TECH
10/31/2014 01:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Final Fantasy Is Trying So Hard To Make Characters' Hair Realistic

Gamers got an inside look at the upcoming "Final Fantasy XV" at an event in Paris Thursday, and there was one clear takeaway: the game's developer, Square Enix, is serious about hair.

Though the "Final Fantasy" franchise is immensely popular -- it's sold over 80 million games worldwide in its 27 years of existence -- there’s a lot riding on this latest sequel (and its hair).

In recent years, franchises from the West like "Call of Duty" have dominated the sales charts. Japanese games haven't fared, as well. "If ‘Final Fantasy XV’ doesn’t do well, perhaps there’s not much of a future for console games," FFXV co-director Hajime Tabata told Kotaku.com this summer.

So, "Final Fantasy XV" needs to look really good to lure in an audience. One way to tell that’s happening? The hair. Check out this clip from Thursday's presentation, apparently showing the process artists and developers used to form an in-game character's hair:

It might seem simple, but hair has long been a challenge to render and animate. Aesthetics are subjective, sure, but if hair looks beautiful in a game or computer-generated movie, you know some serious work has gone into it.

According to WIRED, Ariel was meant to have curly hair in "The Little Mermaid," but "rendering that kind of bounce and frizz" was practically impossible at the time. (To get some sense of the challenge, check out this 9-page Pixar document about the physics of curly hair in "Brave.")

When Square Pictures made a CGI "Final Fantasy" movie, (2001’s flop "The Spirits Within"), it took four years and almost $150 million, in part because of the 60,000 hairs that needed to be rendered on the main character's head in every frame.

Of course, Square Enix has always cared about hair in its "Final Fantasy" series. In 1988’s "Final Fantasy II" for the original Nintendo Entertainment System, character portraits were rendered with detailed tresses, a remarkable feature for the time:

When Square Enix first used computer-generated cutscenes nearly 10 years later, in 1997’s "Final Fantasy VII," the hair was looking more fabulous (and anime-esque) than ever:

Here, we see Aki Ross in the film "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within." Those 60,000 hairs don’t quite have a natural movement about them, but who knows what sort of conditioner mankind’s got in the dystopic future?

Things are looking a bit better in 2005’s DVD-movie "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children." Compare this hair to the ‘97 GIF above. It’s the same character:

More recently, Square Enix has gotten closer to capturing a realistic look for strands of hair moving in the wind, as we see in 2010’s "Final Fantasy XIII":

And then there's the most recent "Final Fantasy XV" preview:

“Final Fantasy XV,” first announced in 2006 and originally titled "Final Fantasy Versus XIII", will be the first Final Fantasy on the powerful Playstation 4 and Xbox One systems. We don’t know when the game will be released -- and Square Enix didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment -- but keep your eyes peeled for more silken goodness to come.

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