For a research project, I am developing a small game focused on non-verbal communication clues, like facial expressions (smiling, frowning, looking bored, etc), eyegazing, proxemics, etc. My main issue is facial expressions, as I can't find detailed info on various engines capabilities on that point.

I usually believe that the engine/language used doesn't matter, as you can more or less do anything with any engine/language, but in this case I need something as efficient as possible (I am time limited).

I have reduced my options to 4:

  • UDK
  • Unity
  • Skyrim Creation Kit
  • Source Engine

So, what are the capabilities of these 4 regarding facial expressions? And let's be honest, in which of them are they the easiest to implement/manipulate?

If there is another engine more appropriate, I'll be glad to hear about it too.


  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ You might look into Valves Source (HL2) engine too \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim Holt
    May 1, 2012 at 14:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't believe you've put the Skyrim creation kit on there. If my playtime told me anything about the Skyrim engine is that the only facial expression it supports is "blank stare". (on a serious note, check out Source) \$\endgroup\$
    – Roy T.
    May 1, 2012 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Roy T. Yep, but the question is: is it possible to add facial expressions in Skyrim or not? I'll add Source to the above list, thanks guys :) \$\endgroup\$ May 1, 2012 at 15:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you checked out the nVidia developer sample (also in GPU Gems 3) of GPU blend shapes (morph targets)? developer.download.nvidia.com/SDK/10.5/direct3d/… It's no engine, but might get you moving in the right direction. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ani
    May 1, 2012 at 17:14

1 Answer 1


I can't answer your question directly but I can offer some suggestions and questions to ask yourself to narrow it down...

  1. Depending on your research goals, ask yourself if you really need a realistic facial animation in the first place. Computer faces will never be as good as the real thing. Can you literally take photos/videos of real people and use them? Image morphing? Can you use abstracted facial expressions? See http://scottmccloud.com/2-print/1-uc/index.html for a lot of interesting insights into character expression.

  2. If you aren't in need of complex animations, check out http://scottmccloud.com/2009/02/25/27/ for a post about an interactive comic-style facial expression generator. Scott McCloud is not in the game business, but he's in the story and expression business.

  3. If you're still convinced you need a game engine, do you want to create a commercial product? If yes, then do you have the budget for licensing an engine? If no, you're probably going to be struggling to make this work with something more general like Unity.

  4. If you are not creating a commercial product, use one of the commercial game engines - Source, Crytek or UDK and create a mod. All of them support good facial animation. These developers are pros, and the quality of what they use (or license) will show.

  5. To help you decide on which engine you'd like to use, go play games that use it, and decide if you like how they look. Especially play games created by the developer of the engine (e.g., Half-Life 2/TF2/L4D and Crysis). Assume that the developer of the engine may be the one who can best show off what it can do.

  6. Look at the tools required, and their documentation. You are doing a "small" project, and I'm guessing don't want to get hugely involved with a massive learning curve for this. Do they make sense?

  7. Pick your top 3 (mine would be Source, CryTek and UDK), and spend a day or two at most trying them out. Pick the one you got the most out of after that.

Links to facial/animation info

The Grimace Project - http://grimace-project.net/

CryTek - http://mycryengine.com/index.php?conid=17

UDK - http://udk.com/features-facefx.html

Source - https://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Faceposer

  • \$\begingroup\$ Well the research is about trying to trigger as much as possible a social feeling in a virtual environment, so yup, need it. But lots of good insight, and it seems all engines have some facial capability in the end.. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ May 2, 2012 at 12:21

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