How NBA 2K Makes Basketball Players Look Real In Video Games

this is Steph Curry the five-time NBA

all-star who's been called the best

shooter in the league's history and this

is his likeness on the top-selling

basketball sim game NBA 2k uncanny right

I've heard people say that Steph Curry

looks more like his 2k avatar than well

Steph Curry that's because of two K's

next-gen character animation which makes

the Virtua hoops game feel real to see

how it's done I caught up with the

creators at 2k and pixel gun studio but

turn me into an avatar in the game I

learned just how they capture even the

tiniest detail from scoring celebrations

to forehead wrinkles making 2k 19 the

most lifelike version of the game yet

half the job of getting a realistic game

involves performance capture it's the

process in which a player's movements

get translated into their character

animations this happens at the 2k mocap

studio a warehouse in Northern

California on the inside it pretty much

looks like a normal basketball court

except you won't find players working

out in their normal uniforms here

instead they wear these skin tight

velcro suits plastic helmets and finger

gloves all of those covered in tiny

rubber balls called markers which are

coated in reflective tape the markers

reflect infrared light back up to 140

cameras inside the studio providing an

outline of the players body as they

dribble and shoot so it starts with

getting them in the suits getting the

markers the right location their body

building their skeleton exactly and then

capturing those movements down to the

millimeter every bounce ever shot every

flick of the wrist we capture every

piece of it just to get that

authenticity the goal is to translate

each player's signature style all the

techniques habits quarks and little

rituals that define their presence on

the court the AMIA talent cows were


or hand with a shot list of all the

things we'd like to see them do but

what's probably even more important is

collaborating with them while they're on

site asking them what's important what's

signature moves what they like to see in

the game those moves can include a

player's unique jump shot a go-to pass

fake a crossover even little nervous

habits like nail-biting

when you get down to these types of

player specific animations 2k avatars

aren't all created equal the most elite

athletes get the most individualized

animations 2k cover star Steph Curry

even had his famous dribbling warm-up

scan into the game working at the mocap

studio basically sounds like the least

boring job ever when we worked was step

curry he brought in Ayesha with I mean

she was nine months pregnant at the time

and dropped seven three-pointers in a

row it's probably one of the most

memorable experiences I've had here so

performance captures what grabs the

players unique movements and puts them

in the game

the other half of the equation face and

body scans which specifically nailed

down all the details of the players

appearance from their uniform to their

facial expressions even signature

tattoos and accessories to see this part

of the process in action I went straight

to pics events to do they work with 2k

to collect 360-degree body scans of all

the NBA players and for the purposes of

this story me baby I met up with pixel

gun and neljä my scanning session

actually took place in a parking lot of

all places

that's because pixel gun scanner is

housed inside a self-powered RV which

allows their team to be constantly on

the move these doors contract and so it

comes together so they can travel on the

road what that means is we can kind of

roll up at a site and be ready to shoot

in about 20 minutes this idea to become

the first ever mobile scanning studio

was born out of necessity back in 2012

2k challenge pixel gun to scan the

entire NBA with team scattered across

the u.s. spending less than seven

minutes on each player prior to working

everybody in the league and there's I

think 450 players in the league had to

be painstakingly

by hand when we were first approached by

DK it was clear that we had to go to

them and we also had to make the process

as fast and painless as possible

similar to the mocap studio pixel guns

truck is equipped with a hundred and

forty four cameras which take a hundred

and forty-four pictures in a hundredth

of a second their software then

triangulates those fixtures to make it

3d model the subject capturing up to

16,000 different textures their

technology is so high-def it's almost

unsettled we have the reveal their teeth

so we're actually modeling the exact

shape of their teeth it's cutting this

kind of a bummer I'm gonna be honest

getting necklace variety is the key to

showing how your muscles Bend and

contouring different ranges which means

I had to strike a lot of poses for the

camera it's focused so I've got the ball

of your light this one can step outside

and well pixel gun does have players

perform a core series of poses their

scans also leave a ton of room for

personality which for me was awesome I

really got into my you might get dunked

on that guy you sure I think of three to

win the game


we have people do it yell like an angry

yell a lot and we actually have them

audibly yell because it helps them hit

the total of it's in there somewhere

let's see encouraging the players to

express themselves during the scans

helps 2k get an appropriate emotional

range in the game we try to get those

expressions that are the most unique and

the most signature to them that includes

athletes mannerisms on the court like

Steph Curry's have it if chewing his

mouthpiece we've scanned him with the

mouth guard in doing that because we

wanted to just sort of capture the way

that would deform his cheeks and stuff

so we kind of knew we were gonna put

that into the game and we wanted to make

sure we got that moment right a lot of

the NBA players do play NBA 2k they're

always looking at themselves and making

sure that their look is accurate pixel

gun will rescan players to make sure

their avatar Staker and when players get

new tattoos they'll often contact to pay

to get their new egg scanned into the

game but nothing is as important as the

sneakers which of course are a big part

of the culture surrounding basketball 2k

takes its shoes very seriously they

meticulously look at all the players in

the game and make sure that their shoes

are exactly right because in that case

it's not just the players that would be

a better fit more accurate but the fans

like the fans are totally in the shoes

and they will call us out

I was excited to see what shoes that

give me in the game how badass I'd look

as a professional Hooper a few weeks

later I was able to see my digital

doppelganger for the very first time


let's see this works all right what am i

wearing I love that tank top can I guess



I've never been that pumped about

anything ever ever yeah yeah yeah




yeah the most unbelievable thing about

all this is that I'm wearing a tank top

overall I'm very happy now they start