Winning Tips & Tricks: The Making of Gergana Hristova’s “Judar” Showcase

This “Winning Tips & Tricks” article series covers the best Works In Progress from the 2021 iClone Lip Sync Animation Contest. Learn key steps from winning entries and be inspired by the featured artists that rendered with; Unreal Engine, Unity, iClone (iC), Blender, and Cinema4D – all which will be mentioned in separate articles. Let’s now take a look at Gergana Hristova’s Character Creator (CC) + iClone entry: “Judar”.

Gergana Hristova

Hello! My name is Gergana Hristova, and I am from Bulgaria. I am also a freelance product designer, children’s book illustrator, character designer… pretty much anything that can be done in Photoshop. I have been very lucky to work with some amazing clients such as Warner Brothers, Hasbro, and others. Thanks to that Toy Design developed gradually as a passion of mine.

Although drawing is both my hobby and career, a few years ago I started realising the need to expand my skill set to stay competitive in the market. My role was always limited to a concept illustrator, so in 2020 I finally decided to sign up for a month-long ZBrush beginner’s course. Later, I started learning Blender through all the free tutorials on YouTube and I eventually discovered Character Creator 3 and iClone 7.

Why I created this showcase 

For the contest, my goal was to take something stylized and 2D and see how well it would translate into 3D. Almost instantly I decided to go with Anime as I highly admire the industry.

My dream was to one day create toys, but when I decided to participate in the lip-sync contest, I was blown away by how easy and fluid the animation process in iClone felt. Creating characters and giving them life took very little time, and I was only scratching the surface!

Anime characters tend to be designed in a way that works best when drawn. To recreate them in 3D I debated whether I should keep this stylization, which was going to be too tricky for my skill level, go more realistic or attempt a balanced mix with (my favorite) Disney/ Pixar styles.

Trying to get as close as possible to the original source without turning the character into a Disney Princess was an interesting experience, and the result still leaves a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, for the first time, the 3D world felt accessible and limitless with possibilities!

How I do it with iClone

3D Judar Tutorial #1 and #2 :

Step 1: Finding and building the character in Character Creator

For my character pick, I decided to go with Judar from a show called Magi. I enjoyed the voice actor’s performance and I also thought animating long braided hair would be fun.

Thankfully, Character Creator saves me days building and rigging the models from scratch. In addition, I used the already stylized “Steve” from the Cartoon Character Bundle to save even more time. From then on, it was only a matter of playing with the convenient sliders in the software until I reached the desired result. And adding details like abs, arm muscles and even make-up was made super easy through the Realistic Human Skin feature in the program.

Step 2: Additional software

One of the fun parts is customizing your character. Since I was following a model sheet I had to consider other programs to get what I needed.

With the help of Photoshop, I created the PBR maps for the eyes and even adjusted some of the details on the skin.

The scarf I created in Marvelous Designer to make it look more realistic.

Blender helped with pretty much everything else. Using simple shapes, I was able to sculpt them into jewelry, pants and even a braid-looking thing. And the Blender Hair tool Plug-in is probably the best and most enjoyable way to create any specific hairstyle. For the anime look, all you have to do is taper the ends slightly to make them look pointy. 

Step 3: Creating and lighting the sets

The “super complicated” sets are actually flat surfaces covered with PBR textures. Even the arches in the 4th sequence are a simple plane with the creative use of an opacity map. There are plenty of Royalty Free images on the internet, but I also created/modified some on Photoshop too. Basically… I am lazy when it comes to backgrounds. I prefer to focus on the characters.

For the Lighting, I limited the palette to blues, teals and a bit of orange as a complementary colour. 

Step 4: Animating the Body and Hair

The scenes I picked to recreate in 3D had little to no character animation. Nevertheless, I took advantage of the Motion Puppet tool to create some simple movements and avoid having the character stand in place like a statue the whole time. In the first sequence, for example, I positioned his hands above his head and only recorded the movements of his lower body using Motion Puppet’s “Bored” option. It’s super easy to customise and probably one of the best features in Iclone7. 

Similarly, the braid’s subtle animation in most scenes was quick to pull off by using the Spring Effect option and the Prop Puppet tool. 

Step 5: Lip-syncing with iClone

If there was one thing that I was worried I would completely mess up, it would be lip-syncing. Lip syncing was what made me give up on traditional animation a decade ago. It can be the most time-consuming, mind-numbing, tedious task and I wasn’t looking forward to it… So when I saw what AccuLips could do, I almost wanted to cry with relief!

With a large chunk of the job automatically completed, I was able to focus more on better matching the mouth shape to the sounds, facial animation and expressions. There are many ways to animate the head, but I decided to use the keyframes method as it allowed me to better control the movements.

Final Step 6: VFX

And finally, it was time to add all the cool effects, such as smoke, lighting, magical butterflies and, of course, floating dust particles. I had already bought the PopcornFX plugin and I was dying to see what it could do. Surprisingly, its library covered all the effects I needed and some more! They were easy to customize, simple to use and fast to preview. I might not need an exploding fireball for a video any time soon, but some of the features, such as the Steam, Raising Dust and Dust Particles effect I imagine are a wonderful finishing touch for any scene. 

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

As you can probably tell, I am a very lazy and yet picky person. That’s why I found Character Creator and iClone to be a perfect match for me. The most tedious, time-consuming tasks can be done in an instant, allowing me to focus on being creative and having fun! 

Thank you for your time! 

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