首頁 » Page 4

Disney 2D Animation Style Remade with Character Creator 4 – Part 2

Bringing CC4 Cel-Shaded Character into iClone 8 and Unreal Engine 5 

José Antonio Tijerín

In this Part 2 tutorial, Digital Artist José Tijerín expounds on the workflow of sending cartoonish characters to iClone 8 and Unreal Engine 5 (UE5) for animation. From adding cloth physics, and overlapping animation to new facial expressions designed for the character.

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” is currently for sale in the Reallusion content store.

Hi, I’m José Tijerín and this is the second part of a tutorial in which we are creating a cartoon character with Character Creator (CC) and iClone in the style of one of the first animated movies: Disney’s Snow White. Please check out the video here if you haven’t already.

Adding physics to the character

Making the character’s clothes move dynamically is a really simple and quick process. First, we need to prepare a grayscale texture that maps the physics according to the clothe’s UVs where white are areas most affected by physics and vice versa. In the Modify menu click on the Physics section, select the target model, and click the Activate Physics button. In the subsequent “Weight Map” request, provide the aforementioned grayscale texture that was prepared beforehand.

If we activate the Soft Cloth Simulation button at the top of the program and go to the timeline at the bottom, we can apply an animation to the character to check if the result is desirable. You can adjust the properties of the fabric or hair under simulation to your liking. It’s also possible to adjust the physics colliders of the character if the clothing or hair is going through the model. To do this, go to the character’s Attributes menu and click on the Collision Shape button. Within the floating pop-up window, select the collision capsule for the target part and increase its size.

Correcting facial expressions

Once modified, we can check if the result is as desired by applying it to the character again. These animations help enormously for finding errors and quality checking our character, with the facial expressions being one of the most important checks. In the latest version of Character Creator, we can correct and customize expressions to make the character feel alive.

Let me mention another character that will appear in “The Evil Furry”; his animation style is much more cartoonish and his expressions should follow suit. However, we see that the predefined morphs do not meet the requirements and fail to be applied to the character.

If we go to the Modify menu, enter the Motion Pose section, and click on the Facial Profile Editor button, a new window will appear on the left side of the screen with the same name as the button. Click on the Edit Expression button to unlock a long list of specific facial movements—these form the standard CC facial profile, but I recommend unlocking the extended version even for cartoon characters.

To unlock it, just click on the Traditional button below and the Extended option in the following pop-up window. Now we can edit facial expressions. Starting with the eye blinks, which is the most obvious mistake, and although it’s the most serious error, it’s also the easiest to fix as CC offers a specific function to solve this problem. Just find the Character in the top menu bar and click on Correct Eyeblink; we can see the problem is solved immediately and the faulty morph has also been corrected. 

However, when the morph is at 50%, the eyelids do not cover the eyeballs and leave a strange appearance. To fix this, we don’t have to go very far, such as bringing the model into Maya. At the bottom of the menu we can click the Edit Mesh button that’s among a series of buttons under the Expression Tools section. We can then fix the eyelids by flattening them a bit and clicking on the Edit Mesh button on the right to exit the editing mode. Next we click on the lightning bolt symbol next to the morph target which is activated at 100%. This will register all deformations made to the character model (the character base can’t be edited while morphs are being adjusted).

Now that the morph works well from 0% to 100%, we can mirror this deformation to the other side of the face by clicking on the little symbol with two arrows pointing at each other. Granted, you can also edit morphs in a third-party application like Maya, but I recommend using the options right in front of you inside CC.

Adding cartoon facial expressions

Clicking on GoZ Expression for the morph we want to edit (in this case, “Open Mouth”) takes the character into Zbrush. Personally speaking, editing the character’s expression is the most important step after it’s created. Artists should work beyond just correcting mistakes in facial expressions. 

The best advice I can give is to look for concept art references from films and series. Theoretically, I should have drawn inspiration from the earliest Disney movies, but I wanted the character to be more expressive and contemporary. 

A good example is the art of the famous Jin Kim; one of the artists who left an indelible mark on Disney’s artistic style for animated 3D super productions. Even with characters expressing the same emotions, Kim was able to have them uniquely articulated. Jin Kim was not satisfied with giving carbon copy smiles to different characters.

When we examine the smiling expressions alone, we find that they are very different depending on the character’s anatomy, demeanor, and background. To design characters and bring them to life, however cartoonish and deformed they may be, you need to have some knowledge of anatomy; I recommend looking at the work of Anatomy For Sculptors to learn the anatomy behind facial expressions. Understanding when and why facial wrinkles form will allow you to create characters that feel real. 

If your character is not human, you can look to other great Disney studio artists such as Borja Montoro and Cory Loftis for inspiration. They have an absolute mastery of human anatomy, but they also have an amazing mastery of animal anatomy and demonstrate it by humanizing their faces in a very appealing way. To end the topic of expressions, I would like to remind you that Character Creator allows you to add an infinite number of new expressions and the more you add, the more versatile your character will be. 

Create overlapping animation

Before returning to character creation, I’ll take the opportunity to explain the use of the “Spring effect” to automate “overlapping” animation.

This consists of complementary and overlapping motion that is part of the twelve principles of animations identified by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson in their book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, which is considered one of the best animation books of all time.

First, we’ll bring a model into a 3D program for rigging and once the bones have been placed in the model, we’ll apply and tweak the skin binding. Keep in mind that bones need to be frugally placed and organized into hierarchies with proper x, y, z axes orientation—all factors that determine the final movement.

Then we export the object in FBX format and add it to the character by clicking on the Prop option under the Create menu to load it into CC. Once loaded, we can click on Edit Spring in the Modify menu to launch a window on the left side displaying all of the bones placed in the model. When we select one of the bones, the Translate and Rotate effect will become accessible on the right side of the application. 

In my case, I’m going to apply the Rotate effect to some of the bones and in the group settings below, give very little Mass and Bounciness while maximizing Strength. You can add a test animation to the model to try out the settings and get the effect you desire.

Send to iClone

Now, let’s send our character to iClone. iClone specializes in working with motion capture, which is what I have deployed, and involves the recording of sensors placed on an actor’s body. Roughly speaking, the initial steps for professional animators (not counting layout artists) consist of block-outs and “step” animation. We can deploy the same methods using the Edit Motion Layer tool, but instead of entering the “spline” phase, we will generate a complete animation using key poses instead.

This similar example shows why this method of animation was picked and just how fast and economical it can be because the new iClone tools make it happen in just a couple of steps. If we select the keyframes and click the right-mouse-button, a menu will appear; inside it, we click on the Transition Curve option. A window will appear where different curve types can be assigned from one key pose to another with single clicks. This is ideal for works with a lot of cartoony animation, like video games

To top it off, I have also added a Digital Soul animation layer to the face and the result is quite satisfactory. However, compared to the motion capture version, the movement is a bit artificial and progressively undesirable on increasingly realistic characters.

Left: Animated by keyframing with Digital Soul animation layer. Right: Animated by Motion Capture.

Having finished the character animations in iClone and before transferring it to Unreal, I noticed that the right hand, with a Reach Target to the broom, judders from time to time; and you’ll notice it particularly in slow motion. This often happens when a model has multiple Reach Targets and Pick Parents associated with it. The problem is solved once we select the constrained model (in this case, the broom) and click on the Flatten All Motion with Constraint option under the Animation menu.

Let’s go to Unreal Engine

Now we’ll talk about preparing the project in Unreal Engine. When we have a project open in Unreal, we must make sure that the following options are activated:

  • Settings > Plugins > iClone Live Link
  • Live Link > Window > Virtual Production
  • Cinematics > Take Recorder

Under the Live Link menu, click on + Source, select the iClone option and add the port number that will connect Unreal to iClone. We’ll have to do the same in iClone by activating the Unreal Live Link option in the Plugins menu, click on the Transfer File button in the subsequent pop-up menu, and wait for the whole scene to be exported to Unreal. Now that everything is imported, we can click on the Unreal Live Link > Link > Link Activated button to see the animations played in Unreal without clothes physics. 

To get the physics simulation in Unreal, activate Edit > Project Settings > Global Physics Settings > Bake Animation, select a dynamic object (in this case, the skirt), and play the animation to register the simulation. When finished, we deactivate the physics and the Bake Animation option. Finally, we activate Simulate in Unreal. 

At this point, I recommend adjusting the colliders to avoid strange effects—you can watch a whole tutorial about this on this Youtube channel. Now that everything is ready, go to the Take Recorder menu and drag in all of the motions we want to record. Clicking on the red circle button will start a countdown, and when it’s finished, we must click on the Play button to record the animation into the Unreal timeline—it’s as simple as that!

Making perfect cel shading in Unreal Engine 5

There are two ways to achieve the 3D cartoon effect. The first is by using effects on the object’s material to make the lines appear on the interior of the model. For example, you can download the free “Stylized Materials Pack” from Unreal to see how it works. The second way would be to use a post-processing effect that encompasses everything that appears on the screen and creates lines on the edges and surfaces of the models. We are going to use the latter cel-shading effect.

The first thing we will do in our Unreal project is to go to the Quickly Add to the Project menu and add a Post Process Volume from the Visual Effects sub-menu by dragging it into the viewport. With this element, we can easily and practically achieve any imaginable visual effect in Unreal. By default, this post-process cube will only affect a section of the scene when the camera is within its boundaries. To extend the effect to the whole scene, we only have to enable Post Process Volume Settings > Infinite Extent in the details of this element.

Improving the cartoon effect of Unreal 5

The toon shading effect is composed of two materials; one that is in charge of creating contour lines, and another that is in charge of the lighting which only has two, or in this case, one tone. Starting with the latter material, we will create and edit a “PPMM BaseColor” material. Enabling Material > Post Process will allow us to work with Emissive Color, and from that, I remove the “SceneTexture SceneColor” node. To remove the error message, we have to indicate to the node that we want it to use the “Filtered Base Color”.

Next, go back to the material and select Blendable Location > Post Process Material > Before Tonemapping. When we save the material and go back to the post-process cube, we can add this new material into the Post Process Materials section and immediately notice a loss of lighting. However, we can still see the textures which are ideal. We will now create an “Outlines” material for the second material.

 We can directly go to the tutorial on dev.epicgames and download the project and its materials. Open the demo project and look for “Postprocess > Content Drawer > PPMM Outlines All” material. If we click on it, we will see a group called Polylines and another called Normal Lines

I removed “Normal Lines” to get a cleaner and more controlled result, you can also remove this group for the “Outlines” material. All of these materials will be taken into our project. Once we add the materials we have created and select them, we can paste the nodes we have copied from the example project. To apply this material we go back to the PostProcessVolume menu we created and add one more array in Post Process Materials. We have to indicate that it is an “Asset Reference” and, to make it work, we have to put the “Outline” material above the “Basecolor” material. 

However, the result could be better. The first thing we noticed is that you can hardly see the lines. If we reopen the “Outline” material and click on the first node on the left called “Polygon Outline thickness” we will see that in its details menu the “Default Value” is 1. 

Let’s try to give it a value of 4 , and change Polygon Outline Quality > Polygon Outline Amount from 0.2 to 3. Now the effect looks better as it resembles a drawing, however, lines on the interior of the shapes are also formed where they should not. To solve this problem, we have to go back to the “Outline” material and duplicate the “SceneTexture”, “Mask”, and “Lerp” nodes from the “Blends Poly and Normal” group. Then duplicate the first two nodes again and connect the old “Lerp” node with the new one at the letter “B”. From the same, we connect the duplicated nodes to the new “Lerp” node, to the letter “A” to finally connect this new lerp to the material.

We only have to connect the “alpha” channel, but first, we are going to go to the “SceneTexture” node that we still have to connect and change its configuration. In this way, we repurposed metallic textures into masks where the black areas display contour lines and the white or “0” color prevents the formation of lines. 

Now we are going to eliminate the “Mask” node which is connected to the Color channel and replace it with “1-x” node which we connected to a “Ceil” node which, in turn, will be connected to a “Clamp” node obtained by copying it from the same “Blends Poly” group. All this is connected to the Alpha channel of the Lerp and we have the material with the mask ready.

To see the result we are going to create a metallic texture for the face material. We have chosen metallic textures because, as we have a post effect that only shows the diffuse channel of the whole scene, there is no material that needs metallic textures.

The face mask will depend very much on your design and some testing will be needed to get the desired effect. The only thing left to do is to connect the metal texture to the material and apply the material to the face. As you can see the result is now much better and much more similar to the original sketch. Finally, we can rejoice now that our cartoon character is fully animated as if it was part of an authentic old-school 3D movie.

Thank you for reading this tutorial, it took a lot of work and I hope it will be useful for your projects. Remember that you can add my funny video game to your wishlist. And if you want more tutorials like this, don’t forget to subscribe to Reallusion’s official channel.

Learn more :

• Tijerín Art (José Antonio Tijerín) https://www.artstation.com/tijerinart 

• Auto Setup for Unreal Engine https://www.reallusion.com/auto-setup/unreal-engine/default.html

• Character Creator https://www.reallusion.com/character-creator/ 

• iClone https://www.reallusion.com/iclone/

• Reallusion https://www.reallusion.com/

Disney 2D Animation Style Remade with Character Creator 4 – Part 1

Bringing CC4 Cel-Shaded Character into iClone 8 and Unreal Engine 5 

José Antonio Tijerín

In this Part 1 tutorial, Digital Artist José Tijerín elaborates on the process of applying cel-shading in Character Creator 4 to visualize 3D cartoon characters as hand-drawn 2D animation in the classic Disney style—one of the greatest advantages being the speed of production for games and films.

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” is currently for sale in the Reallusion content store.

Character Creator 4 is the best option

This is a basic guide to creating 3D cartoon characters with a cel-shaded style. The aim is to mimic old 2D cartoons that were made in the traditional hand-drawn way. Besides mentioning Reallusion Software such as the benefits of the latest Character Creator 4 (CC4) update, this article will also offer some unique tips, which are also available in the aforementioned video. 

The main advantage of creating a character in Character Creator (CC) for me is the ability to directly visualize the final result by applying a cel-shaded effect that makes it look like it was made for 2D animation. As we shall see below, this makes the modeling easier and allows us to make corrections in a simple and intuitive way. The other great advantage is that CC is the ideal program to create this kind of character due to the ability to customize expressions, besides getting professional and functional models. I’ll expound on these amazing features in the latter half of this article, but first, let’s talk about the merits of adopting a cartoonish look.

Benefits of Cartoonish look

A 3D character that imitates a 2D character has many advantages that can speed up the production of a video game or any film work. Without the need to use complex materials full of textures or the implementation of complex lighting systems, we are dealing with works that do not require a lot of processing and that do not give as many technical problems compared to projects with aesthetics that want to approach realism. This is an advantage that I discovered while creating my current game in development “The Evil Furry” (available on Steam wishlist).

For this tutorial I’m going to use characters from this project because, most of it, is created from cinematics; so this tutorial will be useful for creators of any audiovisual product.

2D cartoon character in classic Disney style

The character we are going to create will be for the Unreal Engine in which it will be used in cinematic scenes, but this method can also be used in not so cinematic video games. With this in mind I recommend, as always, be clear about the description of the character and the actions they will undertake in the story. 

In this case it is a young girl who appears in a specific part of the story pretending to be a banished princess. She is a carefree, sweet person who dresses in poor clothes and who ends up falling in love with the protagonist of the story. With this in mind and the cartoon style of the Disney film “Snow White“, I looked for the perfect references and explored different designs until I found this one you can see. In my case it has been very useful to look for concept art of the Disney film to be able to see what ideas were being considered and to really understand the film’s style of drawing.

It is of vital importance that your entire project is consistent in style to be considered a solidly professional and credible work. As you can see, I didn’t completely copy the style of the film, but the bases are the same; a main character animated by rotoscoping with flat colors, without light or excess most of the time, with unsaturated colors, hand-drawn backgrounds and with very contained expressions for a cartoon animation. We will see these issues later, but for now let’s start working with Character Creator.

Cel shading effect in Character Creator 4

The first thing we will do when we open Character Creator is to select the cel-shading effect in the “Atmosphere” folder in the Stage section. Inside we can find the “Toon Shader” folder with cartoon filters; I’m going to choose Line Art. The effect has not turned out the way we wanted it to, so we will have to customize it a bit. If we go to the Visual section we can deactivate Post Effect and Global Illumination. In the Toon Shader section, we can configure the effect to increase the thickness of the line and its intensity. In my case, I will also remove all the lighting from the model to make it more faithful to the reference. Finally, if we go to the main menu in the Visual section, we can activate the IBL and change the color of the ambient light from blue to white to see the real color of the textures on the model. 

Obviously, these textures are not cartoonish, so we will have to change them to flat colors in a program such as Clipstudio. When placing them on the model, remember to remove the normal textures from all materials. This is because the normal textures affect the outlines in the cel-shading and can be confusing. Leaving them on would not affect the final result in Unreal but I recommend removing all textures other than the base color. In the case of the eyes, it will also be necessary to change the shader type from “Digital human eye” to “Traditional“. to make the texture appear clean and without post-processing. In the case of eyebrows, we can be extra creative by being able to decide their shape through opacity. Remember that you can also make them completely transparent if you don’t want your model to have eyelashes like Mickey Mouse. 

I recommend that you use simple shapes and look at your references to check that the result is appropriate; This is a very important element in the expressiveness of the character. Another useful trick is, knowing that Character Creator has eight sets of tabs, leave the upper and lower assemblies invisible to avoid extraneous effects and to achieve a better visual result. It is possible that when changing the opacity texture of the tabs you may encounter an error where the texture fails to load. 

First make sure the image is a JPG. If it still does not work, the solution I have found to this problem is to activate the skin editor by clicking Yes in the floating window that appears. When we deactivate the skin editor again the texture will load correctly. Another trick I recommend is to use the eyebrows as 2D models rather than as a texture to prevent the texture from distorting or pixelating when stretched and the cel shading effect will interact better with the face. It is a good idea to use the cartoon eyebrows that Character Creator offers by default and then customize them.

Customize the cartoon character

Now that we have fully tooned the model, it is time to personalize it.

If we go to the Morph section we can find several morphs that will be especially useful in this case. “Head scale” is a great step towards cartooning our character, but “Eyeball scale” and “Eye scale” are also very useful. After a couple more tweaks, we can take it to Zbush to do the rest of the work. As I have said before, I always work in Zbrush without perspective, and I like to visualize the polygons I’m working with so I can more accurately create the models. After modifying the size of the head, the most important thing is to define the height and width of the neck. But it is common for people to forget to adjust the width of the neck in profile resulting in the strange sensation that the profile of the character is totally different from its frontal image.

In this case I decided to make a cartoon Nefertiti-style collar. This is the most fun part of the job for me. But remember that you have to constantly look at the sketches and references to not stray from the style and the result you were looking for. 

Zbrush also has the option to lower the opacity of the program. Taking a character from my video game The Evil Furry as an example, the slider at the top of the program allows us to customize its opacity. This way, the reference we want to trace can be visible in the background. This is very useful because we tend to deviate from the source like making the eyes too small, the mouth too big, or ears too detailed in relation to the reference. 

I then proceed to hide the fleshy parts of the eyes inside the skull to simplify the eyes. Even though I give plenty of mention to the face, the rest of the body should not be neglected, especially the hands. You can and should deform the character as much as necessary to resemble your reference sketch. You may even experiment with form or ideas that may be more appealing to you, but it is generally better to leave the form-finding in the sketching stage since we tend to be more conservative with 3D modeling than drawing.

Character Creator is very versatile in this aspect, coupled with its ability to automatically correct all problems with the rig when the character is brought into the program: just go to the Adjust Bones menu and click on the Auto Position button. We will soon see that the character is fully operational, although in this case, the eyes should be repositioned.

Often, the cel shaded effect does not turn out as expected, so we have to make further modifications so that the outlines also appear on the inside of the character and not just on the edges. Lines are produced on very pronounced angles of the geometry, that’s why the smooth upper part of the nose does not generate lines, but the nostrils are outlined due to sharper angles. We can take advantage of this mechanism by forcing the creation of unique outlines, like placing them on the corners of the lips to heighten expressiveness.

Creating a line to achieve this effect is very simple. You just have to form a very sharp angle at the corners of your mouth as shown in the video. Just be careful not to deform the mouth too much so that there are no problems when opening the mouth properly and take care that no lumps or deformations are visible when rotating the head.

When we are happy with the model and we have checked that it works correctly with cel shading, we can move on to modeling the final part: the teeth.

Fine-tuning the details : Modeling the teeth

Character Creator has cartoon style teeth for these instances which are certainly more suitable than realistic teeth. However, if you look closely, it is rare for a cartoon to have all individual teeth clearly defined. Most of the traditional animated films unify all the teeth, making the final result more pleasant and easier to draw. We don’t want the character looking horrible every time it opens its mouth, so we are going to merge all teeth into one unified mesh.

For this we are going to use Zbrush to hide all the teeth inside the skull because we’ll be using the gums as teeth. As unpleasant as the idea sounds, this is the best method I have found to achieve the same effect as a drawing. By flattening the gums and combining them into a single block, we get a fantastic cel shade effect. Although, of course, you must change the texture to a solid color and remove the normal textures, and the same should be done for the tongue. Meanwhile the teeth should be correctly positioned in the mouth, however, the positioning will be adjusted when creating facial expressions.

Now we’ll finish off with the eyes. Although the art style I’ve chosen does not include glint in the eyes (Disney characters did not have glinting eyes until Bambi was released in 1942), I’ll explain two ways to go about adding them to bring them to life. The first method is to add highlights as part of the drawing, which is the most common way in traditional hand-drawn cartoons on acetate, and produced by hand using digital programs in modern times. Sometimes highlights are added as an after effect that can be repositioned around the surface of the eye as one wishes, but we can do it simply by embedding it within the texture. 

While the effect is nice and easy to apply, it is strange that the reflections are not affected by the upper eyelid; we can solve this problem by deploying a the second technique: that is to illuminate the eyes as if there was a light pointed at them (this technique is unusual for 3D animation but can be seen in animations made by Spa Studios). To do this, we add highlights to the “Eye Occlusion” model over the eye. We simply create a JPG image as a layered shell and apply it to the texture. I’ve had issues before with these textures which can be solved by saving the image file and opening them again.

As one can tell, the result is more realistic, but since we can’t move the highlights with the iris, it won’t look good aesthetically.

Tips on Character clothing

In conjunction with all this work, I’ve been making clothes and accessories for the character in Zbrush. I won’t dwell on this process, but here are a couple of tips:

Clothes and hairstyles are the fundamental parts of designing characters, and it’s advisable to design them with clothes they will wear the most, even if we have to imagine the look of their bodies. Design with big and simple shapes so that characters don’t turn into a mishmash of meaningless lines. Same as for the rest of the model, textures should remain solid flat colors and one should check to make sure the cel-shading is working properly. However, don’t stress this part of the process because some tweaks can still be made when the character is exported to Unreal.

I hope you liked this first tutorial; I’ve really wanted to do it for a long time and I’ve put a lot of thought into it. I hope my tips will be a guide for you to create new characters and different styles. See you in the second part!

Learn more :

• Tijerín Art (José Antonio Tijerín) https://www.artstation.com/tijerinart 

• Auto Setup for Unreal Engine https://www.reallusion.com/auto-setup/unreal-engine/default.html

• Character Creator https://www.reallusion.com/character-creator/ 

• iClone https://www.reallusion.com/iclone/

• Reallusion https://www.reallusion.com/

Combining club culture, techno music, and character animation with iClone & Character Creator – relative.berlin

relative.berlin

Relative.berlin started, like many successful studios, as a collective of friendly freelancers working together out of someone’s living room. Over the years these friends have gotten closer, welcoming new additions to their team, in an effort to create a wholesome company with a passion for creative output at a high aesthetic standard. In less than 10 years, the team created video productions for global brands such as Universal Music, Mercedes, Honda, McDonald’s, and Kinder.

The relative.berlin’s core family consists of 10 creatives. The perfect mix of aesthetically minded pixel pushers and playful tech nerds, who challenge each other to stay up to date with the latest looks, trends, and tech innovations. Building on the foundation of motion graphics and 3D animations, relative. berlin has evolved to apply its expertise in photogrammetry, body motion capture, and facial motion capture to real-time animations, VR/AR, digital fashion, and pretty much anything CGI.

Q: Greetings Anders, and welcome to our Reallusion Feature stories. Please introduce yourself, relative.berlin, and your music project.

Hello, we are a creative studio in the heart of Berlin, so rave culture is part of our DNA. During the pandemic, lockdown required isolation, which was very problematic for everyone. Those working in art and culture were faced with profound existential fears. As a studio, we were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to continue working on projects through those hard times and we felt like we wanted to give something back to the community.

So it was an exhilarating pleasure to make a music video for our good friend DJ Taube and his song “Where To Go?”. The video shows a madman raving in a padded cell while imagining being on stage in front of thousands, and a lonely dancer expressing their feelings through movement in undefined confined spaces. It is an expression of our collective feelings about the lockdowns of the past few years, and it was a therapeutic exercise to turn those feelings into art.

Q: There is a lot of software being used and integrated. Can you tell us how long it took for your team to familiarize themselves with iClone, and Character Creator, and figure out the whole 3D animation pipeline?

We began our journey with Character Creator (CC4) in 2021 and afterward started combining it with iClone (iC8). As we come from a traditional 3D animation pipeline we knew we had some challenges we would have to solve in terms of developing a pipeline for this project. We needed both flexible and fast tools for the character animation, as we would have approximately 4 minutes of motion-captured data. After some days of trial-and-error, we found multiple ways we could integrate both Character Creator and iClone into our pipeline with great effect.

Q: Can you share some of the latest iClone features used inside Taube’s ‘Where-to-go’ music video?

Sure! There are several features that we found powerful during the production process. First, we used Character Creator to build the model that fit our photoshoot dancer. This also made it a lot easier for us to begin the next step in our pipeline, applying the movements in iClone.

“We have previously tested other software for cleaning Motion Capture data, but in this case, it would not have be an option because of the complexity of this project. The biggest value we found in the Reallusion tools was the capability and variety of options to clean motion-captured data in real-time software.”

Anders Mortensen | 3D/2D Generalist in relative.berlin

For doing the motion clean-up and preparation, we used several new features from iClone 8 such as motion correction, foot contact, flexible frame rate, and other different cleanup tools. This was super useful in order to make sure we could maintain a fast character animation working pipeline without losing too much time on preparing the motions for the later steps of the pipeline.

Motion Layer System

What came in super useful for us was the newly added feature of accessing our recorded data at both the part level and bone level, this way we could correct even the smallest things on all bones. And it made it possible for us to quickly ensure high-quality cleaning in our pipeline.

Reach Target Integration: foot contact and correction

As we had a lot of shots that included feet interacting with the floor, this became an essential and stable feature during production compared to manually having to correct this. There was a lot of floor stomping inside this project, so this feature really helped us to fine-tune the movements of the madmen.

Flexible frame rate features

As flexible frame rate was introduced in iClone 8 we were sure it would be a perfect match for our pipeline, as we could now combine assets from different parts of the pipeline in one place instead of having to convert to each asset. Especially, the recorded motion capture data and cloth simulations we now could handle without any big hassle and even see in real-time if there were mistakes.

Q: The clothing of the characters played a big part in this project. Can you share what value you found in Reallusion tools?

Importing cloth simulations to check for possible mistakes before sending them to the next step in the pipeline saved us a huge chunk of time, as we could combine everything in one place. By using this part of the workflow we were able to also adjust the motion data to give better and more interesting cloth simulation results. By seeing where there was an opportunity to get an extra “swing” or create room for the simulation to give extra details.

Another big point was utilizing the Smart Gallery so the people working in this step of the pipeline could easily share and update files without losing time on import/export.

Q: We love the way you create. Would you tell us a bit about what we can expect from you in the near future?

In the future we see ourselves working in many different areas of the animation/media industry. As we gain more and more experience with character animation and motion capture, we feel confident to take an even bigger step in that direction. We believe that the development of the Metaverse will bring a high demand in character development for avatars and fields like digital fashion.

Currently, we are in collaboration with a big game company, providing high-quality animated characters for their products. As we are constantly walking the line between aesthetics and new tech, we are sure we will stay relevant and challenge the limits of what is possible in these exciting times.

Follow relative.berlin

Website:
https://relative.berlin/

Vimeo:
https://vimeo.com/relativeberlin

Instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/relative.berlin/

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/relative.berlin/

Behance:
https://www.behance.net/relativeberlin

Libertas Review : Digital Soul Makes Your Characters More Human

Erik Larson (Libertas)

Born in Chicago, Libertas started out with a passion for filmmaking at an early age, and since he’s had a 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 Assassin 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.

When I saw the trailer for Character Creator 4 (CC4), I immediately wanted to see just how good the new extended facial profile was going to be. Having worked as a videographer in a marketing department for over a decade, I have to say, I am suspicious whenever I see such impressive new features promoted in new products. I knew Reallusion was going to showcase this new extended facial profile on their best models, but I wanted to see how good it would work on a character I had already made in CC3. So I chose Ashley, one of my digital actors that has been featured in several of my previous videos.

To start, I wanted to set a baseline. I used the face calibration animation in CC4 on Reallusion’s character avatar Camila—who you have probably seen in the trailers. I was immediately blown away by the details in the eyes and slight variations in the face. To me, these subtleties brought the character to life. This showed me what was possible. But, could I get as good of results with my character?

I then created a new scene and imported Ashely. And as an additional baseline, I wanted to use her original facial profile, which is now called “Traditional”. This would allow me to see how much the “traditional” profile varies from the “extended facial profile.”

One of the amazing things about using this facial calibration animation is it allows you to see where your character may need to adjust their profile to account for what I call “facial anomalies.” For instance, Ashley’s eyes never closed all the way. I just worked around this in the past, but with CC4 I can update the facial profile using the Facial Profile Editor

After converting Ashely to utilize the CC4 Extended Facial Profile, I opened up the editor and looked for the eye blink sliders. Using the available expression tools, I was able to modify this morph to adjust for the anomaly. I then saved these changes and my character no longer had issues blinking her eyes. 

With the changes made to the profile, I again ran the calibration test and reviewed the results. 

I feel that while the differences can be subtle, they provide a big overall improvement. 

The human face is so difficult to animate, because of the small subtleties that we see daily and take for granted. And when they aren’t in the animations, we instinctively know something looks wrong. And that is why I like this new extended profile, because these improved and expanded morphs aim to capture those subtleties, therefore, they add additional realism to the character. 

My only caution would be that the neck now has morph shapes, so you will need to be cautious about how the neck interacts with clothing items such as turtlenecks, as those are rigged to the armature and not the morph shapes.

Since my test showed such great improvements, I wanted to take it to the next level and test out the Digital Souls Pack which has been developed by Reallusion to fully utilize this new extended profile.

If you haven’t heard of this pack, Digital Soul is a set of facial animations focusing on character expressions. Usable in both iClone 8 and Character Creator 4, it comes with over 140 subtle animations across 9 different categories.

What I love about all of these are the subtle eye movements and expressions that bring your characters to life. I fully believe it is one of those “must have” packs because it has so many applications. 


For me, I use animation to tell visual stories. My characters are my digital actors. Therefore, I can see these expressions being perfect for reaction shots in my videos. Or, with the nice eye movements, they can easily be used as a base for a lip sync animation. Then you can further build upon them with the Face Key or Face Puppet tools, and in the end make a truly unique performance.

This can also save you a lot of time with background characters. Instead of manually animating every background character (which let’s be honest, isn’t really your top priority), just add a few of these animations on the timeline and your background characters are now telling a little story of their own.

In the end, this pack does take advantage of the new extended facial profile and I see it being such a useful and versatile tool to have in your animation pipeline. If you would like to learn more about it, check out this link to get a deeper insight into the animations it provides.

Learn more :

• Erik Larson (Libertas) http://www.libertasvideo.com/

• Libertas Armory https://www.reallusion.com/contentstore/featureddeveloper/profile/#!/Libertas-Armory/

• Digital Soul 100+ https://www.reallusion.com/ContentStore/iClone/pack/digital-soul-100/default.html

• Character Creator https://www.reallusion.com/character-creator/

• iClone https://www.reallusion.com/iclone/default.html

Reallusion Releases AccuRIG, The Next-Generation Automatic Character Rigging 

Free Auto Rig Program Delivers Exceptional Results for All Platforms

Original character from Tom Breuer

Reallusion, the developer of Character Creator and iClone animation software and the leader in real-time digital human creation, has launched AccuRIG, a free brand-new software application that takes 3D character auto rig experience to the next level.

Aiming to reduce production effort for model artists, AccuRIG is an application designed for fast and accurate character rigging, allowing users to automatically turn their static models into 3D animatable characters with simple steps, making them ready for export to industry major platforms including Unreal Engine, Unity, Blender, iClone, Omniverse, Maya, 3ds Max, MotionBuilder, and Cinema 4D.

Character rigging is a painstaking process that requires a lot of effort yet often ends up with unsatisfactory outcomes. Embedded with our advanced character rigging technology, the intuitiveness of AccuRIG enables anyone to rig characters with professional results, through automation and simplicity, saving users time and toil thus allowing them to focus on the creative part of production.

Charles Chen, CEO, Reallusion, Inc.

Now Anyone Can Rig

Whether the model is in a T- or A-pose, take it to AccuRIG and follow its easy steps to auto-rig right away. The program also provides handy functions to manually finetune body and hand rigging, with a variety of preset motions to check final results.  

Users have the option to export the model to the animation-ready format including FBX, USD, and iAvatar, or upload the newly rigged character to ActorCore’s online content store to real-time preview thousands of 3D motions with the uploaded character.

Rig Humanoid Models of All Kinds

3D users can now take advantage of hundreds of characters available for download on online asset stores such as Sketchfab, easily turning un-rigged models into animated characters.  Artists can transform their own creations into rigged characters, immediately increasing their asset value in the marketplace.

Concept artists can benefit from the AccuRIG free auto-rigging tool by quickly changing their models created with ZBrush or Blender into professionally rigged characters, enabling them to display creations with a variety of poses and accelerating the process from sculpting to animation for 3D productions.

With AccuRIG, a scan studio can release staff  from repetitive manual processes and automatically turn 3D scanned people into high quality, rigged characters – saving a tremendous amount of labor costs, which is particularly crucial for large projects. 

Next Generation Auto Rigging Technology

The free AccuRIG application has empowered users with Reallusion’s advanced character rigging technology. The program can deal with mesh types with hundreds, to hundreds of thousands of polygons, and also all kinds of spread poses as it emphasizes on many crucial details that often fail with standard auto-rigging tools:

  • Workable with multiple-mesh models with cloth and accessories.
  • Automatic axis correction for models with different palm facing and arm raising angles, highly optimized for 3D scan people.
  • Intelligent skin-weight that preserves volume for head, body and accessories.
  • Bending joint optimization for natural bend shape – knees, wrists, elbows and fingers.
  • Accurate finger rigging, even for models with less than 5 fingers.
  • Twist bone rig for smooth wrist and heel rotation.
  • Manual joint definition for optimal skin-weight calculation.
  • Joint masking for arbitrary pose rigs, such as models with hands in the pockets.
  • Pose offset for posture correction. 

These technology advancements allow AccuRIG to achieve superior results while keeping simplicity and automation for production efficiency.

Partitioned skin-weight for natural joint bending

Enjoy Thousands of 3D Motions on ActorCore

In AccuRIG, rigged-ready models can be directly exported to most 3D platforms, or uploaded to ActorCore, the 3D asset marketplace for real-time animation. There users can explore an extensive library of mocap animations professionally produced to ensure the best quality and practicality.  All ActorCore 3D motions are in well-planned themes designed for game, film, interactive projects, archviz, training, simulation, digital twins and more. 

Quick Search and Easy Export for Animation

The ActorCore online asset store gives users an interactive 3D viewing experience for their models with available motions. Users can also quickly search and explore related contents using category and keyword.  All ActorCore motions are in FBX file format compatible with major 3D programs. 

FREE Download: AccuRIG Application, 3D Motions, 3D Characters

AccuRIG is a free program offered on ActorCore, designed to give users a full experience of high quality auto rigging with the best results. ActorCore also provides users with freely downloadable 3D characters and mocap animations. Simply become an ActorCore member to access these free resources.  Sign up now

Compositing Supervisor Realizes His Action-Adventure Game in UE5 with Character Creator and iClone

Sneak Peek of Symphony of Demons Project

Varuna Darensbourg is a traditional and digital artist with a deep passion for video games as a storytelling medium.  Growing up, he drew comics and made movies and animation with anything he could get his hands on.  He studied Art & Animation in college at LCAD and has been working in the film industry at SDFX Studios as a compositing artist and supervisor on films such as Avengers, Mad Max and Blade Runner.  In his spare time, Varuna has been working with his wife, Michelle, to develop an original video game using Reallusion’s tools and Unreal Engine.

Q: Hi Varuna, welcome to our Feature Story series. First of all, congratulations for another DreamWork animation film, The Bad Guys, which just came out in 2022.

Apart from being a Digital Compositing Supervisor, fewer people know that you are a developer on your indie game project.

Could you give us a brief intro of your artistic path as a character/game artist and what pushed you to start developing your own games?

Thank you!  I am extremely proud to be a part of bringing The Bad Guys to theaters.  The crew I worked with did an incredible job converting the entire movie into 3D.

My artistic path began at an early age.  My imagination was creatively spurred on by comics, animation and video games.  I was obsessed with the idea of creating these amazing things!  I sketched and drew comics a lot growing up and always envisioned bringing my characters to life.

As an artist, I find the digital tools available these days immensely exciting, especially the ability they have to enable a solo artist to develop their concepts into fully animated, talking characters and interactive environments.  I approach digital art with a tremendous love for traditional art and a respect for the limitations that artists faced before computers became such powerful conduits for creative expression.

Demon Girl (created and rendered in Character Creator 4 with additional tools such as Substance Painter, ZBrush)

Working in the industry has been both challenging and immensely rewarding.  I work on big projects, but my field of work on those projects does not actually involve any of my interests in animation, storytelling, or character design.  As an artist & storyteller, that passion and need to create never stops.  Over the years, I have explored many tools for creating my own projects and in 2019, I began to narrow my personal creative passions on game development. 

For me, video games are an incredible medium for storytelling and the tools currently available are unbelievable.  Character Creator (CC) has given me a lot of control over creating the sort of characters I want in my project.  The animated characters I have created so far have me beyond excited and confident that a Reallusion pipeline will allow me to produce the character quantity and quality I am seeking to achieve as my project progresses.

Symphony of Demons

Q: The ongoing Symphony of Demons game project has very unique design for each demon.

Could you share with us your artistic concept of this game, from character, music, and sound design to the worldview of this game?

This project has several underlying concepts that are driving the overall aesthetic.  It is a story-driven action-adventure based around a young demon girl learning new things about herself and the unique world around her. Many of the core concepts will be left for the player to unravel, but I want the art to support a sense that characters and environments all have a sense of history behind them. 

For both the animated characters and environments I am aiming for a sweet spot between stylized and realistic.  I love art that has a balance of bold shapes and select detail. As this project progresses this will become more prevalent. Everything from the visual art to the sound is based on contrasting themes like old and new, strange and familiar; much like the work of Guillermo del Toro and Studio Ghibli, but with a Dune and Fifth Element twist.

For Symphony of Demons we are doing more planning than usual in regards to writing music.  I tend to compose music based on a feeling I am trying to capture.  This works well for ambient soundscapes that instill a feeling of mystery and intrigue.  For this project however, I am collaborating with Michelle for vocals and to write some more intentional music.  This is new territory for us, but we are beyond excited about it.

Like many artists, I pull inspiration from sources like Animation and Comics, however, a key factor in my approach to world building stems from nature and growing up in the Sierra Nevada mountains; surrounded by forests, fields and creeks.  Having a familiarity with different environments can enhance your approach to many things on a creative level. Comics like Elf Quest, Jeff Smith’s Bone and every Studio Ghibli movie are prime examples of worlds where the environments solidify your connection and understanding of the characters that exist within them.  My goal is to capture a similar connection in Symphony of Demons.

Q: Why does it have to be a game, instead of other mediums like an animation film?

There are several reasons this project must be a game.  Video Games are an incredible and versatile storytelling medium.  They  have evolved into a wonderful, interactive, sensory experience that can meld so many different art forms together and immerse the player in incredible ways.  Basically, the platform is helping me focus all of my interests into a single project and collaborate with my wife to breathe life into a world of strange characters.  I won’t lie, it’s all very daunting, but I am extremely driven to do it.

Q: How Reallusion tools help you achieve such goals?

When my wife and I worked on the Reallusion 2021 Lip sync contest, we ended up re-writing and re-doing all the dialog in the last four days leading up to the deadline.  We had a new idea and acted on it.  iClone’s Lip Sync tools made that decision possible and also helped us develop a pipeline that easily translated into our game project.

One of the most important yet challenging components to character dialogue is facial expression and lip sync. Even in AAA games they will often bypass having to include these elements to reduce time and cost.  Reallusion’s tools actually make including high-quality lip sync and natural expressions a possibility for smaller developers. The base CC characters all have fully functioning face rigs and morph systems which allow for many different, modular approaches to using them. 

For me, the iClone Acculips and Animation layering system changed everything.  After a few tests, I knew I had a pipeline that would enable me to achieve the results I was seeking. The best part of it all, is that compared to doing it all from scratch… it’s fast. Crazy fast!

Create the detective’s lip-sync animation in iClone 8.

Additionally CC and iClone provide me with a level of sanity.  Any motions, characters, clothing or morphs I create or purchase are all organized and quickly accessible in a shared library.  This allows me to find, test and re-use anything on new or existing characters, or create new content based off of items in my library by using the GoZ pipeline.  Having this hub for my character development has helped reduce the overwhelming nature of game development and in a way, separate the character development into a department that I can visit any time and easily bridge to Unreal when needed.

Q: We’ve known Varuna since your first game project Salvage in 2019. At that time, you still use ‘iC7+CC3+UE4’ pipeline, instead of the current ‘iC8+CC4+UE5’ pipeline for Symphony of Demons.

Either the game concept or the upgrade of software, how do you see the change of yourself through these 2+ years?

Over the past two years, my goals evolved as my skills grew. The more I worked with Character Creator and expanded additional skills, the more potential I saw to tell a more character driven game than I originally envisioned.  Now with the release of CC4, iC8 and UE5, the possibilities are unbelievable. Switching to the new updates has been intuitive and very inspiring. These updates certainly injected fresh energy into the project.

CC4 alone immediately improved my workflow. There are many things I can list, but the ability to quickly create and map custom expression morphs using GoZ is incredible.  Additionally the ability to test your characters at any time with animation and lip sync presets without leaving CC4 is a massive workflow improvement.  Combining CC4s improved facial profiles with iClone 8 also gave me an immense sense of reassurance that I could produce the subtle character performances my project required.

Q: Many character artists are familiar with ZBrush and Substance Painter, but don’t really know how to turn their characters into a game character that is ready for animation.

Could you share your experiences on using the GoZ pipeline with Character Creator and iCone? 

While working on Salvage, my 3D sculpting and modeling skills were extremely limited, but I still built many fun, original game characters using the deep morph system inside CC.  When I joined reallusion’s character design contest in 2020, I was really impressed with the content other artists were creating by combining CC with tools like ZBrush or Blender.  I was intimidated, yet inspired.  Sculpting and modeling skills are not required to utilize Reallusion’s tools, but if you do have additional 3D skills, especially sculpting, you can really maximize the full potential of the software. 

The competition showed me this, so I took the time I needed to develop those skills.  For me, learning the basics of ZBrush took some time, but the Character Creator GoZ pipeline is so fast, powerful and intuitive, it’s beyond worth it!  For anybody already familiar with ZBrush and Substance, adopting Character Creator is one of the fastest ways to get your custom characters up and running in a game engine and still have the ability to quickly test and update things.

Create Creepy Detective with GoZ pipeline.

Q: Also, as your self-taught testing result on UE5 has successfully WOW the audience,

what would be your advice to learn the mechanism of a game engine (UE or Unity) from scratch? What could they start from?

For anybody new to Game engines like Unity or Unreal Engine, my advice would be to look at the engine as a studio that has different departments that all handle different tasks.  E.g. Animation, Level Design, Game mechanics.  Break it down in a way that makes sense to you.  If you just jump into the programs and try to make a game, it can be very overwhelming.  If you pick a department to start in, it’s far less challenging.  Pick something that you have the most interest or existing skills in.  Focus on your strengths and ease yourself into the things that intimidate you. 

If you are excited about environments and world building, it is entirely possible to spend months just focused on the world building tools inside a game engine.  While doing that, you will not only learn the interface, but you will begin to learn about other things that tie into other departments. 

In Unreal, for example, iClone & CC make it very easy to get your custom characters into the engine, but  you will still need to understand how the Blueprint and material systems function.  Youtube is filled to the brim with tutorials for any game engine, but it still helps to break your focus down into digestible blocks or departments and chart out your tutorial choices based on your initial focus. 

Additionally, the Unity and Unreal markets are loaded with many amazing things, but even the best assets will require you to understand how they work inside the engines.  I have no programming skills, so for me, it is very important to know what assets will help me achieve my goals.  For me, it helped to learn some of the engine basics with some free content and then I was able to understand the true value of the marketplace items and what tools and plug-ins would benefit my project.

Q: Metaverse, XR, NFT, the technologies become more and more accessible to everyone.

As a Digital Compositing Supervisor for almost a decade, how do you see the development of Animation / Film / Game industries for indie developers and pro studios in the next 5 years?

From my experience, current technologies have already shifted industries.  The use of Virtual sets is becoming more common and has reduced the need for some forms of compositing in both film and streaming content.   Advances in real-time engines have started to change the landscape for both large and small studios and I believe it’s going to change rapidly moving forward. 

Reallusion and Unreal Engine are already on the forefront of this, with real time tools pushing all of the visual mediums to new heights as well as allowing smaller studios to produce more complex projects, create unique gameplay and tell stories in new ways.  Over the next few years, I don’t believe tech will fully erase practical sets and VFX though.  Instead, it will allow teams to work more efficiently and put more funding into necessary areas, while reducing time and money spent in others.

Editing Demon Girl’s poses in Character Creator 4.

I’m not sure where Metaverse and XR are headed, but I’m sure AI will impact those things in many ways.  In the next 5 years, I believe AI generated art will have a massive impact on both pro and indie studios.  Currently there seems to be a lot of fear that AI is going to steal something from artists, but like all digital tools, it can be used to enhance one’s existing skills as well as a studio’s pipeline. 

AI generated art is already pretty crazy, exciting and a little scary.  What really matters though, is what people do with the technology and the creativity individuals and studios apply to it to bring their ideas to life.

Q: Also, how do you balance between the mainstream commercial demands and your own artistic ambitions? 

I will admit, I am still working on a healthy balance between my day job and my personal projects.  The industry hours can get very long and I have a bad habit of finishing my day job and then jumping right back into working on my own stuff.  It’s good to be driven and focused on goals, but it can help you avoid creative burnout if you just detach from your tech and get outside for a little while.  Maybe to walk or just to view the landscape and recharge your spirit.  For me, this also helps me return to my art with a fresh perspective, and new ideas.

Demon Girl in sci-fi scene (part of costumes from ‘Rugged and Trendy Collection’).

Q: Could you share 3 things that inspire you most when you start a new project?

For inspiration, I have a few sites I visit regularly when starting or continuing on a project:  

Pinterest is handy for just creating boards that represent a feeling you are seeking.  I tend to make a few boards that I look at as a wall of thumbnails that immediately give me a sense of an overall aesthetic I am interested in.

Artstation can be overwhelming.  The talent posting there is insane!  But I have learned to look at it and feel recharged and inspired to push my skills and creativity further.

Games that inspire me tend to be character and story driven. I love Uncharted, A Plague Tale, NieR:Automata, and the The Last of Us series. But I also love games like Dark Souls that are a bit vague on story, yet they weave elaborate clues throughout the world and have a great sense of history and discovery.

Additional YouTube channels that I have found inspiring and immensely supportive:

Q: Please share with us one quote that influenced you a lot till today.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.

Pablo Picasso

Learn more about Varuna Darensbourg :

• LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/varuna-darensbourg-a9199547/#experience

• ArtStation https://www.artstation.com/aria_redux

• Instagram https://www.instagram.com/ariaredux/

Bringing Cartoon Animator to the home game consoles

Vincent LoGiudice – Game Developer, Animator

Vincent LoGiudice

Cartoon Animator (CTA) is used by animators and media presenters for a wide range of practical uses, from storytelling to explainer videos. Vincent LoGiudice from Squashed Bug Games is taking Cartoon Animator even further and using it to create a side scrolling console game targeted for home arcade consoles.

Vincent has used Cartoon Animator to create game character animations, along with power-ups like mech suits  and in his interview with Reallusion, he talks about…

“I found Cartoon Animator while doing research. I tried the program out and found the user experience to be perfect for what I’d be using it for. Things like cut scenes, character animations and even simple poses. Cartoon Animator allows me to draw the character once, and endlessly animate them. Perfect!”

Vincent LoGiudice – Game Developer, Animator

Q: Hi Vincent. Thank you for sharing your project with us. Gaming is such a great opportunity for using Cartoon Animator. When did you come up with the idea of making a console game, and how did you discover Cartoon Animator?

Cartoon Animator has been an instrumental piece to our game Heavy Metal Titans. When I first started Heavy Metal Titans(HMT) in college, I knew I wanted to make a 2D Character/3D Background, linear side scroller game (Metroidvania) like Contra and Metal Slug, since I grew up playing those games in the arcade. I started the project solo and wore all the hats on this project, so I needed a time hack; an excellent tool to boost animation speed, while keeping the game quality maximized.

I found Cartoon Animator while doing research. I tried the program out and found the user experience to be perfect for what I’d be using it for. Things like cut scenes, character animations and even simple poses. Cartoon Animator allows me to draw the character once, and endlessly animate them. Perfect!

Q: You knew you wanted to create your own console game, but how did you settle on the idea of Heavy Metal Titans?

My favorite genre is retro styled games with a modern touch. When creating my own concepts, I am always inspired by older games like Streets of Rage 4. Games with high resolution artwork, high frame and rate smooth graphics. Beyond that, I think I’ve created a bit of an original style of my own.

I played a lot of Metal Slug when I was younger, so when I was brain storming this project; I thought to myself, this game, even though it’s older, is still so impressive and has a lot of re-playability. It was so thoughtfully detailed in quirkiness, art, and comedy. I loved how smoothly it played and required a bit of strategic thinking to be successful, especially with the bosses. You needed to figure out the pattern in which to fight them, and quickly. Bosses I think were one of the coolest aspects of the game with all the individual mechanical moving parts and pieces.

I then thought, how can I make something like this, that can target the newer and older generations gamers while promoting art and animation with 3D backgrounds, because I personally really appreciate 2 dimensional artwork, but can appreciate some depth to the playing field. So I added a 3D background similar to other games in the 90s like Paper Mario.

In addition to Metal Slug, I really love Heavy Metal Music and instantly thought of television cartoon series Metapocalypse; so my art style was really influenced by that show, along with some of the character styles; hence, the game has a lot of metal music (all licensed of course) to keep the vibe very metal.

Q: Has Cartoon Animator made the process of creating characters and game elements easier for you?

It has. Cartoon Animator has streamlined the character creation and animation process greatly. CTA is not the only Reallusion tool I use though! iClone and Character Creator have both also helped me create poses to generate characters, monsters, and other animated props used in Heavy Metal Titans

Cartoon Animator’s ability to streamline workflow, its use of templates, and wide range of animations tools are terrific, but the greatest advantage I can say CTA has is saving time while adding quality to your project.

I use Character Creator to prototype a character, to get their build, clothes; for creatures, I’ll do the same. This specially in my game so I can create poses. I’ll then use those poses with Adobe Photoshop to create my own versions of them, referencing those poses I created in Character Creator. I then make components of these characters and import them into Cartoon Animator.

For some creatures, I use iClone. I did this with our Phoenix boss, and the Cerberos boss. I’ll animate them as needed. Most of the animations that the content creators used for them are already really perfect for what I need them for, so I only make subtle changes for specific things needed. I then render them and import them to Unreal Engine. This is only for place holders though during the design and experimentation phase of my work. Later I will hand draw these creatures and use Cartoon Animator to render them and finally import to Unreal Engine. So I basically use iClone and Character Creator for Proof of Concept during the alpha stage of our game. It’s quick, effective, and allows me to focus on coding the mechanics during development since we’re such a small team.

Q: Having worked with Cartoon Animator now on this project, what features and tools did you find most useful?

I love that I can simply create a new project, import a template character, and replace its components with my own. This process takes me all of 5 minutes tops, and that’s with small tweaks here and there. After that, I can use almost any premade motion as a template and modify it to make it appropriate for the action like shooting, walking with or without a weapon, idle, etc. and change it, making them unique and interesting. Creating and animating a character by hand would takes weeks, if not months, but with Cartoon Animator, it takes me a day or two. This is taking into account that each character has at least 20 unique animations each.

I can even create animated components for certain bosses/enemies, like having weapons and robot arms/legs separated, so the player can shoot them off as they progress in the battle. It’s super easy and fast to accomplish with Cartoon Animator.

In addition, when I export the animation, it’s simple to export at a specific resolution, which I appreciate, because I need to use a power of 2 due to graphics rendering in Unreal Engine (same goes for other rendering engines but Unreal Engine is my tool of choice).

Q: As someone who took Cartoon Animator and really thought outside the box with it, what advice would you have for anyone looking to get started with CTA?

Jump in head first, it’s a great tool. You’re not going to find anything better, more powerful and affordable. Your return on investment will be very much worth it. I only use it for a small fraction of what it’s capable of and it’s paid off.

Q: So what now? What lies ahead for you in the way of future projects?

In the past I worked on a short Point and Click game called Steve’s Indubitably Awesome Arcade Adventure; however Heavy Metal Titans has far more work put in. I’m very proud of the work we’ve put into HMT and just can’t share it enough; things picked up even faster after I added Chris Williams, my game designer to the team. He’s really added focus to the project and can’t thank him enough for all he’s contributed.

Right now, Heavy Metal Titans is my focal point as it is my most current Cartoon Animator project. It’s been in the works for over a year one of the greatest features in the game, is the work done with CTA.

I’ve thought of other games that can take advantage but it’s really too early to say until I start. Once Heavy Metal Titans is released on all the platforms I’m planning for (iircade, Polycade, Atari VCS, Steam Deck, and Switch) then I’ll have a better idea. The quick answer is Beat Em’ Up games, throwing tribute to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Golden Axe, and Streets of Rage.

Follow Vincent:

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/SquashedBugGames

LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/vincent-l-1b3989b7/

Twitter:
https://twitter.com/bug_squashed

YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/c/VincentLoGiudice

Libertas Review : Five Pro Tips for Character Creator 4

Erik Larson (Libertas)

Born in Chicago, Libertas started out with a passion for filmmaking at an early age, and since he’s had a 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 Assassin 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.

Over the past few years, I have been using Character Creator 3 to create digital actors for my various micro-short films and reviews. It has made the character creation process not only fast but also so much more fun for me as well. I feel like I have everything at my disposal to create the characters for the type of movies I have always wanted to make. Needless to say, I was very excited when Character Creator 4 was announced, and once available, I immediately jumped in! From my initial tests, these are five of my favorite features that stood out to me right away.

1. Shaders

First off, CC4 has noticeably boosted the speed and responsiveness of the program, allowing creators to work faster and more efficiently. But this is complemented by what I feel are better-looking visuals. Mainly, the shaders and default lighting make your characters look so good. The lighting is less contrasty and the shaders provide more fidelity.

The hair and skin aren’t the only things that have improved visuals; Character’s clothing looks more accurate as well.

I say this because I texture my character’s clothing in Substance Painter. While clothing components look good in Substance painter and then eventually in Blender (where I render most of my projects), I felt like the clothing looked a bit flat in CC3. This was just something I had to work around in the past. But now, I feel like I get a much more accurate representation of my character directly in the viewport, meaning I am more confident with the look of my character at the outset, resulting in less back-and-forth program hopping in the later stages of production.

Shader comparison – CC3 (upper) vs CC4 (down)

2. Extended Facial Profile

Another feature that stood out right away was the extended facial profile. With over 140 morphs, we now have even more control over our character’s facial expressions. This extended range provided by the morphs brings an extra level of realism to the already beautiful characters.

I did a quick test with one of the previous characters I had created in CC3. After converting her to utilize the new extended facial profile, I was able to put the results back-to-back with the traditional facial profile to see how much of a change there was.

The differences are certainly noticeable, if somewhat subtle. Nevertheless, it is the subtleties that make the characters much more engaging and less robotic. In short, the subtleties are what are needed to breathe life into the character.

If you want to see the full range of the new extended facial profile in action, I would recommend checking out Reallusion’s Digital Soul Pack to see all the possibilities this advancement brings.

Of course, one of the benefits of having this facial profile and the ability to test it directly in CC4 using calibration animations is the opportunity to make adjustments to each character’s facial profile.

For instance, I use the plugin Headshot to give foundation to my character’s appearance, making further adjustments with morph sliders. However, this sometimes results in my characters having clipping issues on some of their facial features like the teeth, or in my case, the character’s eyes not fully closing when blinking.

This is something I just had to work around in the past, but now I can modify the character’s facial profile directly in CC4. Using a variety of tools such as the mesh adjustment or the morph sliders, you can update the profile to accommodate any facial anomalies that are present.

This means you are not just in full control of what your character looks like, but you also have control over how their facial performance is driven. In my opinion, you can leverage this feature to give even more personality to your characters, even if it is by simply modifying the subtle way in which they smile.

3. Animation

You can now apply animations to your characters directly inside of Character Creator 4. This is great because you can now test your facial rig and make adjustments. You also now have the ability to see your characters come to life without having to send them to iClone.

You can also make adjustments to spring settings and collision shapes, directly within CC4, and see their effect right away. Again, you can do all of this without leaving the program.

Character Collision Shape Editor in CC4

4. Soft-Cloth Physics

Along with animation, soft-cloth physics are also active in Character Creator 4.

Personally, I make a lot of my own clothing for my characters. My characters usually have long, flowing garments, which means I need to add and test my weight-maps, often spending lots of time refining and perfecting them.

In the past, I would have to set up my character in CC3, send it to iClone 7, and then do my tests and refinements. Once happy with my results, I would then need to import those final weight-maps back into CC3. This saves me from that extra step.

And while not everyone makes their own clothing, the tools are there for you to even take pre-built clothes, make the necessary refinements, and tailor them to your specific character.

5. Turntable

Finally, when you have completed your digital character, you can show them off with style thanks to the new Turntable feature. Using either a static pose or an animated motion, your character will spin around in a 360-degree loop.

The loop can be modified, adjusting the speed of the rotation and even the items that are rotated. Then using the Light Room presets you can quickly set the mood with various lighting setups. Of course, these are also customizable to suit your showcase.

So if you’re proud of your work, and can’t wait to show it off, having this feature is a convenient addition.

Final Thoughts

Of course, there is a lot more to be excited about than just these five features, but in the end, the five I have highlighted boil down to two benefits: That you can make your characters much more realistic and with a higher level of confidence. This confidence leads to increased speed and higher quality characters that will help you tell your next story.

So if you have found yourself on the fence as to whether or not it is worth it to upgrade, I would encourage you to go for it. It is extremely satisfying to have a program that has improved so much that it makes you wonder how you ever used the previous version.

Learn more :

• Erik Larson (Libertas) http://www.libertasvideo.com/

• Libertas Armory https://www.reallusion.com/contentstore/featureddeveloper/profile/#!/Libertas-Armory/

• Character Creator https://www.reallusion.com/character-creator/

• iClone https://www.reallusion.com/iclone/default.html

• Reallusion https://www.reallusion.com/