The key to crafting faces that can move and emote effortlessly | Spotlight on: Derrick Sesson

Derrick Sesson is The Mill's Modeling/Texturing Department Supervisor.
Thought March 24, 2020

Tell us about your role at The Mill

I’m currently the Modeling/Texturing Department Supervisor. I’m mainly responsible for workflow, quality control, training and guidance for all things model/texture at The Mill.


You worked on a project that brought together technology and artistry to craft believable faces that can move and emote effortlessly. Tell us about that?

That would be the Respawn Entertainment projects. For the last two years we’ve been creating the Cinematic Trailers for Apex Legends. My main responsibility has been to ensure the faces can talk and emote in an appealing and impressive fashion. It poses a good challenge because we want the faces to move realistically, but the trailers are also very stylized so bringing some style into the faces is a very fun task.

What sparked your particular interest in fully CG faces?

In my opinion, the face is where the emotion comes from when you watch any character-driven cg piece. I love story and being able to feel empathy with a character. Continuing to learn what makes a character empathetic, with whoever is viewing it, is the most rewarding task for me as an artist


Talk us through the benefits of creating a face in full-CG?

Having a full face in CG allows you to tell the character’s story however you like. To push the excitement, sadness, happiness, or anger in a CG character allows us to express whatever emotion is correct; even if a Director wants emotion changed well after the mocap shoot.


What is the key to creating realistic and complex emotions?

Reference. At the end of the day this is art imitating life so it’s important to know a realistic base, no matter how stylized you go with it. For the Apex Legends projects we will always shoot the actors facial mocap performance, track that onto our rig, and further finalize the animation by hand. This allows us to have the basis of the emotion and performance be driven by the actor’s performance and further controlled by the animator.


Talk us through the most memorable (related) project you’ve worked on?

I’d say Avengers: Infinity War. I was part of helping create the model for Thanos, but also helped in creating his facial shapes.


How does advancing technology enhance what you can do when it comes to creating true to life faces?

Creating and moving faces is incredibly difficult and time consuming. Where technology helps me is speeding up the process and workflow. I program in a language called Python which is directly implemented in Maya. I use Python to create tools and functions which allow me to automate a large chunk of the process. Every face we do presents a new challenge, which in turn lets me create more tools, which speeds up our total facial creation time and improves our quality on every project.


Tell us about the best projects you’ve seen that use CG faces?

Well I have to say Avengers: Infinity War with Thanos haha, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Gollum from Lord of the Rings, Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean, Avatar, the Cyberpunk2077 trailer and the recent Diablo 4 trailer from Blizzard was amazing.