Creating a character is a pretty long, tedious, and a task that requires a lot of experience to make it go smoothly.
With that said! The only way to get that experience is by doing the long, tedious work over and over until you get it right. Let’s start with terminology:
Character = Skeletal Mesh (in UE4) - This is anything with a rig/bones that allow you to manipulate how it moves, or animate it
Prop/Model = Static Mesh (in UE4) - This is a non-moving (static) object that doesn’t animate. No bones/rig is needed.
Texture = 2DTexture (in UE4) - This is a simple, flat, 2D painting you make using Photoshop or GIMP, or MS Paint. What you see is what you get.
Material = Material (in UE4) - This is NOT the same thing as a Texture. This is a graph of mathematics that TELL the Unreal or Maya HOW to display a texture. This adds shine, depth, glowing effects, panning effects, blending effects, all kinds of things.
UV Map & UVing - 3D Coordinates Converted into 2D Coordinates so you know what you’re painting on a texture.
Now that we have a reference to understand what I’m going to tell you next, here we go, onto the fun stuff:
Character’s and props/static meshes share the same first half of the process. You use your modeling program (which you mentioned Maya, so that would be yours in this case) to create your model. From there, you use Maya’s UV-Editing tools to create a UV Map for that character/prop. This is a process of converting 3D space into 2D space. Optionally you can ignore UVing and apply materials per-face/object but that’s not very resourceful, but it is an option. You apply a “material” slot to your model by highlighting faces, or an object and applying a Lambert material of some sort, this is just to tell Maya that you’re using a material here. By default, all objects share a single default Lambert01 material, so if you want to just color the entire object with one material you can do that.
So now we can export the model into UE4. You’ll have to use the FBX exporter plugin for Maya, so if you don’t have that you’ll have to look it up and get it installed. Select your Object and use Export Selection -> Select FBX and you have a bunch of options to play with, defaults is good for now, it’ll take time to learn them all. But they are very useful to look into. Export your object, saving it with a useful name (this will transfer into UE4). Load up UE4, and go into the Content Browser and use the Import Button (right click an empty space or use the New button I believe), and hit Import. Find your object that you exported as an FBX and open it using UE4. It’ll give you a bunch of import options.
Now you can import a texture (remember, not the same thing as a material) the same way, and right click it “create material” and it’ll create a material using that texture. You’ll think it’s silly to do that when materials look just like textures, but that’s the default, you can do a bunch of cool stuff inside the material editor once you learn it and it’ll all make sense eventually. Anyways. Go ahead and find your model inside the content browser. By clicking on it, and going into your map editor, you can right click and drag from content browser onto the screen, or right click somewhere to place your model and see it in game!
IF you go back to the content browser, you can double click your object and view it in the preview window, you’ll see there is a material slot, you can click it and assign the material you created earlier (or a random one) to see it applied to the model. Again, UVing is what tells it how a texture looks on a 3D model.
Now! Back to Maya. Add bones, do animations, all that fun stuff. It’s the same thing from where. You animate inside Maya, click on your rig and hit Export again. In the FBX exporter there are a bunch of animation options, mostly “Bake Animation” will export the animations with it. From there you import the same .FBX into UE4, and ther eare “import animation” options. If you already have the model and rig imported, you can unselect “Import Mesh” and “Import Skeleton” and it’ll only do the animations.
And THAT in a nutshell, is the process!