Form = function

This story appears in the October 19 "Body Issue" of ESPN The Magazine.

Kobe Bryant is dunking in the nude. Well, not the real Kobe (as far as we know). We're talking about virtual Kobe, the one on the computer screen of 2K motion-capture coordinator Steve Park. Before becoming the cover for NBA 2K10, virtual Kobe was nothing but a bunch of geometric lines and data, collected from motion capture. It was Park's job to design this stripped-down Kobe to dribble, shoot and fly like the real one. Now, in his cube at the 2K offices in Novato, Calif., Park is showing off his handiwork to co-workers, slyly rotating the camera around Black Mamba's bare polygonal tuchus. Snickers predictably follow. "Clothing was another department," Park deadpans.
So were facial features, emotions and tattoos. In fact, it took 20 iterations, 40 programmers and producers and 10 months from start to finish before virtual Kobe was complete. "It turned into an obsession," says Mark Goodrich, 2K Sports senior brand manager. The result? When the 2K crew gave Kobe a sneak peek of the game in LA in late August, the reigning NBA Finals MVP was blown away by his video doppelgänger. "It looks like a photograph," Bryant said, shaking his head. "They made me look good. They made me look cut. Great look."

Of course, it wasn't just Kobe who got the major workover. From LeBron James and Steve Nash to Brian Scalabrine and Mardy Collins, 2K sweated over every NBA player who took the court last year, along with all the incoming rookies. Whether that obsession thrills gamers, we'll find out when NBA 2K10 is released this month. But one thing became clear on our exclusive tour of the 2K studio: Other than the players themselves -- and maybe their doctors -- nobody knows an athlete's body like a video programmer.

Let the secrets fly.

To keep reading about the process of Kobe Bryant becoming a pixelated version of himself -- and to see a video of his reactions to the process -- you must be an ESPN Insider. Insider