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HELM SYSTEMS – Indie Developer employs Character Creator 4 and iClone 8


We are an interactive software and entertainment development studio, located in the sunny Southeast Florida. Founded in 2005, we have been utilizing the Unreal Engine since its first generation in multiple projects and industries, ranging from video games, VR and interactive entertainment to business, aerospace and digital conference applications. Our work has been featured on international mainstream online and print press, we have received award nominations and recognition for various projects of ours throughout the years. We are passionate about our work, and fully dedicated to creating ground-breaking and innovative applications.

3D Character Modeling is one of these aspects in a game, in which you need to dedicate all your craft and attention to detail. Characters, especially playable or protagonists being featured in cut-scenes and close-ups, will inevitably be the center of attention for the player. And to make matters more complicated, characters (especially main ones) are displayed in multiple different settings, with different environmental conditions, such as lighting, VFX, etc. Add to that the fact that they are animated, and therefore any skinning errors or awkward deformations will instantly take away any levels of immersion or realism achieved in the game.

Whether you are an indie developer or a AAA developer, character modeling is something you will need to invest serious amounts of time and effort into. And in both cases, more often than not, you will find yourself facing milestone deadlines approaching faster than you wished for, therefore feeling pressed to deliver optimal results within a tight production timeline.

A character attracts the eye as the center of our attention, no matter how intricate and detailed the rest of the setting is.

That’s where I find Reallusion’s product lineup to be the best ally a developer can have.

At HELM Systems we have been using Character Creator and iClone for so many years, and they have been a critical component of our production pipeline. Our work is mainly consisted of projects with a photorealistic art direction, requiring us to give an extra attention to detail whether we are modelling and sculpting an environment mesh, a prop or a character model.

We like using a lot of dramatic lighting with high contrasts, and real-time, in-game cinematic cutscenes with plenty of close-up shots, just to give an extra bit of dramatic flair to our characters. We work exclusively with the Unreal Engine, and now with Unreal Engine 5’s Nanite & Lumen capabilities, realism and detail are more obtainable (and possibly required) than ever!

Screenshot from an upcoming, unannounced dark fantasy title of ours. High contrast, photorealistic artistic direction, and in the middle of it all, a character created with the Reallusion toolset.

As an indie development studio, we need to be more resourceful if we are to achieve quality that can compete with both AAA and indie gaming products in today’s oversaturated market. With Reallusion’s Character Creator 4 and iClone 8, combined with their plugins such as Unreal Live Link, LIVE FACE and more, we can put together, high quality, rigged, optimized and game-ready characters in times that are unthinkable of with traditional character modeling pipelines.

We typically start with a base mesh model, modify the plethora of anatomical variables and features Character Creator 4 offers, then we transfer the resulting base mesh over to ZBrush, from which point on, a frequent back-and-forth exchange between the two applications takes place, until we feel completely satisfied with the resulting character. With Character Creator having GoZ fully integrated within the app, these transfers are both easy and quick, eliminating the requirement of time-consuming exporting and importing, as well as eliminating any import/export settings and any possible incompatibilities these could

Showcasing some anatomical finetuning for one of our characters.
Highlighting the symbiotic nature of Character Creator 4 with ZBrush.

In the meantime, Character Creator 4’s rendering capabilities are extremely qualitative, and the different lighting and atmosphere presets available within the application, in combination with the available animations and poses, allow us to constantly test the character mesh under different lighting conditions, different poses that can show us any skinning issues early on, way before we get to the stage where we transfer the character mesh into a project.

Showcasing different poses and lighting conditions, allowing us an accurate and qualitative visualization, prior to transferring the character to Unreal Engine.

While having the completed mesh and the desired anatomical features in Character Creator 4, we keep working on clothing, armor and any other accessories or equipment we want to include in the character’s appearance. Importing said accessories and equipment in Character Creator 4, not only is easy, but we can also quickly attach it to the character, give it the correct parent bone, properly skin it by transferring the appropriate weights, adjust its scaling and conform its collision as to naturally fit with the character mesh.

Showcasing material customization within Character Creator 4, allowing us to easily experiment with different visual combinations for our characters.

While within Character Creator 4, we can also modify the imported accessory’s appearance, both in terms of geometry and material shaders, while once we have properly categorized it, we can store it in our custom library asset for future use on new characters. Good examples of such an accessory would be a pair of boots, a pair of gloves, a shirt, a helmet, or anything else really. In addition to all that, you can also apply different physics settings, if you are working on a cloth item for example.

Highlighting different clothing, armor and gear combination for our characters, allowing us to quickly experiment and expand our creativity.

Reallusion and Character Creator 4, also offer excellent tools to easily add and groom different hair, facial hair and eyebrows to your characters. You can control a number of variables, such as length, highlight color, base color and much more, as to achieve high quality, realistic and natural looking hair.

If you want to go the extra mile and add even more detail, Reallusion gives you full control of your character’s skin details, such as how strong you want the skin’s micronormals to be, whether you want to add important details such as veins, scars, dirt, sweat, wounds or freckles to your character, position them where you want them, have them be as pronounced or as subtle as you want them, scale them up or down, adjust their opacity values and so much more.

Showcasing different hair and facial setups for the same character. This content was rendered inside Unreal Engine.

And while it is easy to think Character Creator 4 is great for producing human models only, the truth is you can produce so much more than that. We rely on Character Creator 4 to build non-human NPCs and enemies, such as undead with corroded and asymmetrical anatomy, monsters with odd anatomical ratios, such as extra long, oversized arms, oddly shaped head features, and so much more.

Showcasing some wild, monstrous creations, created in Character Creator 4 for our upcoming game.

Lastly, but certainly not least, with Character Creator 4 we can quickly optimize our characters by utilizing optimization tools that offer a large array of optimization options, such as polygon reduction, multiple LODs, each with different settings, texture map sizes etc. bone hierarchy optimization and so much more. This not only saves us production time, but most important it provides us with the much-needed reassurance that the character models will not be the cause for framerate reductions or bad overall performance, while maintaining the highest possible quality.

The finished character rigged, animated and transferred into the game, in Unreal Engine 5.

Once we have completed our work in Character Creator 4, we use the program’s built-in functionality to transfer the character mesh over to iClone 8, where we will conduct some animation work, as well as use the Unreal LiveLink plugin to transfer the character over to our projects.

In iClone 8 we can either use animations from our extensive animation library, which can also be enriched with excellent, high quality, mocap animations, available directly from Reallusion’s huge animation library, modify existing ones, or capture new ones. Especially when it comes to cinematic cutscenes with dialog scenes, we prefer capturing the performance within iClone 8, as it has several plugins that ensure compatibility with virtually every mainstream animation capture toolset, be it Rokoko, Xsens, Faceware or Perception Neuron.

We have also incorporated Reallusion’s LIVE FACE app, which we have installed on an iPhone, which connects with iClone 8, and allows us to capture high quality, realistic, natural and convincing facial performances. Prior to capturing any facial movements, we can test, calibrate and finetune the sensitivity of capturing different facial features, such as eye movement, lip movement, head rotation and movement and more.

After capturing or applying an existing animation (body or face) to our character, iClone 8 allows us to finetune it, both through a frame-by-frame timeline as well as through a multitude of tools that allow us to successfully perform numerous changes, such as bone rotations and movements, speeding up or slowing down a selected number of keyframes, and much much more.

An in-game cinematic cutscene that was rendered in Unreal Engine 4. We are currently working on a newer version in Unreal Engine 5, but still relying on Reallusion’s toolsets just as much.

At this point we either connect iClone 8 and our Unreal Engine 5 project through Unreal Live Link, which not only allow us to painlessly transfer our character from iClone to Unreal, but also with the correct material shader settings, thanks to Reallusion’s Auto Setup for Unreal. Once within Unreal, we can also use Unreal LIVE LINK plugin to play animations in iClone 8, which however are replicated within Unreal, allowing us to visualize each animation within the project, with different lighting conditions, prior to transferring these animations in the game.

If necessary, we can still fine-tune different elements within Unreal as well, such as any physics weights for different parts of the character, collision geometry and settings, material shader fine-tuning, etc, as well as use Unreal Engine’s built-in optimization tools.

An in-depth cutscene that was rendered in Unreal Engine 5.
Showcasing different characters in action, captured both in Unreal Engine 4 & 5. All characters were created and imported in-game with Character Creator 4 and iClone 8.

We have nothing but praise for Reallusion and its products. Thanks to Character Creator 4 and iClone 8, we have significantly reduced the time and effort it takes to create high quality, believable and detailed looking, fully animated character models. Our production pipeline has become significantly more efficient and effortless, allowing us to focus on the creative aspects of character creation, while still having complete control over the technical aspects of it, such as optimization and more. Most importantly this great suit of tools, is backed by an equally great and dedicated team, with top notch developer support,
provided by a knowledgeable, professional yet caring team.

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