A Quick Way to Create a 3D Cartoon Animation with ActorCore and Blender

A quick way to create a 3D cartoon with ActorCore and Blender.

Greetings, my name is Peter Alexander. I’m a digital freelancer specializing in illustration, graphic design, and 3D modeling.   

I have been using Blender for years.  It is definitely a great tool for 3D productions; however, I have found it is not so easy when I use it to create animations, particularly to set up motions for characters.  Recently I have discovered an online content library called ActorCore which offers 3D characters with loads of motions ready for use.   In the video below,  I’m going to show you how to use the character and animation assets I have got from ActorCore to quickly complete a short cartoon video in Blender.

Some of the key elements of this demonstration will include: how to use the ActorCore website to download and target assets, how to get set up in Blender, how to import and organize animations, and how to use the Timeline, Dope Sheet, Action Editor, and Non-Linear Animation menu to put together a scene.

Getting Assets from ActorCore

First, from the ActorCore website, I’m going to download the characters and animations I need. I’m going to use Toon Hyde and Toon Hopkins for this sequence. I’m also going to use the Classical Cartoon Motions.

Downloading characters and animations from ActorCore.

When you download animations, there’s an option to auto adjust them to accommodate specific characters. In addition, there’s Zero Root and Mirror options. Zero Root will remove the location keys from the animations, allowing you to control the placement of the character.  In my case the default setting works for me so I will keep this option off.

Downloading animations from ActorCore.

Getting Started in Blender

With the assets downloaded and organized into a few folders, I’m going to set up a few collections in Blender to better manage my scene. For each character I’m going to create a collection.

Although it’s not necessary, I am going to use the Blender Auto Setup add-on to import my characters. ActorCore characters are not really compatible with it at the moment*, but I do like how it sets up a few material options. 

(*Blender Auto Setup has been updated and now it is fully compatible with ActorCore.) 

Setting up the character in Blender.

Setting up Your Characters

You can use Blender Auto Setup, or import and attach the metalness and roughness maps manually, and this only takes a second.

Now I’m going to import the animations. I would recommend setting up another collection for animation imports.

For animation imports, just use the regular FBX importer and select the files you downloaded from ActorCore. You can import multiple FBX files at once. I have a scenario in mind, so I’m only selecting the ones I think will be suited to it.

Importing animation downloaded from ActorCore into Blender.

All these armatures have bones that represent the character rigging and animations. However, the data now exists within my scene, so I can delete these armatures after importing them. Right click on the collection and delete the hierarchy.

Using the Dope Sheet and Action Editor

Switch to your Dope Sheet, then switch to Action Editor. With your target armature selected, assign an animation from the Actions menu. Do not assign animations labeled CC_Base_Tongue, as it will distort your character’s scale and probably cause other issues.

Using the dope sheet and action editor in Blender.

Viewing Your Animations

You probably won’t be able to preview your animations in real time unless you switch to a less intensive viewport option, so I’m switching to the MatCap shader. This is also how I’ll be editing most of my animations.

I want one character to be chasing the other, so I’m choosing the animations which I already examined during my preparation for this video.

Viewing your animations in Blender.

Using the NLA (Non-Linear Animation) Editor

A very important part of my process involves using the Nonlinear Animation panel. From here you can move the animations you sample in the Action Editor and adjust them almost exactly as you would in iClone. NLA clips can be split by moving your timeline navigator to a chosen point, right-clicking and choosing the split option. You can also directly tweak NLA clips by selecting a bone and going to the Action Editor. 

Blender's non-linear animation editor.

Adding Keyframes

With a joint selected, you can set keyframes for rotations, transition, or scale by pressing ‘I’.

If you select the main mesh for the character’s body, you can go down to the Shape Keys section under Object Data Properties. All of your facial morphs are located here. To key a facial morph, adjust the slider for the shape key and click the diamond next to it. Material properties can be animated in much the same way.

Any keys you add to an action strip will appear above the NLA tracks and will remain there until you choose the Push Down option. This will turn those keyframes into a new NLA Track. Once you push down action editor keys to an NLA track, your action editor will reset, allowing you to repeat the process and create new keys and another NLA track.

Adding animation key-frames in Blender.

Keyframing Other Properties

To make a character’s eyes glow, first, you’ll need to isolate the eyes either through textures or by assigning a new material to the eye mesh. Then adjust the properties of emission and emission strength. These can be keyed by clicking the diamond on the side of the property.

Key-framing other animation properties for ActorCore characters in Blender.

Using Facial Morphs

Facial morphs can be keyed in much the same way. Select the main mesh, go to the Object Data Properties. Here you can see all of the morphs associated with the mesh, which are called Shape Keys in Blender. These can be dialed in and keyed by adjusting the property and clicking the diamond next to the slider value.

Adjusting facial morphs for ActorCore characters in Blender

Creating an Atmosphere

Finally, for the background and atmosphere, I simply created cylinders and bent them slightly, UV unwrapped them, then attached a tree bark texture I found online. The ground is simply a 4 sided plane with some very basic texturing. And for the backdrop, I found another image online and imported it as an image plane. The fog was added through an add-on called EV Express, which has a number of lightning and atmosphere tools, and which can be purchased through BlenderMarket.


Creating an atmosphere in Blender.

Conclusion

As you can see in the video, by using ActorCore’s ready cartoon characters and motions, I was able to make a 3D animation fairly quick, without spending too much time crafting the exact characters and motions.  This is definitely a simpler way for someone like myself who wants to save time and hassles on 3D productions.  ActorCore offers free content for users to try. You can download and test them out.

ActorCore characters animated in Blender and rendered in iClone.

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