Video Game Beards (And Hair) Are More Interesting Than You Think

Know why Eidos and AMD made such a big deal about Lara's hair in the new Tomb Raider? Because video game hair is normally pretty ugly, and something incredibly hard to get right.

The Last Of Us gets it about as right as the current generation probably can, though, with all those wavy curls and bushy beards, and having seen these terrific examples earlier today, I thought it'd be interesting to show you how it's actually done.

In the old days, hair was simply sprites. When games shifted to polygons, hair became immovable clumps of polygons and then, a little later, 2-3 slightly movable clumps (like crude ponytails) meshed together.

Today, though, in order to get hair looking "natural", artists basically (and I'm simplifying here) arrange sheets of polygons atop each other, which when textured give the appearance of layers of hair, which not only look real in screenshots, but can move independently (and thus realistically) when you're playing.

You might not notice this when you're playing, if the developers have done a good job, and in the Last of Us, they've done a good job. For that, thank people like Michael Knowland, a lead character artist at Naughty Dog.

These are some of the character sculpts he made for the game, which he's shared today, and while the quality of the models is amazing, I was more interested in the beards. I'm always a sucker for seeing the man behind the curtain, the secrets behind the tricks, and these images definitely ticked those boxes.

Especially since they make Joel look infected. You should check out the rest of Michael's post on zbrush, it's got loads more terrific sculpts from the game.


    I played Tomb Raider on high on PC. The game was stunning, but I still thought the hair looked pretty lifeless.

      You have to actually enable the hair physics in the advanced settings.
      If you dont have a super modern, high-end will notice the performance hit instantly. Even the menu chogs.

      Did you turn on the TressFX (or something like that). it makes the hair crazy but the FPS plummet

        I haven't played it with TressFX enabled, but some people have said it looked weird and distracting so they turned the setting off.

          That was my feeling.

            same. good first effort though, they will go back and tweak it so it will get better.

              Yeah - at least they are really pushing it. Hair is the one thing that still looks terrible in games. Everyone looks like they are wearing wigs made of plastic.

          I thought it looked alright (not perfect, biggest problem I had with it was it seemed out of place against the rest of the character model) but I only used it shortly too check it out (killed the frame rate on my poor old PC)

    Only thing I really noticed is that the beard of Joels is really wiry; the individual hair strands look too thick.

      My beard is wiry, longer and thicker individual hairs opposed to smaller more bushy ones. I think it's a legitimate beard representation :)

        Only really got my own facial hair to compare to; so there you go :>

        Last edited 18/06/13 4:07 pm

          Planky and Woods, the superhero duo that will give you splinters?

      As someone whos facial hair has just gone greyish over the last year or so to match my greying hair (it used to be black as night *sigh*) I must admit, they got his beard spot on. The thick occasional hairs do happen like that when a beard is allowed to go bushy! Like a.... BIG BUSHY BEARD!

        this made me lol... black as the night sky...hahaha


    I love the contrast between the super sculpted heads and whatever, to the unsmoothed blocks of the hair and some of the clothes.

    Regardless, this stuff is rad. It looks fantastic in game, not that that's really surprising.

    Is this a sign of things to come? will the next generation of games be remembered as the first major step forward for the rendering of bearded men? We could be on the cusp of complete bearded imersion.

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