I have a hobby project which needs fast and simple runtime generation and customization of somewhat generic NPC characters (no fancy creatures or clothes, just modern humans with common clothing).
The characters will require LOD levels for close scenes and crowds (but no more than 50 simultaneous characters expected to appear).
Facial animations is a must-have, at least for close LOD levels. With distance, it is ok to reduce facial animation accurateness.
So, I looked at Daz 3D and G3 model. It seems a good starting point and FrankieV here on forums has explained a lot about this option. But there’s a catch - it seems, G3 and Daz Studio alone does not provide everything required for facial animations and there might be also some other animation issues in UE4 if I directly import G3 model (although it seems, UE4 compatibility with G3 gets better with each UE4 release).
As I understand from FrankieV comments in other topics, clustered (essentially facial bones) approach for facial animation is optimal approach if multiple LOD levels are required and also for easier animation sharing between different characters.
It is more difficult to get accurate facial expressions and lipsync with bones than with morphs; morphs are easier to tweak but they take more time to map to different characters and LOD levels, and also morphs consume more CPU resources (correct me if I’m wrong; maybe latest UE4 versions have some options to solve this).
To compensate for less control of facial features in bone animation, I could use so called “wrinkle maps” (if only I could find how to control texture visibility based on facial bones).
Does Daz 3D software have clustered facial rig or do I have create it in some other software?
Does Daz 3D software have wrinkle maps for facial animations?
But the problem with Daz is that I’m not sure if this clustered facial animation approach will work if I import Daz FBX directly into UE4. It seems, I have to go through MotionBuilder, which is available only as an expensive subscription, and that is not an option for a hobbyist who works on a project in free time (evenings, weekends). That’s insane to pay for entire month if I use the software only a few hours in a month.
This leads to the main question:
Can I achieve LOD levels and facial & body animations for Daz3d models in UE4 without using MotionBuilder or any similar expensive software? Can, for example, Blender do the same things as MotionBuilder for Daz3d model and produce an FBX with facial & body animations and LODs ready for UE4? Modo Indie also seems an affordable option, if only it could offer something better than Blender.
If the pipeline Daz3d -> some cheap or free software to adjust animations & LODs -> UE4 is not possible, then my next option seems to be iClone. It is pretty expensive (over 700 USD) but at least it is a one time payment, and they claim to support UE4.
Still the same questions apply:
Does iClone software have clustered facial rig or do I have create it in some other software?
How easy it is to generate LOD levels and wrinkle maps from iClone to UE4?
Judging from this video:
it might require some complex blueprint (not sure, if it’s freely available or provided by iClone itself).
**Are there any other compatibility issues with iclone -> UE4? (twist bones? root bones? IKs? something else?) **
If iClone would do everything “out-of-the-box”, I might consider it. But if I still have to do many things manually then there is no point and I might as well go with Daz 3d + some (unknown) free/cheap software.
The third option I would want more than anything in the world - to have a few base models (male female + basic cloths) fully rigged with LOD levels and facial cluster rigs fully compatible with UE4 and Blender (Rigify etc.) or Modo Indie, so I can freely jump back and forth customizing them in the 3d editor and importing into UE4 without any other software in between. Unfortunately it seems nobody wants to share their custom models - at least there are no UE4 characters in the marketplace with LOD and facial animation support in their description. So, this will stay as unfulfilled wish…