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How I Render Realistic Character Animation with Unity HDRP and iClone


Jasper Hesseling

Hi there, my name is Jasper Hesseling and I’ve been working as a solo 3D artist for over 15 years. I’m based in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and I go by the name “Mayonnaise”. Why Mayonnaise? Well, it’s partly because of my Dutch roots – it’s a very popular sauce here – but also because I often feel like I’m creating the “visual sauce” for concepts and ideas. As an all-around 3D artist, I understand how to leverage the advantages of each 3D tool and assemble them into the ideal character animation pipeline. My background is actually in motion graphics, but I transitioned to 3D art and animation because that’s where my passion lies.

Some of you have already seen my winning entry Jessica Rabbit in the previous lip sync animation contest, and I demonstrated how I did it with an article post. Jessica was a pure iClone render project. But since Reallusion announced the Auto Setup plugin for Unity, I decided to give it a go and created this Lynn project. See why I created this project and how I combine my workflow with the Reallusion pipeline below.

Why I chose Reallusion Software

In the past, I’ve been working with a lot of characters that were customized by myself. It’s nice, but I don’t always have the time to create everything needed for a functional face rig, let alone the rig itself with all that extra facial functionality, like facial mocap and retargeting options. But with my previous experience, I know Character Creator and iClone will be my solution for this.

So I quickly started concepting and customizing the secret agent character, Lynn, for this project. The whole Lynn character is based on CC4-based mesh, and I made the outfits from scratch in Marvelous Designer. After doing a retopology and uv layout I made the textures in Substance Painter. I wanted her to have some recognizable items, so that is where the NIKE’s came in. And the rest of the items, I borrowed a bit from one of my favorite animator series: ARCHER.

Q: Hi, Jasper! Thank you for the wonderful project background introduction. You have both experiences in Unreal and Unity. Can you briefly share your experience with both engines, and tell us why you chose Unity for this project?

I love 3D animation and graphics as a medium to express my creativity. What I don’t like is waiting on renders. This is why I am always on the lookout for real-time rendering solutions. With this in mind, I am exploring the possibilities of both Unreal Engine and Unity3d.

While I find Unreal to be an interesting option, Unity’s open setup and forgiving nature appeal to me more. Though I must admit, if serious ways to compile errors are required, Unreal may be the better choice. As for my expertise, I’m not an expert in those areas. That being said, after seeing the HDRP render, I couldn’t resist diving into it once again.

After seeing what people like Sakura Rabbit and Little Mountain could get out of Unity, I wanted to see what I can achieve with the HDRP engine. So I chose Unity for this project and decided to push myself further for high-quality visuals.

Lynn in Unity HDRP Environment

Q: So after selecting Unity, can you tell us more about your findings in Unity HDRP, and how it can be incorporated with the Reallusion Auto Setup Plugin?

I was very impressed with the render results of the HDRP engine in Unity. The Reallusion Auto Setup Plugin was a huge time-saver in setting up characters in Unity with all the rig and shaders you need in the HDRP environment. Especially it makes a very realistic display of Digital Human Hair, Eyes, Skin, and Teeth almost without any tweaks.

Use the built-in Preview Tools for expression check
Use the built-in Preview Tools for expression check

Another fascinating feature that I found is the built-in preview tools. Once the shaders are automatically assigned to Unity, I can use it and quickly apply different looks and expressions on Lynn, and immediately see the facial expression results under the Unity environment. This is another time-saving feature on lookdev tasks, allowing me to focus more on the creative process.

During production, I also looked into Victor Soupday’s Reallusion forum post. Victor is the original designer of the CC to Unity AutoSetup tool, and he helped me greatly when I bumped into some technical issues. His insights have assisted me to fix a few errors on the go, too.

Q: Can you talk about your character animation workflow in the Parkour Pack?

I started out with a rough blocking animation in Cascadeur and imported that into iClone. In iClone, I polished the animation and added extra details like hand and finger animation as well as facial expressions.

Bringing all the animated data in iClone
Bringing all the animated data in iClone

I could also place constraints for when the character makes contact with the environment like the jump over the railing. With the motions available in the Parkour Pack I could really expand on the animation and the last part is totally created with motions from that same pack. I also found the review made from Libertas videos helpful, and suggest you can also dive into that review and take a look.

This iClone-to-Unity pipeline is a feast to work with, and I feel really liberated as a solo creative. And I see only more possibilities on the horizon.”

-Jasper Hesseling, Freelance 3D Artist

Q:  In your opinion, can you share with us how your workflow can inspire Unity game Developers?

I believe that with this workflow with characters from iClone or CC4 Unity, developers have better access to awesome character models and animation for their games. Since there is a lot of detail in the models, character animation in cutscenes could add to the storytelling of any game. And below is the materials that we need to collect to decorate your story. We’ve done this before so we can be a bit more creative with the materials!

Build your final animation in Unity
Lynn rendered in Unity

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