Starfield’s Weird Facial Animation Problems Revealed By Game Artist

Game developer Delaney King reveals why the facial animations of Starfield are so off-putting.
Starfield featured image

The newly released epic sci-fi RPG from Bethesda Softworks, Starfield, is already a big hit. The game is doing very well review-wise and in early sales. However, the game has been receiving heavy criticism for the various non-playable characters’ facial animations and facial models. Game artist Delaney King, a veteran game artist and developer whose credits include Dragon Age, God of War: Chains of Olympus, and Civilization IV, has weighed in on the controversy, pointing out the problems causing the facial animations that are receiving widespread criticism.


In a thread on X (formerly) Twitter, King noted the problem with the character smiles not contracting in a way that looks realistic. There appears to be an issue with the muscles in the facial models not contracting properly, causing a “Duchenne Smile.” 

Specifically, the way the muscles are animated, the smiles look more like fake smiles or a liar’s smile, making them more off-putting. King also points out that contracting the eye muscles but not the zygomaticus muscles in a person’s cheek comes off like the creepy smile from Homelander in Amazon’s The Boys.

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King added on how the facial and eye animations come off, “The upper whites of the eyes are only exposed on humans when we have a fight or flight response. We open our eyes wide to allow more light in. This means we are either terrified or about to attack.” King continued, “The only time the upper eye whites should be exposed is when you pull out a fucking gun or if they do.”

Based on King’s comments, there is a fairly complex system of facial muscles that are important to keep in mind when animating miles or facial expressions. The problem is the way the smiles and facial expressions in Starfield make the characters look like they are reacting insincerely or flashing a fairly creepy look.

The game artist also shared more constructive criticism on the major game release. King noted on the game, “I am not sure what solution they are using for their faces- if it facial capture fed into bones or blend shapes, but it definitely needs a manual tweak pass to get those smiles working. It’s just creepy.”

Starfield - image 1
Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks.

King also went on in the thread, “I do see movement in the orbicularis oculi, and crows feet so they are in the set up… but they don’t engage in coordination with the mouth. Quite often the mouth moves and the cheek apples follow a bit, but they don’t reach far up enough for the mouth motion.”

It’s not the first time facial expressions and models have been the subject of controversy for a major AAA game release. It was also a widespread criticism for the Electronic Arts and BioWare release, Mass Effect: Andromeda, released in March 2017. A lot of gamers complained about the facial animations and models in that game as well, and the game was widely seen as a disappointment for the Mass Effect franchise.

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Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks.

Hopefully, the developers of Starfield will take some of this criticism to start, or at the very least, take a better look at what the issues are. Perhaps, updating the facial animations or models is something they could work on for a future patch or update of the game. 

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As many gamers know, developers will continue tweaking and tinkering with major game releases long after their launches, along with adding new features. Sometimes these can be subtle changes, and sometimes they can be more significant to a game’s overall quality of life. It will be interesting to see how Starfield evolves post-launch.

Starfield - image 2
Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks.

Nonetheless, Starfield is out right now. The game is available for Xbox Series X/S and Windows PC. Bethesda Softworks announced that the game now has six million players after its recent launch, making it the biggest game launch for Bethesda of all time.

About Starfield

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Release Date: September 6, 2023  
Publisher: Bethesda Game Studios  
Developer: Bethesda Softworks 
Platforms: Windows PC; Xbox Series X/S
Genre: RPG 
Rating: M (ESRB)

What do you think of the news? Are you enjoying Starfield? What do you think of the facial animation issues? Is it keeping you from getting into the experience? Do you plan on waiting to get the game until you know problems such as this are fixed? Please let us know your thoughts about the issue on The Illuminerdi’s social media.

SOURCE: ComingSoon, Delaney King

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Jeff Harris

Jeff Harris

Jeffrey is an entertainment journalist and podcast host based in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science in Radio, TV, & Film and a Bachelor of Arts in Theater. Jeffrey is also a Staff Writer at where he writes about movies, TV, games, wrestling, interviews talent, and covers special events such as Anime Expo, Comic-Con, and CinemaCon. When Jeffrey is not binging his favorite seasonal anime or show, he enjoys playing dodge ball, gaming, watching films, and enjoying UT football. You can find him on Twitter @Wheeljack83.