Resident Evil Village remains one of 2021’s most successful games, selling more than 4.5 million copies since launching in May. That feat, of course, was helped along by the internet thirst sparked by one of its early-game antagonists: the 9'6" vampire Lady Dimitrescu.
The towering vampire is believed to be inspired by Hachishakusama, an eight-foot woman in Japanese folklore who lures children with the sole purpose of consuming them.
“The character was very popular among the development team as well, but to be honest, we never imagined she would gain this much popularity,” Capcom Presentation Director Masato Miyazaki tells Inverse.
Miyazaki spoke with Inverse about the mo-cap challenges of designing this majestic, tall lady while infusing the game with the next-gen Gothic sensibilities it required. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, that goal became quite the tall task.
Making the large vampire lady a reality
When talking of Lady D’s fame, Miyazaki was quick to congratulate her voice and capture actor for embodying the role.
“Her physique seems to be the topic of much discussion,” he says, “but I’d like to believe Maggie Robertson’s exceptional performance also greatly contributed to the allure and charm of the character.”
Miyzaki’s position as presentation director meant he had to look beyond the character’s sheer size and into Dimitrescu’s personality as expressed through her body language. “The main thing that was important to me was that Lady Dimitrescu would carry herself with pride and dignity, befitting that of the lord of a castle,'' Miyazaki says. “It is easy to get caught up in the more alluring performances, but the foundation of the character in my opinion is from the large, slow gestures that embody her proud and arrogant personality.”
Dimitrescu was a local noble who gained her gargantuan size, and a thirst for blood, as the result of a scientific experiment that left her with supernatural abilities akin to vampires. So there’s a lot of dynamics at play.
In conveying those finer aspects, Miyazaki encourages actors to take ownership of their roles. “I think giving [actors] more freedom really helps in allowing them to embody the character as much as possible,” he explains. “By allowing the actors to perform more naturally, I think it’s the key to creating more charismatic, impactful characters.”
Speaking to PC Gamer in May, Robertson said she approached the role by prioritizing Dimitrescu’s relationships with other characters as opposed to her position in the plot. “I didn't need to know about her backstory, about the blood disease thing,” she said. “But I did really need to know how I felt about Heisenberg or how I felt about Mother Miranda, and what that relationship was. I worked to define that aspect of the character, but not necessarily all the fine print details you find out about in the game.”
Roberson also emphasized the character’s “curvy” style of movement in her performance.
Of course, that’s not to say Dimitrescu’s stature was something Miyazaki and his team completely ignored. In fact, it presented one of the biggest challenges in bringing the lady of the castle to life.
“The most difficult aspect is having a normal-sized character and an unnaturally tall character acting side-by-side,” Miyazaki says. You need only watch Lady D stoop lower to move through regular-sized doors once to recognize how awkward her movements could wind up in traditional spaces.
This was particularly problematic during scenes where Dimitrescu and Ethan or the lady’s daughters were in the same frame. “To solve this problem, we created two types of backdrops: one that was scaled to the height of an average person, and one that was scaled to that of Lady Dimitrescu’s enormous height. We also meticulously prepared the character rigs in advance to be able to gracefully handle as much of the disparity between the actor and the in-game character,” Miyazaki says. This meant the studio effectively had to accomplish double the design work to make the Lady D vision a reality.
Capturing a next-gen game around a virus
Creating a character of Lady D’s size was just one part of a complex array of challenges for the team at Capcom. Miyazaki and his team also had to contend with completing the vital motion capture elements of the game in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. With the latter half of the game and its ending still left to film, the presentation director and his crew “built a dedicated filming environment [that] allowed for real-time exchange of video and data captured in the studio.”
Like many businesses at the start of the pandemic, the storied Japanese game developer introduced a unique series of social distancing precautions to ensure workers remained safe. “We banned face-to-face conversations among the staff and made sure that everyone communicated by radio,” Miyazaki says. “Depending on the wishes of the actors, we employed a style of filming in which only one person was shot at a time, or we utilized a stunt double to stand in.”
The logistical challenge posed by Covid-19 wasn’t the only new variable the team faced in bringing Resident Evil Village to life — it’s the first game in the long-running series made for next-gen hardware like PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. This meant the game required a level of visual fidelity the series hadn’t yet seen.
Miyazaki says it felt like one wrong choice could be devastating to development.
“In the early days of CG animation, the term ‘uncanny valley’ was heard fairly often, where certain images left the consumer feeling uncomfortable,” he says. “In the age of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, the potential to create an ‘uncanny valley’ is most definitely still there. An unnatural animation or an awkward discourse between characters could leave the player puzzled.” Next-gen hardware is helping to eliminate the uncanny valley in gaming, but there are still plenty of ways that glitches or bad writing can shatter the feeling of immersion.
All told, the story of Resident Evil Village’s development is one of rising to the challenge under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Miyasaki and his colleagues have created one of the most talked-about games of the year.
Despite the game’s success, Miyasaki remains coy about the series' future when asked about a potential Resident Evil 9. Still, he is optimistic that the franchise has a bright — or rather, dark — future ahead.
“The Resident Evil series is a franchise that brings you fear, but gives you the tools to inevitably overcome it, regardless of the setting or characters,” he says. “If we have the fortune of ever developing Resident Evil 9, I hope to be able to offer that experience again.”
Whether or not Lady D could return, however, is another story entirely.