Catalyst with the latest CAP (Catalyst Application Profiles), and no more problems.

  3. fionny says:

    This is seriously cool stuff!

  4. CaLe says:

    I’m creeped out because it feels like I’m looking at a dead guy.

    • Mitch says:

      That was exactly what I was thinking: A dead guy or some kind of Frankenstein’s monster. It would have been cool if he had opened his eyes at some point.

    • LXM says:

      Did anyone else find it odd he had no eye lashes?

    • AureateFlux says:

      I, too, was expecting the camera to pan out to reveal him lying on a morgue slab.

    • Bfox says:

      @LXM Yes. Very.

    • siegarettes says:

      I found it strange that he had no ear hair…

  5. phlebas says:

    Nice tech, but he truly believes that more realistic graphics will inevitably lead to deeper storytelling? The way ever more realistic special effects in films have?

    • SurprisedMan says:

      I’m not sure that’s a good comparison. Sure, special effects didn’t improve storytelling, but at the moment we aren’t even at the point where we can get a very realistic guy on the screen, which is more analagous with early film where there was no sound and things were in black and white. You could tell good stories with no sound and black and white, but being able to use sound and colour definitely broadened the types of things you could convey. Similarly, being able to have a person on screen who looks and acts utterly convincingly will add a dimension to storytelling that wasn’t previously accessible – just like L.A. Noire’s face technology enabled them to capture a more nuanced performance. Not every game needs it, but it’ll definitely be an asset for certain kinds of storytelling.

    • avoidperil says:

      If you want to have good storytelling, bring the writers. If you want to bring the writers, give them good medium to work with. Having better graphics and more flexible game engines will make for a more cinematic experience and thus draw in the effort from studios to produce. There was good storytelling back in the days of VGA too.

      The real point is that I think they used the word ‘storytelling’ when what they really meant was ‘sexytimes’ AMIRITE? U NO IM RITE.

    • Kdansky says:

      Dwarf Fortress has better narrative than any AAA game, and Crysis 2 is remarkable in its complete lack of multidimensional characters. And what about books?

    • InternetBatman says:

      Technology never hurt storytelling, it just needs to be used well.

    • SurprisedMan says:

      Of course I agree that loads of different mediums, even technologically limited ones can tell good stories. Otherwise I wouldn’t have made a game like The Wager where any story that there is is told almost exclusively via text. But having better technology is a useful thing because it provides more possibilities of different stories you can tell or ways you can tell them. Of course you can tell a really great story in black and white – many have. But it would be much harder (not impossible, but harder and limiting) to tell a story that revolves around colour in black and white. So in other words it’s just giving another option, which is a good thing. If a game maker thinks their story would be best served by representing it with realistic looking humans, I want that option to be available to them.

    • Jim9137 says:

      Technology may have not hurt storytelling, but great setpieces makes story a lot harder to do properly. Exposing excruciating amount of detail is both very hard to manage, and very hard to do in a dramatic, memorable manner, as it both drowns and disengages the consumant. Very often simple, plain scenes are the most memorable.

    • Urthman says:

      I think they first have to cross the mo-cap hugging barrier.

    • Brun says:

      Better graphics are important for any game where immersion is a critical part of the experience.

  6. Graeme says:

    He really missed a trick by not having his eyes pop open at the end.

  7. Dhatz says:

    WTF is that dumbass Win 7 32 bit thinking? “Separable-SSS-DX10-v1.0.exe is not a valid Win32 application”????!! Imma check the site. noone said it requires x64.

  8. Optimaximal says:

    Haven’t the core problems with the Uncanny Valley always been the rendering of eyes and how the avatar communicates & interacts with the subjects surroundings?

    Until this is animated and has visible eyes, it’s not an achievement in my book. Looks nice though.

    • LimEJET says:

      It’s not the texture quality that’s the achievement, it’s that the rendering is real-time. Animating it could be done in a cinch, but it wasn’t necessary to show off the tech.

    • UW says:


      The guy was completely stationary, as far as I’m concerned this has done very little to address the uncanny valley issues.
      I was in a science exhibit somewhere (Dublin maybe?) that was talking about the uncanny valley and that the thing that really freaks people out is eye movement. This is just a statue, a very impressive one, but I am fairly certain that it had its eyes closed for just that reason. Furthermore, if it had opened it’s eyes or started moving it would have been all the more freaky because of how realistic it looks. After all, that’s the whole issue. The more realistic it looks, the more jarring it is that it clearly isn’t real.

      I’m not sure it will ever be possible.

    • dahauns says:

      “Animating it could be done in a cinch.”
      Definitely not in a cinch. At least not at a fidelity that even closely matches the (quite impressive) rendering quality.

    • InternetBatman says:

      There’s also hair to be solved.

    • sinister agent says:

      It is indeed the eyes that are the creepy thing. Always the eyes.

      Don’t get me wrong, that was certainly very impressive (ridiculous presentation aside), even for someone as unbothered by graphics fetishism as I am, but ten to one there’s a version of that video on a hard drive somewhere in which he opens his eyes and everyone in the room gets a nosebleed.

    • cyb.tachyon says:

      We definitely have the technology to manage that animation: check out John Feather’s Malapuerta experiment: link to
      He’s one of the guys that rigged/sculpted/animated Gollum (and other creatures) for WETA. I’m guessing from interviews and whatnot that he’s really into the subtle muscle movements etc. that make things real. Not gonna lie, I’m really curious to see the result when he’s done with it.

  9. Tom De Roeck says:

    and the real unrealistic thing here is that noone would have that kind of specular shine as that guy does, because in film, it looks like shit, so every good lighting guy softens it. Unless its battlestar galactica, in which its overused by now anyway. (ie. in games we would say BLOOMTASTIC!)

  10. Ellie says:

    This guy is brilliant, he also did some work on SMAA (Subpixel Morphological Antialiasing).

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      Even your Subpixel Morphological Antialiasing can’t cure my monitor being CRT. ;)

  11. WMain00 says:

    Yeah, no.

    Nice enough technology, but it’s still fairly obviously CG. The entire face suffers from the usual “shiny” effect (as I like to call it) that all other CG models suffer from. A sort of unusual reflection band that occurs due to unnatural lighting being bounced off a mathematical wireframe.

    I think the future of realistic looking CG objects will be less reliant on how detailed you make the model and more reliant on how good you are at keeping lighting in mind. It sometimes seems that CG artists use all sorts of atmospheric lighting effects but don’t seem to have actually stood outside and seen how the Sun’s reflections and refractions function. It’s all rather cold math.

  12. Syra says:

    If you ask me uncanny valley has more to do with animation than textures.

  13. DickSocrates says:

    It looks quite good, but far from passing as real. And the presentation is up its own arse. With that kind of pompous intro, I would expect something that would knock my teeth out just by watching it.

    And yes, to whoever said it first, more realistic faces has nothing to do with deeper storytelling. Better writing (y’know, hiring actual writers and not some guy that worked on a graphic novel no one has ever heard of) would work. It’s possible to create a cartoon featuring a expressionless blobs that would make you cry. There are a zillion direct to DVD movies with real live humans, many of whom are decent actors, that leave you wishing your TV was broken.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      It looks very good for a realtime render. I’d say it’s not that long ago that ILM and Pixar would be proud of a render like this. Also, keep in mind that techniques developed for increasingly realistic graphics can also be used to make non-photorealistic graphics look better. So this is nothing but great.

  14. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Yeah, this is probably going to result in ever lower FOV so that we’re looking at the characters close enough to notice subsurface scattering.

  15. The Sombrero Kid says:

    that’s just footage of Joshua Jackson with his head shaved idiots.

  16. Dhatz says:

    fucking yay! thy linked SMLAA injector on the site link to

  17. CrowPath says:

    Bum eyes.

  18. Kdansky says:

    >I truly believe that more realistic characters will inevitably lead to deeper storytelling, and more emotionally-driven games.

    Because in the past, better graphics have always meant more money for the story-budget and less for the art team, right?

  19. Prime says:

    “I truly believe that more realistic characters will inevitably lead to deeper storytelling, and more emotionally-driven games.”

    It’s a possibility, yes, but I’m worried he’s focused in the wrong direction. When did you ever need realism for emotion? There’s more emotion in one minute of Pixar’s classic short, Red’s Dream, starring a Unicycle, than in the entire Half-Life series.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Few minutes of Half-Life 2 episode 2 ending prove you wrong.

  20. Johnny Lizard says:

    I’m glad my wife didn’t walk in while I was watching that.

  21. PoulWrist says:

    Funny enough I saw this earlier today: link to kind of the same thing, only with animation too.

  22. Dhatz says:

    It’s no wonder that such complex creations as games with so many elements often focuse on not so important things. sss would practically be only visible on ears, but did youfind any game with realistic eye graphics? real eyes arent perfect spheres, you can see them move under closed eyelids. I Couldn’t find a game that done it right.

    And even simpler things like facial animations tend to be hyper-disappointing, I played JC2 last week, face anims and voice acting a total disaster, but they did the close distance penumbra shadows good enough. -_(\ Come to think about it there wasn’t a game in last 2 months to keep me interested(post-patch Arkham city disabled iself by saves breaking on death in W7-32)

  23. Jurie says:

    I truly believe that more realistic characters will inevitably lead to deeper storytelling, and more emotionally-driven games.

    I’m not the first one to comment on this, but it is worth doing so again.

    After having designed, produced and coded games for over 20 years, I have come to the conclusion that the lack of realistic graphics is not what is keeping us back from deeper storytelling, and more emotionally-driven games. In fact, it’s the inverse: the search for realistic graphics is keeping us back. Its pursuit has caused a waste of tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars over the last few decades. The misplaced use of realistic graphics has led to bloated budgets, reduced risk-taking, less creativity, and a boatload of other problems.

    I don’t want to knock the research or the video though. Nice work.

  24. KaL_YoshiKa says:

    Then you have to animate it, render minimum dozens of these on screen at the same time, each one taking how many man hours to put together? It’s a nice blue sky scenario but is that tech really that close/practical.

    Also will echo everyone here in that decent story telling in games has sadly little to do with where the graphics are at.

  25. pakoito says:

    I don’t want to step up development time and costs another couple of hundreds of millions. This is a great breakthrough but I hope it takes a long long long loooong time to come.

  26. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Impressive tech. Lighting and texture is definitely something games could do better, but can we please figure out how to do half-decent dynamic animation before we focus on realistic skin pores?

  27. Salt says:

    It doesn’t look very different from the subsurface scattering methods which have been around since at least 2007. Neatly demonstrated in an amusingly similar video of a static bald guy’s head:
    link to

    Only noticeable difference in this example is the light shining through thin areas of skin, but we’ve had rendering of translucent objects like that for ages. Not such a pretty demonstration, but you can see the effect here:

  28. bill says:

    We don’t really look that shiny in real life? Do we?

    • Moni says:

      If you’re a greasy nerd like me then yes.

      But probably more likely they’re using very bright. hard lights, which gives a lot of specularity. It makes things look more dramatic, and makes textures and details pop. Good for skin rendering tech demos, bad for glamour shoots.

  29. InternetBatman says:

    It sure is pretty, but I don’t really have a strong desire for better graphics. The last game that really wowed me with graphics was Hard Reset, but I found that I didn’t really notice them after five minutes. I’m much happier with the declining price of hardware and the burgeoning indie scene; I know the two can exist simultaneously, but I would rather the focus remain on lower fidelity.

  30. SpinalJack says:

    That slow zoom and epic music made it seem like you were going to keep zooming in on this guy’s neck spot to reveal an epic battle going on on the side of his neck.

    Microbwar: The battle for neck spot

  31. RegisteredUser says:

    To be perfectly honest, I am normally the first one to love progress like this, due to quietly hoping we will eventually get the first good bearable fantasy porn / 3D porn / futa / hentai / furry / rule34 ALL the things hardcore stuff, but on the other hand I am deeply worried what we will instead get is staged renderings of terrorist attacks used to create oppressive politics, staged coups/marketing etc pp, all so perfected and no longer distinguishable from reality that 1984 will look like an amateur dystopia.

    • Grygus says:

      The key to conquering that anxiety is to realize that for all you know this has already happened. Sit back and enjoy the show, Citizen.

  32. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Pah. Wake me when we can have realistic GAME FACE

  33. DocSeuss says:

    That’s incredibly impressive.

    I’m more interested in procedural animation, though. There doesn’t appear to be much research done on that. More games would benefit from procedural animation than this stuff, simply because you can have unrealistic-looking characters that would benefit. This wouldn’t help for, say, cel-shading, as far as I can tell.

  34. MrUnimport says:

    I find myself questioning the assertion that photorealism will lead to higher-quality storytelling. Voice acting, writing, and animation lend more to believability than graphical quality ever could. If your lovingly rendered human being is moving awkwardly, or saying things that don’t make sense, or doesn’t speak in a tone that reflects their words, the entire illusion falls apart and it’s all a waste of time.

    I suppose it’d be alright to spend Mass Effect 4 staring at Shepard’s minutely-detailed stubble, but in the end there are so many other things that make up the storytelling of a game, each of which affects the player’s experience more drastically than visuals. For ages, players have been putting up with graphics not much more detailed than puppet shows with few complaints.