These lifelike faces in Unreal 5 are freaking people out

Unreal Engine 5 lifelike faces

Welcome to the uncanny valley

Gaming technology has been on the cusp of complete photorealism for years, but things seem to have taken a turn recently with Unreal Engine 5. I feel like every day now I’m seeing something from a game engine that is indistinguishable from real life. At first it was just Forza Horizon 5 screenshots, which didn’t freak me out as much, but now that we’re seeing an increased number of rendered human faces that are so lifelike, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not anymore.

Real-time controlled CGI puppets in Unreal Engine 5 from gaming

Enter Ziva Dynamics’ ZRT Face Trainer, a software that allows game developers and animators to plug in their own face meshes and puppet them into dynamic expressions in real time. A video of the program’s demo running in Unreal 5 landed on Reddit, where it’s been doing some numbers and unsurprisingly freaking everyone out.

The Face Trainer’s website boasts some impressive stats, like a database of over 15TB of 4D scan data, over 72,000 unique training shapes, and puppets that can “run at real-time frame rates.” The software entered early access today, and there’s an application for the waitlist on the website for anyone who might be interested in the tech.

The video actually reminds me of some behind-the-scenes stuff I’ve seen before with motion-capture technology, specifically a tech demo for The Last of Us Part II. From what I understand, they were able to map the face of Ellie’s actress, Ashley Johnson, onto her character’s face in real time, and the results look pretty similar to the ZRT Face Trainer. Now they can just do that with faces that are entirely fabricated, I guess.

Assuming the Face Trainer is going to be widely available to anyone who might want it in the coming years, I’ll bet we’re going to see huge leaps and bounds in the visual quality of games. This stuff makes what we have now look like PS2 graphics. While I am intrigued by the implications this kind of software has for the future of the games industry, it also makes me pretty uncomfortable. I’m also afraid of monkeys and Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors because they’re too uncanny for me, so take that as you will.

Noelle Warner