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Animating Dialogue-Intensive Asian Characters in Unreal Engine using Character Creator and iClone


Peter Haynes

Peter Haynes is a filmmaker based in Auckland, New Zealand. Last year, he and his team were the recipients of an Epic Games film‐making grant, which gave them the budget to create a fully animated short film called “Cheng Beng”, featuring a captivating story with set dressing and characters infused with classic Chinese culture.
There are a couple of unique aspects in the making of this film. Firstly, despite his ample experience in live action filmmaking, Peter had limited experience in the realm of 3D animation. Secondly, the film had a tight deadline imposed by the small budget provided by the fund, necessitating quick turnaround times for the shots. The following content is presented in his own words.

Why choose Reallusion tools?

I highly value Reallusion’s software, particularly Character Creator (CC) and iClone. These tools have been indispensable in our production process. The streamlined and intuitive approach of building our actors using Character Creator allowed me to have our entire cast prepared within just a few days, a task that would have been previously impossible given my limited 3D skills.

Quick Start with Character Creator’s Content Ecosystem

With a total of five characters in the story, it was impractical to create each one from scratch. This was particularly challenging as we aimed to incorporate cultural elements and specific designs, making it difficult to find ready-made CG resources that fit the bill. In particular, during the character-building process, we had a specific vision for our little girl to wear a cheongsam. To our surprise, the Reallusion Content Store offered an extensive selection from various artists, allowing us to find one that suited our needs perfectly. With just a few adjustments in Photoshop to enhance the colors, the dress seamlessly applied to the character with minimal editing required.

Unreal Groom System vs iClone’s Card-Based Hair

To give my little girl character hair in CC, I initially attempted to create separate groom hair for her in Unreal Engine. While grooms can offer visually stunning and dynamically simulated hair, they can be resource-intensive and occasionally yield unpredictable lighting results. I may also have gotten carried away with hair physics, as I had just discovered their exciting capabilities.

However, if I were to approach the process again, I would consider leveraging CC hair cards to a greater extent. These hair cards can yield similar results while significantly reducing the processor load. Interestingly, all of the characters with short hair in this film utilized hair cards from Smart Hair Systems, and they performed exceptionally well. I have also recently experimented with the new hair builder pack, and I am delighted with the outcomes it has produced.

Finally, the CC Auto Setup Plugin allowed me to import these characters into Unreal with all their textures and costumes intact, the realistic shader look is ready for close-ups.

Creating Authentic Character Animations

In this short film, extensive dialogue and character interactions play a significant role. The animation requirements to support the storyline were daunting, but the following is his account of how he and his team managed to accomplish it within 90 days.

Animating Dialogs in Multiple Languages

But as brilliant as CC was, the real lifesaver for this dialogue‐heavy short film was the AccuLips feature in iClone. Not only did our film have a lot of dialogue, but it was also spoken in four separate languages, and the AccuLips tool worked brilliantly for all of them.

Because of the way it works, non‐Chinese speakers could simply type in what the words phonetically sounded like, and the results speak for themselves. Once again, the Reallusionsoftware made the impossible possible.

Additional lip sync animation tweaks can be made by the intuitive user interface. 

Making realistic facial performances 

Extra add‐ons tools and content, such as the Digital Soul collection of motion-captured expressions served as excellent base animations, which could then be enhanced through the easy-to-use and very fun face puppet tool. I have also since started capturing facial performances through the iPhone, which also works extremely well.

There is a bunch of stuff that I would do differently on this film now, due to both Reallusioncoming out with cool new features that weren’t available at the time, or me simply not knowing about a feature and only discovering it afterwards. The coolest of the cool new features is the Dynamic Wrinkle pack, which adds so much more subtle expression to characters than was available before. 

Handling Challenging Cases – Walking hand in hand

An example of me only discovering a solution to a problem after the film was finished was this shot of our characters holding hands while walking. I spent ages keyframing pretty much every hand position in Unreal, and I still wasn’t happy with the finished product. Only afterwards did I discover the reach target tool. This allowed me to lock one character’s hand onto another and made that entire sequence a breeze. This, combined with the look at features that I also discovered later, are invaluable tools for streamlining and enriching the animation process, and I will certainly be making more use of them moving forward.

As a person who fully admits to being stronger creatively than technically, I’ve found theReallusion software packages really suit my way of working. They are simple to get your head around, intuitive in the way they work, and most importantly, fun. I look forward to using them again with all their newest features for our next short film.

Learn More
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iClone Lip-sync Animation:

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Enhance your character’s realism with Dynamic Wrinkle System in Character Creator:

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