The Last of Us 2 is so detailed, Naughty Dog had to overhaul their rendering to get character’s eyes perfect

The Last of Us 2
(Image credit: Naughty Dog)

The level of detail found in The Last of Us 2 also extends to its character’s eyes as a recent presentation from Naughty Dog reveals. 

Two of the studio’s artists, technical art director Waylon Brinck and technical artist Steven Tang did a presentation earlier this year at SIGGRAPH 2020, a global graphics technology conference where they gave an extensive look into how the technical art of the game was created (via Kotaku).

During the presentation, the artists discussed how much work went on behind the scenes of The Last of Us 2 with some of the focus falling on how realistic the character’s eyes looked in the game. The presentation took place in March however the slides from the presentation have only just been uploaded online for public viewing.

In the slides, Waylon Brinck explains how Ellie’s eyes in The Last of Us 2’s reveal trailer were impressive, but only in certain lighting scenarios and camera angles. This led the team to overhaul their eye rendering process as they “wanted something with a lot more life.”

This overhaul began with a photoshoot to gain more eye reference photos for the artists to use when designing Ellie and co’s peepers. Once they had their research done, Waylon explains that they implemented some ‘screen space shadows’ to the character’s eyelashes and eyelids - to create depth.

It doesn’t end there either, once the team at Naughty Dog had got the human character’s eyes down, they went on to focus on other creatures eyes, as the duo explains: “We had a moment in the game where we wanted some taxidermied wolves to have retro-reflective eyes, like many nocturnal animals do.” This real-life eye feature can mostly be found in cats and dogs whose eyes glow differently depending on the light they’re exposed to.

To do this, Naughty Dog wrote a short piece of code that calculates the reflection of the pupil and gives the eyes an iridescent look. The team liked this effect so much that they then added it to all the infected enemies found in the game, to give them even more of a creepy look. 

This presentation gives us just a small insight into the technical wizardry that went on behind the scenes of Naughty Dog’s 2021 hit. However, this isn’t the first time The Last of Us 2’s level of detail has been noticed as it was recently discovered that the character models in the game have fingerprints, as well as several other hidden design tricks that have been uncovered via exploring the game out of bounds. 

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Hope Bellingham
News Writer

After studying Film Studies and Creative Writing at university, I was lucky enough to land a job as an intern at Player Two PR where I helped to release a number of indie titles. I then got even luckier when I became a Trainee News Writer at GamesRadar+ before being promoted to a fully-fledged News Writer after a year and a half of training.  My expertise lies in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, cozy indies, and The Last of Us, but especially in the Kingdom Hearts series. I'm also known to write about the odd Korean drama for the Entertainment team every now and then.