Greetings, my fellow 2D animation enthusiasts! I’m Nathan Smith, a member of Studio Ghibletz. Today, we’ll take a behind-the-scenes look at Anomaly Karen, the latest “Stu Jibby” production, and offer insights regarding how you can raise the production value of your own projects while taking advantage of the latest vector workflow in Cartoon Animator 5.
Most shows we watch nowadays switch camera angles frequently to bolster storytelling. Here at Ghibletz, we believe that camera work is the core component for achieving high production value in 2D animation. Each scene ought to include three basic camera angles to switch between while editing to give the scene more depth and immersion.
Ever since Rick Lander joined our team, he has been instrumental in incorporating multiple camera angles into every project he has touched. Not only that, he has also mentored us on how to translate real-world camera angles into 2D animation. But, we quickly encountered a problem inherent in the flat world of drawings. That is, rigged characters limit the shooting to a small range of possible camera angles and positions. For example, zoom far enough into a character and pixelation will appear. That’s why we’ve changed things up with Anomaly Karen, where we deployed characters made with vector graphics instead.
As one of CTA5’s latest features, vector animation lets animators create characters with SVG elements. Ghibletz, brought Zorby and Galaxtar to life in CTA5 using the Adobe Illustrator pipeline. By using vector characters, we were able to shoot closeups without losing a single pixel of detail.
Easy Lip-Sync Animation for Witty Dialogue
At “Stu Jibby”, we take pride in our scripts and witty dialogue. To bring these scripts to life, we use CTA 5’s automatic lip-sync tool. Without it, lip-sync animation would remain a daunting and arduous task, especially for animated episodes of Anomaly Karen that are completely comprised of dialogue.
We start by importing the WAV file and then we manually adjust the lip-sync. Personally, I like to remove some of the lip movement added by the auto sync tool. I feel this gives the characters a smoother, more natural-looking lip sync. This is also an area where you raise production value and save money at the same time. If you design your characters cleverly, you can recycle lip poses. Our characters, Karen, Zorby, and Galaxtar all use the same mouths for instance. And we recycle this same lip sync system for Mouse Bros characters, Richard, Duncan, and scientist.
Color Grouping for Faster Color Variations
Color grouping proved to be an invaluable tool during the production of Anomaly Karen. It gave us a “two for the price of one” deal with Galaxtar and Zorby as we have designed them with similar features to take advantage of this tool.
For the two characters, Jop had only needed to rig one character. From there, I used color grouping to change the skin tones and eye color, then I exchanged one sprite to give them different clothing. I ripped the eyebrows off of Zorby and — BOOM! Galaxtar was born. Color grouping gives a lot of bang for your buck when it’s used to create multiple characters from a single set of assets.
Identifying Important Details to Animate for Staging
For the first four clips of Anomaly Karen, not much happens: You see Karen in her car, the restaurant, a different angle of Karen in her car, and the restaurant again. In the last clip of the restaurant, however, a letter falls off the sign for comedic effect. We could have added loads of details to that scene like a group of children walking by, grass blowing in the wind, and a flock of birds for instance. Instead, we chose to animate a single letter falling off the sign.
With full-fledged software like Cartoon Animator, it’s tempting to over-animate a scene. But that’s something that animators should resist because it’s so easy to populate a background with movement, making it overcrowded with activity. An abundance of details is distracting to viewers. Instead, one should practice the principle of staging.
Staging is the setting up of a scene with a purpose. Don’t just add details will-nilly — Just because one can add a tumbleweed or two with a few clicks, doesn’t mean one should. Identify which details are needed to tell your story, then use these details to draw the viewer’s attention to the important plot points. A well-staged scene instantly tells the viewer what is happening, why, and how.
Applying Secondary Motion with Spring Bones
Animated characters in CTA 5 can be brought to life with secondary motions by using spring bones. In my opinion, spring bones are a game-changer. They have the ability to instantly raise the production value of a scene. However, be sure to use them selectively as any technique becomes distracting when overused. For example, Zorby and Galaxtar only have one spring bone for each character, as that’s all is needed to properly apply secondary motion to the antennae on top of their heads.
Using Secondary Motion to Improve Character Turns
At Studio Ghibletz, we dream of pushing rigged characters further than they’ve ever gone. Ultimately, our goal is to use puppet animation to produce net-work quality content. Part of this goal includes perfecting character turns.
Turning a rigged 2D character is a sticky business. Sure, you can switch between angles but ends up looking choppy and cheap. While producing Anomaly Karen, we realized that we could smooth out a turn by applying spring bones. In the episode, Zorby and Galaxtar turn twice. Once, they are abruptly flipped, and for the second time, Galaxtar turns his whole body. The spring bones on their antennae help to smooth out these turns. Essentially, spring bones trick the viewer’s eye into thinking the turn is more fleshed out.
And this is just the beginning! As I write, Rick and Jope are tinkering with iClone to perfect a new technique to create even smoother character rotations. By using a combination of spring bones, intermediate angles, and 3D source files, we hope to develop an entirely new technique for turning characters in CTA 5… but, that’s a story for our next production.
Thanks so much for taking the time out to read this behind-the-scenes article on Anomaly Karen. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to Studio Ghibletz’s YouTube channel so you never miss any of our exciting content.
Born in Chicago, Libertas started out with a passion for filmmaking at an early age, and ever since he’s had the desire to tell grand and fantastical stories featuring brave heroes on epic quests in lush and vibrant worlds, much like his Assassin’s Creed-inspired micro-short film “Modern Assasin Training Session.”
Libertas admits to always dreaming bigger than his shoestring budget could afford. Even still, he loves creating characters and their costumes to see them come alive, especially in his YouTube short films. Outside of his day job as the Manager of Videography and sole 3D generalist at his company, he spends his free time, once again, dreaming big and crafting new characters, costumes, and props for his digital actors who are instrumental in bringing his epic stories to life for the audience community and not just himself.
My Experience and Honest Review
Containing forty-five motions across four categories, whether climbing, vaulting, flipping, or in absorbent daring movements combined together, these animations can be strung together to create some impressive acrobatic movements for your characters whether for games or films. As a fan of Assassin’s Creed and as a person making my own short films, I was very excited about this pack. Because parkour is a great way to show your character’s athletic prowess. Overall, I like this pack and I think there are three distinct merits about this pack.
What I like about this pack is that you get a good variety of animations available to you that I just haven’t seen elsewhere. Especially in the categories of the vault, flip, and climbs. While you can find other animations say on Mixamo, for vaults and rolls, these packs seem to have been designed purposely to fill in the gap-work that other packs lack. And that makes it great for mixing with other animations.
Motion with good heft
Additionally, because these were motion captured, I find that they have a good sense of weight to them. Typically with parkour animations because they’re so difficult and require a lot of skills, you have to find someone who can even perform it. You typically find that parkour animations will be hand-animated, and therefore lacking in realism when it comes to characters landing on, falling to, or rolling on the ground, and even when they are balancing on their feet. A lot of that natural movement is just so hard to capture. Another benefit to motion capture is that the transitions and movements translate naturally on the character with little input.
The combined skills subset is a very interesting concept, and it provides a quick weight to showcase a character’s interactions with their environment in a more elaborate manner than seen in other content packs. This makes it easy to quickly put together longer animation sequences to showcase your character’s abilities. On top of that, I was able to cut up some of these animations within the longer combo sequences and merge them with other animations to get even more variety out of the pack.
Tips & Tricks: What Magic is This?
Though some of the performance starts a bit slower, and that pack lacks of daring moves. If you do want to make those types of adjustments, let me share three tricks that I use for making compelling acrobatic performances. You can also check out Reallusion’s latest FREE Course and learn how to edit your animated characters with iClone.
Use transform key
Making the characters jump greater distances than the premade motions allow often results in awkward-looking transitions. The easiest way to fix this is by adding a transform key at the moment the last foot leaves the ground for the leap and a transition key for where you want the character to end up. Now that you have the horizontal movement set up with the transform and transition keys, you can go back and add a vertical key for the apex of the jump in between the two. This technique will keep the modified jump animation looking a little more natural.
Blending with other motion packs
For characters that run and transition into acrobatic moves, I recommend having two run animations to change things up. Either a run cycle from the Spunky Moves Pack on ActorCore or from Mixamo. Both seem to have worked pretty well with this pack.
Playing with the camera
One of the best ways to accentuate the movement of your characters is by supporting them with great camera movement like large sweeping shots combined with wide angles and lenses. Having great camera movement puts the audience where the action is while showcasing the environment. For some inspiration on how this is done, I recommend you watch videos from Devinsupertramp on YouTube
Cartoon Animator makes creating 2D animation fast and easy. However there are many other applications for Cartoon Animator including the creation of comic strips, graphic novels and motion comics.
Many motion comic artists rely on simple camera pans and sliding images across the screen, resulting in basic, flat images. But with Cartoon Animator you can create explosive motion comic panels with multiple layers, dynamic movement and camera depth.
Instead of having to draw every panel of your motion comic by hand, you can use actors from Cartoon Animator as the characters for your story. You can pose them just the way you want, including facial expressions, set up your actors in a scene and then animate that scene as a panel of your motion comic.
Motion comics are a popular source of entertainment because they help bring our stories to life in a much more engaging way than just relying on static images. Cartoon Animator provides a fast and easy way to do this.
PLANNING LAYOUT & POSING ACTORS
Once you have your rough storyboard sketched out and planned, you can use actors from Cartoon Animator and pose them to match your storyboards.
Actors in Cartoon Animator are rigged with bones so posing them any way you want is easy. You can use premade actors or create your own from scratch, and even have total control over their facial expressions thanks to the detail face settings.
BREAKING ACTOR UP INTO MOVABLE PARTS
Once your actor is posed correctly for your motion comic panel, you’ll want to break the actor up into multiple parts to prepare for layering and motion. Using actors from Cartoon Animator makes this process very easy because you can isolate individual body parts and export them as large scale PNG files with transparent backgrounds.
SETTING UP BACKGROUND & ACTOR LAYERS
In your preferred art software, create your background, making sure to break up all the elements that will be required to move separately in your motion comic panel, including background layers, props and effects.
Bring your individual character parts into the scene and assemble them, keeping each on its own layer. Use your art software to enhance your character art by adding texture, colour and lighting to match the scene.
Once your motion comic panel is set up, save the scene as a PSD file. Now simply drag and drop your PSD direct to Stage Mode in Cartoon Animator and select Scene to have your motion comic panel background import with all your layers in their correct order, ready to apply motion to.
Save your actor as a separate PSD file and in the same way, drag and drop him to Stage Mode on top of your layered background, opening him as an actor file.
When you import your actor PSD, you will immediately be taken into Composer mode of Cartoon Animator which is the behind the scenes workshop. Here you can build, rig and adjust your characters. Since we are in here already, let’s start work now on adding some bones to our actor so we can animate him in our motion comic panel.
RIGGING ACTOR BONES
The first thing you’ll notice are the little red dots on top of your actor. These are the bone pivot points for each individual body part we have imported. So each body part will rotate around its pivot point. Open the Bone Editor menu, select a pivot point and line it up to its corresponding body part. Simply do this for each pivot point of your character to have your body parts stay connected and rotate in place.
To begin with, make sure the bone pivot point at the actor’s hip is selected and then from the Bone Editor menu, select Add Bone. Add an extra bone from the hip to the mid section of the torso. This gives you a point to be able to bend the character in the middle for more flexibility later. Starting from the outermost bone pivot points, now select each point and choose Connect from the Bone Editor menu. Then select the pivot point you want to connect to. You’ll want to connect each of the points for the arms and legs so they all connect like a skeleton.
You’ll see that for a motion comic we are only adding in a basic bone structure to our actor so that for speed and efficiency only the parts we need to animate will move. However, with Cartoon Animator you can rig a complete 2D actor for total animation control.
Now you have all the parts of your actor connected, you can add as many additional bones as required to allow for movement and bending of each body part. The more bones you add, the more flexible each body part will be and the more you’ll be able to control it. In the Subdivision panel of the Bone Editor menu, you can also expand the wireframe and increase its density to break up your part into more polygons for even more distortion.
When you’ve finished adding all your bones to your actor, select the Create Custom Rig GUI icon and you’ll be able to capture a thumbnail of your actor, complete with bones setup, to help you move him about later.
Now that you have all the elements of your motion comic panel imported and your actor rigged for movement, it’s time to set up the scene for camera depth and movement.
In Cartoon Animator you have three different axes for moving actors and objects. The X-axis moves objects horizontally. The Y-axis moves objects vertically. And the Z-axis moves objects closer to or further away from the camera. It is the Z-axis that will give your scene a sense of depth when you move your camera about and allows your characters to interact within the scene by moving between objects.
You can switch to Cartoon Animator’s 3D view at any time to see where all your layers sit in relation to each other and even move them about within this view for more control.
The greater the distance between the z-axis value of objects in relation to each other, the further apart they will appear and the more noticeable the 3D feeling of your motion comic panel will be when you pan or zoom your camera.
Set up each of your layers, including their z-axis value and then set the opacity for layers that need to be translucent like smoke. Then you are ready to work on the camera movement of your scene.
ANIMATING MOTION COMIC ELEMENTS
Now that your scene is all set up and layered, it’s time to animate your motion comic panel. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but ultimately, what you’re trying to do is to add a sense of drama to your scene and hold the attention of your audience and drive the story forward.
First of all, let’s animate our camera to establish the motion of the entire scene, and then we’ll animate each individual element within the scene using different tools included with CTA.
Starting at frame one of your project, open the Timeline and from the Track List select Project and then Camera. Your Camera timeline opens and it is here that you control all its movement. Make sure you are in Camera Mode so you see the frame as it will be recorded. Now because our actor is being pushed back by the explosion, let’s pan the camera horizontally and later we will animate the explosion pushing out towards him as he gets pushed backwards.
At frame one we have the camera set to its initial position.To create a dramatic sense of slow motion, let’s pan the camera horizontally across about 150 frames. If we move to frame 150 and then reposition our camera, and then play back the video, we see that the camera now pans horizontally as it plays from frame one to frame 150. As you can see, thanks to the way we set up the different z-axis values when we set the shot up, your scene appears to have a realistic sense of camera depth.
If some of the elements don’t end where you want them to, then you can even work backwards, setting them up at the final frame and then repositioning them at frame one to move between positions.
Let’s return now to frame one and do this for each element in the scene. At this point, it is simply a matter of working with each individual element within your motion comic panel and changing its position, depth or rotation from frame one to frame 150. One of the great features of Cartoon Animator is that when creating a 2D animation, you can scroll back and forth through your timeline at any time and make as many adjustments as you like to get the shot you want. We’ll rotate the actor slightly to give him a sense of being pushed back by the explosion, and make changes in the scale of the explosion so it appears to spread out.
Thanks to Cartoon Animator’s bone system, you can do so much more than just have your static actor slide across the screen. Because we already set up our bone structure inside our actor, we can now move those bones to give movement to his limbs, head and even bend his torso. Select your actor and open your Keyframe Editor and you’ll see an Image View showing all the bones. At frame one we already have the actor where we want him, so let’s move to frame 150 and give him some additional movement to make our comic panel more dynamic. Grab any bone and reposition it to where you want. Then as your animation plays, the bones will change position between keyframes and bring your cartoon to life. Cartoon Animator does all the hard work of the inbetween frames for you here, making animating your scene easy so you can just focus on being creative instead of being slowed down by having to work frame by frame.
So now we have a nice dramatic shot of our actor being pushed back in slow motion by the explosion.
SPRING BONES & FREE FORM DEFORMATION
Let’s use some of the other clever tools in Cartoon Animator to add some finishing touches to a few elements, like spring bones and free form deformation.
When animating, spring bones give automatic, dynamic motion to props and parts of actors, so you don’t have to worry about tedious keyframing. In our motion comic panel, we can keyframe the movement of the spring bones to give the canvas sack a more realistic sense of squash and stretch.
To add spring bones to any prop, select it and open it in Composer Mode. Reposition your pivot point for the object and then open the Bone Editor menu. From here, add any bones you feel will help your prop move correctly and increase your subdivision to add more polygons for a smoother bend.
You can manually keyframe your bones movement using the Prop Key Editor, which gives total control when creating a shot like our motion comic panel, or you can turn some of your bones into spring bones so Cartoon Animator moves them automatically when animating.
Exaggerated squash and stretch can also be achieved using another Cartoon Animator tool called Free Form Deformation. We can use this to expand our explosion props in a way that suggests they are exploding outwardly. There are plenty of presets for free form deformation, or you can keyframe the animation yourself by moving the points of the lattice from one frame to another for instant, smooth results.
Finally, go through your motion comic panel one last time and tweak details. Once you are happy with the scene, we can add speech bubbles and sound.
ADDING SPEECH BUBBLES
Even though our motion comic panel is complete, we can still bring in additional props, like speech bubbles. Having created them in your favourite art software as SVG files, you can just drag and drop them directly to Stage Mode and open them as props. From there, we simply rescale them, use the Transform track to change their position in the panel to match any animation already applied, and using the visibility timeline track we can determine when they appear and disappear.
ADDING VOICEOVER TRACKS
Cartoon Animator has two Sound FX tracks so you can bring in your voice track or other audio files. I always bring in my voice clips so I can perfect the timing, but I generally add other sounds like music and effects in post production.
RENDERING MOTION COMIC PANEL
Now that your motion comic panel is complete and you’ve added your voices, you can render your scene and export your file. Choose Render and then under the Video menu, select the format you want to export as, and the output screen size. Select only the range that includes your animation and then export.
EDITING AND ADDING SOUND IN POST-PRODUCTION
There are any number of websites for adding sound effects and music in post production, as well as plenty of software choices when it comes to editing all your scenes together.
For sound effects and music, I subscribe to a site called https://www.storyblocks.com/audio which has thousands of professionally recorded sound effects and music tracks. You will find everything you need in a quick search.
For editing all my clips together, I use Pinnacle Studio editing software, which gives me plenty of audio tracks so all my sound can be manually adjusted to produce my final motion comic panel. I even used Pinnacle to put this entire tutorial together.
Aside from being amazing 2D animation software that is fast, fun and easy to use, Cartoon Animator is also the perfect software for creating comic strips, graphic novels and motion comic panels. Whether you are new to 2D animation or a seasoned animator, Cartoon Animator works to your skill level. For beginners, the software is easy to pick up and be animating within hours, thanks to its easy to use interface and wealth of content provided. As your skills as an animator grow, you will make use of many of the varied professional tools and features Cartoon Animator has to offer.
I hope this video has helped inspire you when making your own Cartoon Animator projects. If you have any questions about this tutorial or CTA, feel free to email me.
Hello, I’m Tom Breuer. I’ve worked as a freelance 3D designer since 2014, specializing in character and game-based applications. To realize my artistic visions, I mostly use Blender and Unity. I began my journey into 3D art in 2010 when I had to create a digital model of an excavation site for my presentations. What started out as an extracurricular activity quickly became my way of telling stories. The following year, I began my studies in communication design.
After graduation, I taught courses in Blender and character design as an adjunct professor and worked for an events company as a lead artist guiding and coordinating an internal and external team of 3D experts. I also work freelance, producing 3D printable digital cosplay costumes based on popular video game characters. Nevertheless, my true fascination is with animated characters and the stories they represent. Staying true to my mantra, “Little worlds of our own”, I started making 3D creatures and telling their stories with brief animations a few years ago. You can view my characters in their natural habitats here.
When creating a new character, I think about:
What would this character want most in life and what would drive this character?
For example, a turtle that wants to get from point A to point B quickly. Or an ostrich that really wants to fly even when it naturally can’t. My next step is to brainstorm what this character needs to do or have in order to achieve its goal.
I usually only use Blender and Substance Painter for my workflow, but for this project I will also integrate Reallusion Character Creator (CC) and iClone to grasp their benefits.
In Blender, I start with the line tool and begin building the silhouette of the real animal. This way I can play with actual shapes and not lose sight of the reference drawing. I keep on rearranging the body parts until I like the overall shape.
There aren’t any fixed rules for my modeling process. I just pay close attention to the silhouette and go from there. I keep the mass of the ostrich body resembling a triangle pointing upwards and the only element that disrupts this flow is the backpack it is carrying.
Immediately after the character is modeled, I export it to Substance Painter. I start by creating different regions on the model by assigning different materials: metal, plastic, fabric, etc. Then I switch to the Diffuse layer to focus on the coloring.
For each color, I add three layers with a main, highlight, and shadow color. I blend these three layers using masks starting from the ambient occlusion, edges, and normal direction of the surface. Here I work mostly with soft gradients.
When I’m happy with the model and textures, I proceed with the animation process. I start by using the AccuRig module inside the Character Creator.
Once rigged, I check the automatic skin-weights using example animations provided by Character Creator. And I use the skin weight tools to blur and refine wherever needed.
Adding Custom Bones
In the next step, I import the rigged ostrich into Blender. Here, I adjust the bones and add new custom bones. I do this, so I can animate the facial animation with these added bones. I also add new more bones in the neck to allow for smoother movement. Finally, I rework the skin-weights of my character and adjust it to the new custom bones.
Skin Weight Transfer
With the skin-weights completed, I still need to process the spacesuit accordingly. For this, I use the Data Transfer modifier which allows me to transfer skin weight data from the neck model to the space suit.
Adding More Bones
After importing the ostrich with its custom bones via the Blender plugin into Character Creator, I start to edit the facial expressions. To do this, I first have to mark the character as “Humanoid” by clicking on Modify > Characterization. There, I add the extra bones that were appended in Blender. Once I have added all the bones I need, I can activate the HumanIK system to have them accessible to Character Creator and iClone.
Making Facial Expressions
I export the figure from Character Creator to Blender as FBX again, but I select the Blender with Face Expression option to have it generate morphs for facial animation.
The morphs are conveniently named and keyframed, so it’s easy to see which facial expression is being activated in Blender. With this, I can adjust the facial expressions of the ostrich frame by frame while conserving keyframes. Since I placed several bones on the face in advance, I can now use them quickly to adjust facial expressions and create all the expressions I need to make my character talk and emote.
In the last step, I export the animated model again as FBX and switch back to Character Creator. Inside the Facial Expression window, I import the created FBX frame sequence (If this is not done, only the morphs will be used and bone animation will be ignored). After this, the facial expressions can be tested with sliders and different animations provided in the Content Manager.
Animating Dynamic Accessories
At this point, I will add the Spring bones and Cloth elements in Character Creator. For this, I select my model and click the Modifier > Spring Bones button. With the window open, I mark the bones I want as Spring bones and set the weight, strength, and bounce attributes accordingly (the wings and the flag on the backpack for example).
For the neck, I use cloth simulation to enhance the animations with the use of a texture based on the UV of the cloth object (in black and white) that marks areas for simulation. This texture is added via the Edit Weight Map window.
With this setup, I can concentrate on the main animation and let iClone handle the dynamic simulations.
Now I switch to iClone to work on the first clip where I usually start with the main idle animation. But, what kind of continuous animation does the character actually need? For me, it’s not so much about one specific animation that reveals everything about our character, rather it’s about getting a feel for the character’s personality and way of moving.
Starting from the first frame, I pose the character with Edit Motion Layer, and copy this frame to the end of the clip. In the middle of the clip I add a contrapose that should maximize the counter motion. In between the keyframes, I’ll add more and more “interference keys” that distort the direct path between the start and middle key.
For the following animations, I copy the finished idle animation and add an Animation layer so that the idle animation still plays while I move the character to new positions. This saves me a lot of time because I only have to animate the extra movements. Here, you can see the different animations all based on the idle animation:
Initially I had wanted to animate the front shield using spring bones, but due to the strong movements, I decided to use bone animation instead. But before moving the front shield, I had to animate the figure to see how it would adapt to the movements of the body. Then I looked for the extreme movements within the animation sequence and rotated the front shield accordingly. For this, I use the Edit Motion Layer window as I did before for the body animation, but this time in FK mode, because I want to access non-humanoid bones.
Animation Clips & AccuLips
I thought of the inner monologue of the ostrich character and how it would be along the lines of “Why did I become an astronaut?”. First, I use AccuLips to get the timing down for the animation. For those who aren’t familiar, AccuLips is a powerful animation tool that can map spoken or written words onto an animated face. Individual faces can display emotions by using a plethora of available options.
I use the sound recording from Vincent Fallow who lended a voice to the ostrich, giving him a wonderful personality. AccuLips converts this audio track and adds a Viseme layer that shows the spoken words and lip animations inside the timeline window. This allows the audio recording to playback during animation. For the base motion I use the “Emote” pack from iClone’s embedded library, which is then refined and customized with my own animations. I put four clips in a row and play with the timing by cutting, stretching, and mixing the clips together until they match to the audio track.
Once I’m happy with the main movements I start to refine the animation by adding a layer to each clip and adding more animation to emphasize the character’s personality. Finally, I add an Expression layer where Face Puppet can be used to go beyond just using AccuLips.
When I’m happy with the animations, I export the whole file to Blender, render the scene with Eevee, and export to Sketchfab.
Reallusion Character Creator and iClone provide supportive features and make for wonderful additions to my workflow. Lastly, I have become especially fond of the AccuLips system as it allows direct conversion of text and sound recordings into editable lip-sync animations.
Michela is the CEO and co-founder of Sycoforge, a Swiss game dev studio working on a transmedia universe called ‘Arafinn’. Her affinity for stories and video games started at an early age, and by the time she first set foot on the hyrule fields in ‘Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’, she knew that one day she was going to create her own fantasy world in a video game. As a logical consequence, she studied Computer Science at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and added a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Business Administration to her degree. At Sycoforge, she wears many hats and works in different fields.
The studio’s first video game instalment set in the Arafinn universe is called “Return to Nangrim”, a dwarven adventure – and a highly ambitious production for a small indie team. To stem the workload of such a big project with few resources at hand, the team has gotten creative and developed streamlined workflows and pipelines using Reallusion’s ecosystem including Character Creator, iClone, AccuRIG and ActorCore assets.
“We stumbled upon Reallusion’s Character Creator and iClone and let me tell you, it was a game changer! At first, we were a little sceptical – could it really be that easy? Was it truly possible to simplify a workflow that much? It just seemed too good to be true, so we downloaded the test versions and deep-dived into them. By the end of our evaluation, we were amazed to find that it can be done!“
Michela Rimensberger – CEO, Producer, Co-founder at Sycoforge
Reallusion is proud to announce that the long-awaited CC-to-MetaHuman pipeline is finally available. Now, you can effortlessly transfer your Character Creator (CC) faces and 4K hi-res textures to MetaHuman Creator, complete with all the texture details of the entire body. Finally say hello to a faithful representation of your unique head model and texture designs along with the original dynamic wrinkles.
With the Auto Setup tool forUnreal Engine, creating personalized MetaHuman characters is a breeze. Simply customize your character’s face with dynamic wrinkles, lifelike attributes such as moles, scars, and makeup, and transform them into a MetaHuman character with just one click. No coding required.
And there is more — The latest version of the iClone MetaHuman Live Link Kit allows for seamless expression control with facial nuances, body movements, and lip-syncing. Even if you’re new to iClone, you can still animate your UE characters with the MetaHuman control rigs. Download these essential tools now and experience the ease and fun of creating true-to-life MetaHumans.
See the latest update in CC-to-MetaHuman pipeline:
Customized MetaHumans with True Likeness
▪ Seamless transfer of head shapes, skin textures, and dynamic wrinkles.
CC Customized MetaHuman Faces
▪ Delivering a true-to-life look with one simple click in Character Creator.
Hi-Fi Textures for the Head & Body
▪ Giving MetaHumans a striking resemblance to your original design, including skin effects and dynamic wrinkles.
Full Ownership over Unmatched Likeness
▪ Turning CC avatars into MetaHumans in Unreal while indulging in cross-platform compatibility.
Enriched Animations with iClone & CC
▪ Featuring Data Link for enhanced FPS performance and MetaHumans that can talk, emote, and perform with Live Link.
1. Customized MetaHumans with True Likeness
Create unique digital actors with ease using the Character Creator asset ecosystem. From shaping, skin layer editing, hairstyling, outfiting, to adding accessories, designers can effortlessly bring their vision to life. With CC 4.2, the new CC-to-Metahuman pipeline allows for seamless transfer of head shape, skin textures, and dynamic wrinkles, delivering ultra-realistic results in Unreal engine.
2. Character Creator Customized MetaHuman Faces
Creating your MetaHuman avatars with realistic features has never been easier, thanks to CC’s latest Head Export feature. With just a push of a button, you can effortlessly transfer CC head shapes and 4K head and body textures. Elevate your MetaHumans to a new level of authenticity with CC’s unparalleled true-to-life features.
3. Hi-Fi Textures for the Head & Body
Head & Body Texture
Transferring textures from CC to Unreal allows you to create MetaHumans that have striking resemblance to your original character design. It also supplements skin details to MetaHuman body and hands.
Skin Effects & Dynamic Wrinkles
We provide advanced tools that surpass the basic MetaHuman skin editor, including the powerful SkinGen utility that effectively integrates Realistic Human Skin into the face, such as scars, acne, moles, face paint, and Makeup & SFX. The Dynamic Wrinkle System complements these utilities, making it effortless to create digital actors that are truly lifelike.
4. Full Ownership over Unmatched Likeness
MetaHumans that have evolved from CC avatars are completely compatible with face and body control rigs in Unreal. In addition to enjoying cross-platform compatibility, characters generated in this manner are solely owned by you.
5. Enrich Animations with iClone & Character Creator
Having MetaHumans talk, emote, and perform on command remains a roadblock for most animators. Fortunately, iClone MetaHuman Live Link offers a comprehensive solution to animate bodies, faces, and lips within a single application.
iClone motions can be applied to both UE characters and MetaHumans through the standard IK rig-and-retargeting process. The Data Link function eliminates the need for time-consuming FBX export and import, thereby accelerating the process of updating Unreal animations with CC.
The difference between Cahracter Creator and MetaHuman Creator
Reallusion has expended significant efforts to create the most accurate CC-to-MetaHuman conversion pipeline, aiming to provide the best of both worlds for MetaHuman and Character Creator. Nevertheless, differences may still persist due to variations in structure and the mechanics of animation between the two systems.
MetaHumans have limited support for body shapes, resulting in differences in neck thickness, body size, or height when converting CC characters to MetaHumans.
WearingCC Smart Hairon MetaHumans is not possible at this time, as the highest LOD of MetaHumans are limited to Groom Hair.
Currently, MetaHumans have their own outfit system and cannot wear conformable CC outfits.
The CC head is optimized for real-time performance at 4,000 polygons in an effort tosupport subdivision levels for the Unreal Engine. The native highest LOD for the MetaHuman head has 80,000 polygons, allowing for improved mesh-level definition in certain facial expressions, particularly around the eyes. This may result in noticeable differences in some cases.
After the MetaHuman conversion, facial expressions are controlled by MetaHumans’ facial control curves, potentially resulting in subtle differences in expression nuances.
The Smart Way to Auto Rig Soft, Rigid, & Mixed Armor Pieces
José Antonio Tijerín
José Tijerín is a digital illustrator, 3D sculptor, and creator of video games such as “Dear Althea” available on Steam. His content pack “We’re Besties” and “We’re Homies” are currently for sale in the Reallusion content store.
CC4 with AccuRIG: a gateway to new possibilities
AccuRIG in Character Creator 4 is the most important tool we’ll be using for this tutorial. This tool is designed to rig characters quickly and easily and lets us skip a lot of manual processing in 3D programs like Maya. To create this tutorial, I have divided the character into three categories: rigid armor, mixed structure, and rigid system. This makes it easy to understand and analyze the common mistakes for each category.
Type I: The rigid armor
Let’s explore several ways to correctly integrate different parts to make a suit of armor. For this tutorial, I’ll be working with the “Polish Hussar Armor” that can be found on the Tijerin Art Studio Sketchfab page. Let’s start with the simple minor parts of the armor, such as the tassets and vambraces.
First go to the Create to access the Accessories menu and import these armor parts. Since the armor is divided into parts, we will have to select them one by one to convert them into accessories using the namesake button. Now, we have to go to the lower part of the Modify window to find the Attach section and link the armor parts with their corresponding bones.
This method is the most optimal for attaching rigid parts to the character, but it is not always recommended. I suggest individually importing the armor parts so that each part can be given the necessary attention and independent problems can be corrected as they arise.
Thanks to the improvements in Character Creator, we can check for problems while the character moves without having to leave the program. There will be times when the armor pieces intersect with other models and in those instances you will need to edit the geometries right away so it doesn’t continue to happen.
Rigid elements, like the ones applied here, are widely used to complement cloth and leather clothing and give a striking touch of variety to our character. Let’s talk about the armor elements that are more complicated, so much so that they require rigging such as the helmet for this particular character.
1. Helmet armor
Helmets are usually composed of one or two pieces, but this particular helmet has several pieces at the back. This is an opportunity to take advantage of because the lower part collides with the armor that we have not yet placed. We can handle this problem by rigging this part in a third party 3D application. This time, we are going to import it not as an accessory but as a 3D prop so that we can introduce the bone system without a hitch.
The rest of the process is the same as those used for previous armor parts. As you can see, we now have full control over the helmet and can prevent it from intercepting other armor pieces. We are going to further develop this solution for the animation phase so that it goes beyond just fixing problems and takes us a step further in the animation of the character.
2. Chest armor
Now is the time to place the chest armor, which presents a delicate challenge. In this case, we have a one-piece breastplate that will be placed in the same fashion as the first amor parts. This type of armor is very constrictive on the body, so we must refrain from animating the bones of the upper spine and raise the arms more than 180 degrees. The most popular method, due to its versatility, is to separate an upper part to protect the thorax and a lower part for the stomach.
3. Shoulder armor
For the shoulder pads, I attached the lower part of the arm in the same way I did the first parts of the armor. For the upper part, I added a couple of bones like I did for the helmet. The mobile parts of a traditional armor are usually joined together with leather straps, and normally, they are covered by metal. This armor, however, features straps that are visible and I’ll need to be careful to confine the flexible areas to the shoulders.
It’s worth mentioning that futuristic armor found in video games often contain rigid parts that are sewn onto flexible parts. This type of design can save on polygons and eliminate many of the problems mentioned before, but we will explore this later.
By attaching the bones to the armor, we get several possibilities for animation. We can correct the position of the shoulder pads as was done for the helmet. In addition, we can have those pieces jump while he is riding on his mount. It should be obvious by now that adding bones to the armor requires some forethought, especially about the character’s range of motions and how the armor will react in kind.
4. Scabbard of the sword and accessories
Let’s now examine the scabbard, which is usually a prop for decoration, but we can do more with it by rigging it to make it functional. To accomplish this, I add bones along the length of the leather scabbard to have it curve with the sword. Once set up, the sword, despite its curvature, can smoothly slide in and out of the sheath.
In the act of sheathing a sword, one hand holds the scabbard and the other hand inserts the sword. So we should consider adding a bone to attach with the hand. If we want to get fancy, we can export the props in FBX format along with its animation into Character Creator. On top of this, we can also add a spring effect so that the soldier can sway while he walks and have that momentum transfer to the sword while it is sheathed. Once completed, I continue to make some corrections and add the rest of the armor, accessories, and textures to make it ready for animation in iClone.
Now that we have seen what this system can do for us, I’ll explore two more techniques that mix rigid with soft elements in the second part of this tutorial series. Do visit the YouTube channel to continue watching and please subscribe for more great tutorials.
The Smart Way to Auto Rig Soft, Rigid, & Mixed Armor Pieces
José Antonio Tijerín
José Tijerín is a digital illustrator, 3D sculptor, and creator of video games such as “Dear Althea” and ” The Evil Furry” available on Steam. His content pack “We’re Besties” and “We’re Homies” are currently for sale in the Reallusion content store.
Type II: Mixed structure
In this tutorial, I’ll explore what I call a mixed structure for making a suit of armor with Reallusion‘s toolset. This type of structure is very suitable for making robots and cyborgs because it has a more modern or even futuristic aesthetic. We’ll be using the “Neo Robot” character which comes with this exact system of mixing rigid and flexible structures. You can download this character from Sketchfab.
How to use AcuRIG in Character Creator 4.1
First, import the character directly into an empty project in Character Creator. If you haven’t done so already, proceed to rename all the parts of the robot to make it easier to work with later. After that, we can ready to use a new tool that Reallusion has added into Character Creator.
AccuRIG is a tool that has opened new horizons for Reallusion products. Now, Character Creator is no longer a program entirely focused on realistic or stylized characters, it can actually load all types of characters. With this improvement, Character Creator is no longer limited to certain types of projects and has become an essential tool for any project that involves 3D models.
I’m going to select some of the rigid components and click on the AccuRIG button on the right. In the AccuRIG menu click on the Create Guides button. The system will proceed to place the joints in an arrangement that it deems best based on its algorithm.
Can we confirm if these are the best positions for the joints and modify it to better fit our model. Character Creator makes this easy by displaying a small help window every time a joint is selected. The system is usually pretty good at placing the joints into correct positions.
When we have verified the joint positions, click on the Generate Skeleton button. This is where the magic happens. In other programs, creating and adjusting a skeleton would undoubtedly take hours of your time.
The skeleton that the Character Creator generates is perfectly adjusted to fit the character’s anatomy. Yet, we can still adjust some parts that we are not satisfied with and use the Bind Skin button. As you can see in this example, the results are fantastic. It is even perfect for the fingers which are usually prone to errors due to their close proximity with one another.
Even the rigid parts of the model deform so slightly that it is almost imperceptible. That’s why for cases like these, it’s better to leave the rigid pieces as parts of the model rather than separating them into individual pieces.
Models with a lot of overlapping parts will likely encounter mesh penetration, but you can use the Skin Weights tool to quickly check the skinning. Another thing you have to take into account is that you can’t use the Transfer Skin Weights button to fix mistakes in your rigged characters, instead you will need to go back to the AccuRIG menu and use the Bind Skin button.
Animated add-ons in iClone 8
When dealing with robots in iClone, there is one factor that you should take into account, that is animated components. Electronic components are often tacked onto futuristic characters and they may even have their own motions.
Adding these elements is really easy in iClone. We simply need to import the pre-rigged components and position them in the right places. When they are all positioned, we have to use the Link option on the nearest bone of our character and we can animate this element independently without separating it from the body.
Furthermore, we can explore the use of robotic extensions as part of the character’s body.
The classic example is the articulated arm that is fully animated. Creating this setup is much easier than you might think, thanks to AccuRIG. We can simply import the mechanical arms into Character Creator and press the AccuRIG button to start the rigging process, just like before.
In this case, not all bones will be needed for this model, such as the leg bones. AccuRIG provides a practical solution to mask out these bones so that they don’t interfere with the rigging process. As mentioned a moment ago, we can just import the model into iClone and use the Link option to attach it to our character.
Type III: The rigid system
The rigid system is one traditionally used for classic robots. It is the most complicated system because we cannot use elastic elements and deformations, forcing us to think very carefully about the structure that makes up the character.
Use of spheres in the joints
As you can see, the whole system is based on using spheres as joints, but we also have some hydraulic parts that will need to be integrated into the rig.
Now check how well the sphere system works in Character Creator and let’s see just how useful it can be to incorporate the hydraulic tubes. These tubes have polygons at the top and bottom. In this way, the lower polygons can bind to the hips and the upper polygons can bind to the chest. When the character moves it gives the impression of the hydraulic tubes sliding to smoothly expand and contract. This method was used in practical production for my upcoming video game “The Evil Furry” on Steam.
In this version, I wanted the robot to be more friendly, so I added light bulbs on the sides of the spheres that can move independently. I also added two antennae with spring effects to make the head more dynamic.
Facial expressions on a deadpan robot
I also wanted this robot to possess facial expressions and the ability to talk, despite it being a rigid robot. It occurred to me that the way to do this is to use a base character in Character Creator with all the expressions and lip-sync systems already set up with what the program has to offer.
To have all these features, I needed to work off of the base character and add the rest of the armor as clothes. It is a slower process, but it’s worth it for all the animations and expressions that the face has to offer.
That is all! I hope you like the final result and that the tutorial has helped you.
iClone 8 Becomes a Tour de Force for Mocap Animation Editing
Featuring Trailblazing Mocap Animation Workflow
Mocap animation editing is an essential skill in digital entertainment, regardless of how the motion data is sourced. Although natural performances can be obtained via optical tracking, mocap suits, AI generation, or pre-made motion files, studios still struggle to refine animation data for their precise requirements.
iClone has been used in major mocap productions for decades, proving itself as a top-tier solution for mocap animation editing. With the release of iClone 8, this cutting-edge software offers professional-grade animations at a fraction of the cost, time, and effort required by other applications. Know More >
Thanks to iClone 8’s new features, most of the previous tedious processes are now fun and streamlined.
– Nildo Essá, Founder of FX Animation Studios.
Direct Support for Industry-Leading Motion Formats
iClone 8 is compatible with all industry-leading mocap formats. With a simple drag-and-drop application, anyone can import mocap data and retarget motions to different body shapes and sizes. It’s finally time to leave tedious bone mapping and characterization in the rear-view mirror.
Round-Trip Pipeline for Connecting with MotionBuilder and Maya
Thanks to iClone 8’s powerful round-trip FBX workflow, MotionBuilder and Maya productions can seamlessly integrate iClone and take advantage of its powerful native features. This translates to precise poses and finger gestures with motion transfer, making collaboration across different software solutions effortless and even enjoyable.
View the iClone-to-MotionBuilder and iClone-to-Maya workflow videos below:
Unlock the Untold Secrets of Mocap Animation with Over 35 Battle-Tested Courses – All for Free!
Until now, there has never been a comprehensive and well-planned mocap animation course available. Reallusion takes up the challenge, offering 35 courses that cover every aspect of mocap production, from cleanup and editing to accurate interactions. These courses draw from decades of work on mocap projects with world-class studios featured in the ActorCore motion library, which is filled with difficult-to-capture motion sequences that range from paired interactions, parkour, and combat moves, to prop and accessory manipulation.
iClone does everything MOST people are using MotionBuilder to do, with a fast workflow and even a faster learning curve.
– Jeff Scheetz, Motion Capture Orlando
For iClone users, exploring the courses can help reinforce existing knowledge while also offering new tricks to enhance your animation skills. If you are new to iClone but have experience with Maya and MotionBuilder, give iClone a try to discover how the same quality results can be achieved with unmatched speed and convenience. And there’s more! Users of Maya and MotionBuilder can take advantage of our exclusive Welcome Offer to jump in and explore the possibilities.
Whether you’re an experienced pro or a newcomer to mocap animation, get ready to take your skills to the next level with iClone. Reallusion is dedicated to creating the next generation of animation solutions, making mocap work easier and more effective than ever before. We value your input and would love to hear your feedback as we continue to innovate and improve.