One of the great things about Character Creator 4 is its ability to reuse assets from previously built characters to make new characters. Since CC4 clothing is interchangeable with other CC4 characters it allows us to mix and match previously made or purchased assets for an entirely different character. This is a boon for filling scenes with extras and works for leading characters as well.
An example would be a Jack Lantern character I recently made while experimenting with ZBrush and the new CC4 head mesh wrapper in Headshot 2. This incredibly powerful plug-in now allows us to use either an image or a head mesh to create a compatible CC4 character and I took advantage of that to create the pumpkin head.
It became apparent after this that I could also make a Headless Horseman type of character for Halloween using two characters. One character for the body and one for the head. This has long been an experimental way to combine character parts when iClone was less powerful. As you can imagine, it requires the Head to be attached to the Neck of the second character. A proper attachment point is important for motion if you are mimicking one character.
THE FIRST CHARACTER – JACK LANTERN
The Jack Lantern character is one of my experimental characters that has evolved over the years. I use it for experimentation since it’s kind of a benchmark as the clothing and accessories are low poly, so they don’t tax the engine and will work for stylized or cartoon-type characters. It’s my go-to model for this sort of thing.
I used ZBrush to make the pumpkin head, but you can use a head mesh of your choice. ZBrush was easy because it let me use GoZ to jump back and forth between Character Creator 4 and ZBrush with no importing or exporting.
Hiding the Body
I removed the clothing from the character except for the Tie which was originally an accessory but I skinned it with the Transfer Skin Weights tool so I could use it as a cloth to hide the rest of the body. As an accessory, the Hide Body Mesh tool is not available.
Why the tie? Because it looks good and can be used with the head if needed. It became a convenient cloth to use for hiding the mesh that is available should the need arise.
Leave the upper part of the neck. Do not hide this or you will have to deal with the big slit in the bottom of the head mesh this leaves. It is much easier to scale it down and radically shorten the neck (with sliders). Manually input the negative numbers to go past the 100 percent stop if needed.
Now all I had to do was turn the opacity of the bowtie down to zero or use a black texture in the opacity channel to make the tie disappear. Out of sight, out of mind… until you need it.
Working with the Head only:
Scale the neck to very thin and very short to pull it up into the head mesh. Otherwise, you will have a large open spot where the neck attaches that goes across the bottom of the head or a neck sticking out from the head mesh.Character Creator 4
Scaling Down the Remaining Neck
Scale down the circumference of the neck to very thin and short with the CC4 sliders. Input the numbers manually in the box to go past the one hundred percent limit. If done properly the neck should be up inside the head mesh leaving a small hole. You could use the Mesh tool to select the neck at the vertices level then scale down and/or push it up into the head mesh but this risks topology distortion in the mesh if you aren’t careful.
OPTIONAL: Reshape the Back of the Head
If you have a 3D program capable of sculpting, then you can alter the skull-like pumpkin head mesh to look more like a pumpkin. If no other tool is available, then the original mesh will work just fine. You can always hide the skull shape with lighting, props, camera angle, or a cloth if it bothers you. I used the original skull shape in the final image render.
How to make the eyes black:
Character Creator 4
- Select eye parts with Digital Human Skin and change their shaders to PBR.
- Select all eye properties and load a solid black image in the diffuse channel (note: you will not see the final all-black result until you set the shader to PBR.
The Headless Body Character
My favorite and easiest part is making up the body of the character. I already had a premade character in mind. My budget character set, the Masked Swordsman. The clothing could fit the period in question, and it was already black. From reference pictures, it ticked off a lot of the important parts like boots, bell sleeves, tucked-in pants, and many other aspects of those times.
Plus, it had a mask that I could use just like I used the bowtie earlier. The mask would be my on/off switch for the body and lower neck. This was convenient just like the Jack Lantern bowtie.
I was going to use a muffler or scarf to cover the top of the character’s neck so the big hole wouldn’t show where the head is supposed to be. While there are neck mufflers and scarves available, I decided to jump into Marvelous Designer and just throw a single piece of cloth over it and see how it draped. I was lucky as it did just what I needed it to do on the first attempt.
HIDING THE HEAD
Using the same method as I did earlier with the Pumpkinhead, I used the mask as the cloth that hides the head and upper neck. After this, I hid the mask with opacity which can be one with the slider or using a black image in the opacity channel.
Next, I added, skinned, and textured the shoulder wrap I made in Marvelous Designer to cover the open neck. If you don’t have any kind of wrap that works, then alter a muffler with the mesh tool as all I was trying to do was cover the bare flesh of the original character’s chest. You could also resort to texturing the character’s chest black since it wouldn’t affect the character any further.
Headless Horseman Pesade Image
I was working with two characters for the Horseman and another for the horse. To do the Pesade with the horse I loaded the Pesade motion from the Horse and Tack Theme Pack into the horse while using the corresponding Rider Pesade for the headless body. In this case, I can go a step further and add the Rider Pesade to the head, or I can use another motion, keyframing, or puppetry.
This makes three distinct characters that can be animated in a scene. The horse is the Farm Horse from the Horse and Tack Theme Pack and is actually an avatar instead of a prop. There is a lot more going on in this scene than it looks like at first glance.
The background is AI-generated so there are only the three characters and the background image plus the camera and a blue image overlay to cut down on the contrast between the background image and the 3D characters.
If you are using something like this for a video, then the head will talk, and it also has dynamic expressions since I activated the wrinkle system so it can have a fiery conversation or tell a Halloween tale with enthusiasm and passion.
As I mentioned earlier you can also link the two characters together but be careful to link to the proper neck bone on the body character for motions to work properly if you are mimicking the actual full character. In this scene the head is linked to the hand.
Also, keep in mind that the linked “character” is in reality two characters that will require two different actions for loading or creating motions. If you want the head to use the same motion as the body, then you will have to load that motion into each character.
It can and does get a bit confusing when you first work with a combined character like which character am I on, wait… I loaded that… oh, not for this character but it also creates a character with a lot of possibilities.
Using AccuRIG to Mask Unused Bones
On a closing note, and I tested this, you can run the characterized head character through AccuRIG, being sure to preserve the existing facial bone structure when asked, and then use the masking tool to completely mask out the body or head so no motion will be accepted. This does replace the characterized skeleton and I haven’t tested it enough to know of any pros and cons. It seems to work fine and completely immobilize the unused, hidden parts of the character.
Keep an Open Mind
One thing about this animation journey is to always think outside the box when it comes to problem-solving or innovation in animation. While this sounds like corporate speak it is true because as easy as animation is getting there is still not an easy button for everything. Don’t let the lack of a documented method keep you from experimenting to see what can be done.
MD McCallum – WarLord
Digital Artist MD “Mike” McCallum, aka WarLord, is a longtime iClone user. Having authored free tutorials for iClone in its early years and selected to write the iClone Beginners Guide from Packt Publishing in 2011, he was fortunate enough to meet and exchange tricks and tips with users from all over the world and loves to share this information with other users. He has authored hundreds of articles on iClone and digital art in general while reviewing some of the most popular software and hardware in the world. He has been published in many of the leading 3D online and print magazines while staying true to his biggest passion, 3D animation. For more information click here.