Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reallusion Character Creator

Taking a break from Project Merfolk, I decided to do more preproduction level work.  One thing about Project Merfolk I didn't really establish was a good character pipeline.  I was using Mixamo Fuse, which I liked for character creation, but I was having a few issues:
  • After its acquisition by Adobe, the Steam version of Fuse seemed abandoned; I'm not a fan of Adobe Cloud and didn't want Adobe Fuse -- the next iteration of Mixamo Fuse.
  • The amount of customization, though strong, left a lot to be desired at times.
  • Exporting a character to the website to download your auto-rigged Fuse model, though great, was also a bit slow at times and a paranoid part of me is always nervous when they'll shutdown that server.
Anyway, for those reasons, I wanted to try and find a different character creator.  I stumbled upon Reallusion's Character Creator (CC), an extension of their iClone product:

From their website.  I get what they are going for, but still, a bit creepy, right?

There were a couple of things I liked based on the preview and a quick trail period:
  • A lot more selection and variety for morphs
  • The ability to easily make new morphs
  • Exported characters are auto-rigged with facial blendshapes AND twist bones
So after downloading the trail -- and eventually purchasing it -- here are my notes of pros and cons

Pro:  Lots of Different Morphs (but could be more flexible)

Like I said earlier, there are a lot of different morphs and there are even more that you can purchase -- which I did.  The only thing that annoys me is that every morph is limited to 0 and 100.  I've used similar programs where these limits don't exist; however, I think this is done so that other parts of the program, such as clothing and auto-rigging, are more stable.

You don't have to go to ZBrush, but it's probably easier to edit in there than some programs.

Con:  The controls are TERRIBLE!

Admittedly, I am a bit spoiled (or used to rather) by 3DS Max's controls, so the controls for the Character Creator were a bit foreign to me at start, or at least I haven't gotten used to them.  For example, the camera controls are:

Z:  Pan Camera
X:  Enter Camera
C:  Rotate Camera

To my knowledge, there isn't a way to edit these either, which is rather irritating.  Also, there's only one viewport, so you have to switch to the camera view to see your character from all angles.

Pro:  Nice character models

Now, every character creator I've ever used always has a certain "look" to their characters something that makes them seem cheap and easily recognized, similar to when people are like "Oh, this is obviously a Unity game".  In my opinion, similar to when buying an asset of any kind, you shouldn't just USE the character you get directly from the creator if you want to avoid this; however, I feel like this CC can definitely get you a look closer so you don't have to do this.
For example, if you want characters to have more expressive or larger eyes, there's probably a morph that exist for this, OR you can make your own that achieves this.
Also, since they use Allegorthmic Substance materials, you can customize a variety of textures for your characters by just tweaking a few sliders and substituting a few maps.

Pro:  Good rigs -- though a bit advance

The rigs you get when you export a character are pretty good and they import nicely into Unity3D -- though the thumb and index fingers get mixed up when setting up a humanoid avatar.  They have arm and leg twist bones -- something Mixamo Fuse does not have -- though animations on these bones won't export automatically if you are Humanoid avatar rig in Unity, but I'm sure a script could be made to treat them similarly to 3DS Max's biped twisting bones.
Unfortunately, they do not have facial bone rigs -- unless there is a setting for this I missed -- but they do have blendshapes for various expressions.  The reason I say setting is that the rigs export with a bunch of dummy objects that would indicate that facial rigging does exist.
In addition, I only have to export to a propriety program instead of a proprietary site like Mixamo to get and use my rigs.

Con:  Meshes are a bit heavy

In addition to having a lot of bones in the rigs, upon export, the average character -- depending on how much clothing you dress it in, is about 50K triangles.  If you are making a console or high-end PC game or a game with few characters on screen at any given time, this is probably fine and can be fixed with LOD meshes or retopologizing.
In addition, there are a LOT of texture maps generate with each character, for example, there is a separate texture created for a character's nails and teeth as opposed to combining them.  This may be parameter that can be adjusted similar to Fuse, but I haven't found it yet.

Con:  Little clothing and hair to choose from

This was a problem in Fuse too, but there are few pieces of clothing to choose from and even less hair, and, unlike Fuse, there doesn't seem to be a pipeline for creating your own clothing.  I can understand why as there is probably lot more setup to clothing besides just modeling it.  I do, however, think there are plans to add this feature eventually.
Here is some clothing available from start (with the essential bundle):
  • Shirt
  • Tanktop
  • Jeans
  • Joggers
  • Skirts
  • Blazer
  • Sneakers
  • Boots
  • Sandals
  • Heels
And with the use of procedural materials, you can create a huge variety of outfits with little modeling effort.

Undecided:  Requires / Comes with iClone

So CC is really an extension of another tool known as iClone, which is for 3D animation.  From what I gather, it's does everything that 3DS Max's biped or Unity's human avatar does.  Every character has a standard rig and then you import animations into the engine.  
It has control issues similar to CC and it doesn't really seem to be intended for animating IN rather than using mocap or premade animations and adjusting them for your characters a bit -- blending, putting on multiple rigs, etc.  The package I obtained does include a tool for capturing mocap from a Kinect; however, I haven't tested this out yet; as I have yet to purchase the connector needed to hook a Kinect to my PC.

Con:  Relatively Expensive

No one likes talking money, and CC is free as part of a trial to iClone, but to export a character created in CC, you have to purchase an iClone license.  Though perpetual, it's rather expensive, about $700 -- and this is a sales price that I think ends soon.  In addition, the special morphs were another $150.  I was cautious, but I ultimately feel this was a worthwhile purchase as 3D character work like this is something I want to utilize in my future work.  This is what I got:
  • iClone
  • 3D Exchange (tool used to go between iClone and other programs)
  • Character Creator
    • Essential Clothing and Morph Bundles
    • 100 Reference Heads
  • Kinect Mocap Plugin
So in summary, despite the price, I think CC was (or will be) a worthwhile investment.  It seems the product will continue to improve and advance and, since I like making character-focused games such as fighters that focus on characters models, it fits my needs.  I am a bit disappointed that iClone seems to do things that 3DS Max already does.  In addition, I still need a way to either edit or make unique clothing, which brings my to my next point:

Marvelous Designer

I posted about CC awhile ago, and someone brought up this program, which I had forgotten about actually.  It's essentially a much better version of 3DS Max's Garment Maker -- more stable, easier to use, etc.  The issue is, despite it being easier, it requires precision and a rather good knowledge of actual clothing design and pattern making.  It's neat, but I'm unsure if it's actually useful for what I do, and with the clothing CC already provides, could I just apply a morph or a simple fix to the clothing I already have instead of making my own garment pieces?  If a perpetual license wasn't $550 (or $60 a month -- I just dislike subscription models), I'd probably be more inclined to get it, but I'm on the fence and need an actual character idea that would need it before investing the time / money to learn it.

Anyway, my next plan is to try and make a character from beginning to end that uses CC.  Tempted to do it for a Project Merfight character, but I may want to try and do something more human first.  I'll post progress when I get that started.

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