首頁 » April 25, 2022

3D Render Engines for iClone: Choosing The Best (Part 1)

Comparison of Omniverse, Unreal Engine 5, and Maya V-Ray for 3D Real-time Animation

Introduction

José Tijerín is a digital illustrator and 3D sculptor who has created a video game “Dear Althea” to be launched on the Steam.  His “We’re Besties” content pack is currently selling in the Reallusion Content Store.

In this tutorial, José shares his way of working with Character Creator  and iClone to get fantastic results in Omniverse, Unreal Engine 5, and Maya V-Ray render engines. Then he compares the results and gives his personal opinions on each one of them.  This tutorial will help users to discover new possibilities for showcasing their 3D sculpt and animation work.

Prepare A Character

The first step would be to create a character in Character Creator, however, I’m going to skip this step because I have already written an article with a tutorial video on how to create a cartoon-style character.

Now we are going to add movements to this very same character. In order to bring it to life, we can take advantage of ActorCore’s fantastic motion library.

Once we have selected the desired animation, we’ll just have to apply it to the character and adapt it to the scene we want represented in iClone. In my case, I had to select an animation of a cook stirring contents in a pan and another motion for taste-testing with a spoon. In order to make the animations fit the scene, I had to connect the spoon to the hand, fix the other hand to the pan handle, and adjust all of the movements to fit the character I was working with. Finally, I animated the character’s gestures and eyes to bring her to life, which is without a doubt, the funnest part of the whole process.

NVIDIA Omniverse

Let’s start with the NVIDIA Omniverse platform, an application that is easy to download and completely free to use: Just register an account on their website and download the program. I’m adamant that everyone should try this software at least once due to its simplicity, usefulness, fun, and ease of use.

Once we have it installed, go back to the open project in iClone and look for the USD export button at the top of the program. In the subsequent pop-up window you can configure various aspects of the export, but in our case the default setting will work as they are. Next, click on the Export button to take the whole project along. We can click the Send to Server button to send it directly to Omniverse, but in my case, I’ll just work off of a scenario already prepared in the program.

Export an iClone project to NVIDIA Omniverse (image credit: José Tijerín)

Now, we will export our files to a folder and open the NVIDIA Omniverse Launcher – if not already opened. The Omniverse Create application can be found and launched from the Library menu. 

For my project, I just need to load a scene in which the character will be introduced. To do this, go to the File menu and click on the Add Reference option. Don’t worry if the character enters with whitish skin – thanks to iClone’s intelligent export system to Omniverse – all of the skin texture parameters will be adapted to the program. 

To apply the textures to a model in Omniverse, we first have to click on the model by clicking either on the 3D model or on its name in the list to the right and apply new material. Afterward, you’ll notice that the lower right window will be filled with the material properties applied to the model. These material properties will be editable after clicking on the material symbol. 

Apply textures in Omniverse Create (image credit: José Tijerín)

Applying the textures to the material is very simple, we only have to look for the folder with the textures in the Content window and drag the textures to different sections that make up the material and configure it in an intuitive way. 

For other occasions, as in the case of cartoon-style hair, we’ll need a special material. To apply a different material to an object, we have to right-click on it. In the floating menu that appears, click on the Create menu and, inside it, look for the Materials menu. For this example, I’ll choose one of the predefined Presets of the OmniHair material.

Character hair creation (image credit: José Tijerín)

In case of problems with the animation, such as objects in Attach mode not moving correctly, you should go back to iClone and bake the animation. To do this, go to the timeline. In the CC3 Base Plus section, go to the Collect Clip track and select the entire animation track. Once selected, right-click and perform Add MotionPlus tro Library from the pop-up menu. Then find the custom animation in the content menu and apply it to the character. And in the situation where the facial expressions don’t work, you will have to update the programs and re-export the character.

The Three Different Render Modes in Omniverse

Next topic is on the Omniverse render modes, which is really impressive stuff. If we go to the top of the viewport we can see the lightbulb symbol. Click on it to see three types of rendering that Omniverse has to offer:

  • RTX Real-Time is one we have been seeing so far, which corresponds more or less to the traditional lighting of video games.
  • RTX Path-Traced is the strong point of the program.
  • Iray Photoreal is the most accurate of the group, but it is slow and computationally heavy.

One of the main differences between the rendering modes is the rendering time. For my project, the scene is complex in terms of lighting and textures, so to avoid noise in the video, the render times are quite long compared to the incredible speed that Omniverse usually offers.

Omniverse render mode: RTX Real-Time (image credit: José Tijerín)

The RTX Path Traced result is excellent with rendering speed so fast and of such high quality that you can work on the project while rendering without a problem. This gives you the possibility to tweak the scene without having to wait for the render to update; something that can speed up the production by a lot.

Omniverse render mode: RTX Path Traced (image credit: José Tijerín)

Finally, Iray Photoreal is NVIDIA’s bid to become one of the major rendering engines dedicated for the big screen. Compared to other industry-standard render engines, it can be plagued with some small shader problems in certain situations. However, judging by the color transmission present in the left-over food, it tends to give better results than other modes and can be quite impressive for some scenes.  

Omniverse render mode: Iray Photoreal (image credit: José Tijerín)

As you may have noticed, unlike the other modes, the rendering of translucent material does not work by default. So to make it work, we have to go to the Iray menu to the Render Settings section to find the Caustic Sampler option. When we activate it, we get a result that is quite impressive, even for a very simple scene.

Comparison of render modes of Omniverse (image credit: José Tijerín)

Render with RTX Path-Traced 

However, given the complexity of the operations to be performed to achieve this result, the time required for this mode to completely remove noise and achieve high definition is very time-consuming compared to the other modes. So I recommend choosing the intermediate mode to work in for good, responsive results.Now that we have chosen a render mode, let’s see how to go about rendering a scene. If we go to the Render Settings menu, we can find the Path Tracing rendering menu. Inside we can find two important sections: Path-Tracing and Denoising. To explain these parameters we are going to render a complicated material like the pre-defined material for honey.

Comparison of render modes of Omniverse (image credit: José Tijerín)

In the first section, we find the Total Samples per Pixel parameter. The higher the number, the greater the number of samples and the higher the quality, but at the cost of longer render times.

The second section is the Denoiser, a system that many 3D programs have been using for some years now. This system detects the noisy areas in the render and softens them. However, you have to bear in mind that the more samples you have to work with, the better the results will be.

Now that we have the basics set up, let’s render the animation by going to the Rendering menu and in the drop-down menu open the Movie Capture menu. In this window, we can configure parameters such as frame rate and resolution. Just select the option to Use Current (RTX Path Traced) and set the number of samples per pixel. When we are done we just have to assign a destination folder for the output images and hit the Capture Sequence button. 

The final result is quite good and we have obtained it in a very short amount of time compared to traditional renders.

Comparison of render modes of Omniverse
Comparison of render modes of Omniverse (image credit: José Tijerín)

Unreal Engine 5

Downloading and installing Unreal 5 is completely free, although we must have enough space on our hard disk and some previous knowledge of 3D programs to learn the engine.

Once Unreal is downloaded and installed, we are going to import the animations from iClone. To do this it is advisable to put both programs (iClone and Unreal) side-by-side on the same screen to optimize workflow. Once we have opened both programs, we must go to the Unreal Settings menu and click on the Plugins menu. In the pop-up window, type “Live” in the Search section to check if Live Link and iClone Live Link plugins are activated. 

You’ll notice that the new Live Link menu resides next to the Details menu. If we click on the Source button in this menu, we can access the drop-down menu and select the iClone Live Link option and then click Ok to accept the port number.

 iClone Live Link with Unreal 5 (image credit: José Tijerín)

iClone Unreal Live Link

After everything is ready on the Unreal side, we’ll go back to iClone for a moment to make the connection. To do this, we need to deploy the Unreal Live Link menu by going to the Plugins menu. After clicking on it, one should see the Unreal Live Link menu with the options for Transfer and Link. Make sure the Transfer option is selected and go to the bottom of the window and click on Transfer File.

After waiting a few minutes, we’ll have the imported character with all of its materials already configured. Next, we’ll need to link the animation to the transferred character by going back to the Unreal Live Link window in iClone and clicking on the Link button. Again, we have to go to the bottom of the window and click on the Active Link option. If you come across some problems with the linking process, you can click on the character and go to the Details window to diagnose the errors. Under the Animation section, make sure to set Animation Mode to Animation Plane.

Recording Unreal Animation

Now it’s time to record animation in Unreal. To do so, go to the Sequence Recorder window where we will introduce the models we want to record into the Actors list. Once this is done, simply press the Record button and, when the countdown is over, press the Play button in iClone. When the animation has finished, we have to press the StopAll button in Unreal.

When we do this, a pop-up window will appear at the bottom right of the screen so that we can open the sequence directly. Now that the iClone portion of the process is complete, we can close the application to focus on the Unreal scene. As you can see, in addition to the models we have imported, the models linked to the animation sequence now appear in the scene. We can remove them from the scene so that they don’t get in the way while we work. 

If there are textures that you have forgotten to put into iClone, you can still apply them to the materials in Unreal. If we press Ctrl+Spacebar we can access the project content menu. Just import the textures into a folder and create a material. Double-click on the material to access the Material Graph, a graph view where you can drag the textures and connect them to the appropriate channels.

Record animation in Unreal (image credit: José Tijerín)

Once we have connected the textures, we just have to scale the material and drag it to the Materials section in the corresponding element of the model. Now that we have all the materials ready and the scene prepared, we are going to render the video. In the Sequencer window, we have to click on the film plate button to access the Render Movie Settings menu, where we can configure parameters such as the output format or the size of the frames. When we have finished configuring the parameters we just have to give it a destination folder and click on the Capture Movie button.

The result is really amazing for a video game rendering engine thanks to the revolutionary Lumen technology.

Unreal 5 render result with Lumen (image credit: José Tijerín)

If we remove Lumen, the same scene would look as below because the light would not bounce off of the walls in the room. Not having a system that bounces light into the shadows makes the light contrast too abrupt, even if the image was later retouched in post-processing.

Unreal 5 render result without Lumen (image credit: José Tijerín)

Continue reading in Part 2…

3D Render Engines for iClone: Choosing The Best (Part 2)

Comparison of Omniverse, Unreal Engine 5, and Maya V-Ray for 3D Real-time Animation

V-Ray for Maya

This tutorial is going to be carried out with V-Ray for Maya. Keep in mind that although the program works in a similar way in some applications, in others it does not. The common factor is the high price of the one-year license. If you have never used Maya or a similar advanced 3D program before, be warned that the barrier to entry can be prohibitive, with a high price tag. 

We are going to import the iClone animation into Maya to use V-Ray. This time, just select the scene elements, go to the File menu and select the Export menu to save the file in FBX format.

A floating window will appear in which we will have to select the Maya 3D preset from the different presets. Then make sure to export all the frames and click on the Export button.

Export an iClone project to V-Ray (image credit: José Tijerín)

To import the FBX file into the scene, we can drag it directly into the program or we can go to the File menu and look for the Import button to find the file on the computer. As long as we don’t separate the FBX file from the folder with the rest of the textures, the model will be imported together with the materials and textures. Unfortunately, we will have to recreate all the materials so that they are all V-Ray materials and appear correctly in the render. However, in order not to repeat what I already explained in the tutorial I talked about at the beginning, I’m going to skip all the creation of the character’s materials.

I’ll just remind you of the basics of rendering the scene. If we click on the Render Settings button, a floating window will appear. In it we will have to configure the animation parameters, the size of the frames, the type of samples to be used by V-Ray (which is in the Bucket option) and finally we will have to add the Denoiser element to eliminate the pixel noise that may arise.

V-Ray render settings (image credit: José Tijerín)

Detailed Comparison of Three Render Engines

The Denoiser in V-Ray does a spectacular job, you can easily turn it on and off in the Frame Buffer window by going to the Layers menu. The rendering with V-Ray is without a doubt the one that offers the most polished result. The lighting has an incredible quality and softness and V-Ray’s handling of complex materials is also completely realistic, like the way in which light passes through honey in the glass jars. It should be noted that, unlike the previous programs which are free, Maya and V-Ray are priced.

We get a decent result in Omniverse, but it does not distribute the light as well as in the previous case. However, if we use Omniverse’s photo-realistic render, the result is quite good. Unreal gives a rather poor result which we can manage to improve with some tricks and effects. 

Comparison of 3 render engines (image credit: José Tijerín)

Continuing with the comparisons, it is clear that a big drag on V-Ray and other rendering engines is the time taken to render each frame with pixel noise removed. Thanks to V-Ray’s default Denoiser, this only takes 18 minutes.  It has to be said that this not only affects the final result but also the workflow. When working on 3D scenes, it is really useful to see the results in real-time. This can help us to spot errors, save time checking how the render is coming along, or even allow us to be more creative.

Comparison of render engines (image credit: José Tijerín)

As for fluid simulations, apart from Unreal which can only use particle effects, both Maya and Omniverse give perfect results, however, the winning edge goes to Omniverse. Unlike the tediousness of working with Maya’s fluid simulations, and the dearth of options in Unreal, Omniverse allows you to edit the simulations in an accurate, intuitive, and hassle-free manner.

Comparison of 3 render engines (image credit: José Tijerín)

We can also compare the performance of the Denoiser in the different renders. In this case we also have to leave Unreal aside, because Lumen uses a completely different system. In this detail of a larger 4K render we can clearly see how both V-Ray and Omniverse denoiser does an excellent job.

Without de-noise, V-Ray renders still hold up with a more polished result and less noticeable noise, yet in Omniverse, the noise becomes less uniform and is noticeable in the overall image. Omniverse gives the best result when Denoiser is enabled across all renderers. It has to be said that the 10 minutes it takes for V-Ray to render the scene is a big hit to its advantage in this department compared to Omniverse’s near instantaneous solution.

Comparison of 3 render engines (image credit: José Tijerín)

Personal Opinions

I will end by giving my personal opinions as a professional who uses these programmes. 

These comparisons may be more or less accurate and I have no doubt that, at the rate these engines are evolving, this tutorial will probably be outdated in a short time. However, I hope that it has clarified your doubts and shown you new possibilities to enhance your work.

V-Ray for Maya: Powerful for Large Productions

V-Ray is a very powerful render engine that is used for all kinds of big productions, but that stands out above all for offering a hyper-realistic solution in both lighting and materials, which can be configured to achieve really complex results. It does a fantastic job with integrating computer generated imagery with live-footage. V-Ray is well-prepared to deal with really challenging scenes such as forests and cities, giving a superb and hyper-realistic result. This engine comes at a significant cost, but it can be installed on a large number of 3D programs, including Unreal Engine itself.

image credit: Marvel

Omniverse: Fast and Easy for Collaborative Workflow

Omniverse is a tool that is becoming essential for productions with tight deadlines. In my case, jobs that used to take days to render, I can now deliver with Omniverse on the same day. The fact that it is free and very easy to learn to use also makes it the best engine to start learning 3D and get good results from day one. Although it is new, the programme is constantly being updated, adding new functions and possibilities for free, which indicates that it is a programme with a lot of potential and a great future. These updates have made it the program that works best with Character Creator and iClone.

Having a direct link between both programs allows us to work better, without worrying about the compatibility between formats and materials, so we save a lot of time. So it is highly recommended to bring our characters and animations to Omniverse if we want to get amazing results in a short time. 

The biggest problem with Omniverse is that it is not as flexible as other programs. This is because it was designed to work closely with other programs. It is better to create and assemble the scenario in another program and then export it to Omniverse. Fortunately this is easy given NVIDIA’s facilities for importing work, for example, directly from Maya. 

This makes it even more advisable to work in Omniverse together with Character Creator and iCone, so that both complement each other and benefit from each other’s advantages. Many of the difficulties I encounter when rendering in the program could be solved if the program included, in addition to progressive rendering, a Bucket system like V-Ray; Something I hope they will incorporate in the future. The rendering problems that can be found in the program can be avoided, although it is advisable to always render at a higher resolution than the one we need to get a higher quality image.

image credit: NVIDIA Omniverse

Unreal Engine 5: Made for Video Games

Unreal Engine 5 Lumen and Nanite systems have revolutionized the world of real-time graphics. There are now film productions using this software in real-time because of its versatility and turn-around. The way it works with iClone in real-time is arguably what makes Reallusion the best choice for animating any production using Unreal. And this also applies to the world of video games, for which Character Creator and iClone have been designed from the ground up.

Working with iClone and Unreal Engine at the same time saves a lot of time and trouble, allowing us to be more creative. It’s great that even textures and materials can be passed to Unreal seamlessly, giving an amazing result. Metahumans can also be animated in iClone with the same degree of realism thanks to its incredible graphics allowing the scenes to translate well to other render engines. Having taken into account various important factors of production, I believe Reallusion presently has the best solution for giving life to digital characters.

If you are thinking of making a hyper-realistic video game, even as a beginner, this is the program for you. Not only because it is free and easy to use thanks to its node-based system, but also because of the ease of use with other programs and the great number of tutorials and features that it has to offer.

If that wasn’t enough, we can finish by saying that in recent times several of the main video game developers are developing their most impressive titles in this programme. Learning to use it can facilitate access to these studios or, at very least, come close to the quality of these blockbusters. 

image credit: Unreal Engine

I hope you like and enjoyed this tutorial. Remember to watch the video so you don’t miss any detail in the process that was covered here. Don’t forget to visit Reallusion for more online video tutorials and go to Steam to add “Dear Althea” to your wishlist.

Back to Part 1