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Modern, indie-friendly, full featured character creation pipeline - is it a utopia?

If you have managed to assemble a pipeline which satisfies all the requirements below then I (and many others) would be really grateful to know about it.

I’m looking for the following:

  • nothing fancy, just humanoid biped characters
  • facial animations (morphs or bones might be fine, but depends on UE4 capabilities and efficiency - which ones do you suggest?)
  • generate models ready for using in UE4 for multiple scenarios: single character, first person, third person, NPC, cinematic sequences, crowds (10-20 characters in one scene). Essentially, this means LODs will be required.
  • good quality basic textures for skin, eyes, hair, facial hair for use in UE4. Not hoping for photorealistic, but something decent.
  • detailed facial customization - shape sliders, textures, beards, hear styles is a must
  • ability to easy import and export meshes and materials (mainly clothes and face textures) in/from 3D and 2D software (preferably Blender) in case if I need some slight tweaks or want to create a cloned face based on some celebrity photo, lol
  • animations - built-in or 3rd party BVHs would be fine, as long as the rig is not incompatible (oh those root bone issues, yuck)
  • some kind of audio based (offline rendered) lip sync animations would be great
  • compatible with the latest UE4 and supported and updated (at least not abandoned for years - even MixamoFuse is stagnating in their Preview stage, lots of unresolved bug reports and no publicly available roadmap)
  • low budget tools - 200$ would be ok for me

If anyone has managed to get a bunch of good looking human NPCs running around all at once (without dropping to 15 FPS) and talking in their UE4 game, could you please share your success story?

Some rant follows, can ignore it.

I’m a programmer, not a designer and I’m still struggling to assemble a reliable pipeline of tools for my hobby project. I have looked at Mixamo Fuse, MakeHuman, Daz3D and iClone. All of them are useful and help achieve great things but none of them do everything I need. iClone pipeline gets me really close but the price is insane, and it contains lots of tools and features which are irrelevant for game developers - I don’t want to pay for that stuff. Why don’t they have stripped down version for game devs…

Currently I have to spend lots of time reading tutorials (many of them are outdated because of Blender and UE4 fast progress), solving compatibility issues (root bone issues, scaling etc.), exporting/importing between programs just to do some simple tweak, trying various solutions without knowing if they are right and won’t break something in the next step (physics, collision capsules etc.), which means that I’ll have to start from scratch.

It takes unreasonable amount of time to assemble reliable character creation pipeline, even if all you need is somewhat realistically looking normal human NPCs running around and interacting with each other and game environment using a bunch of freely available BVH animations. For example, just look at this tutorial: https://wiki.unrealengine.com/Daz_St...torial)_Part_1 (and the follwoing 3 parts) - the tutorial is great, covers even LODs, but it’s insane amount of work. And now consider that you will have to repeat many parts of it when you adjust some body morphing slider in the character customization software. Or another tutorial here: https://wiki.unrealengine.com/Workfl...an_and_Blender - full of “maybe you don’t need this setting in newer Blender versions”. Maybe, maybe not. That’s so frustrating.

Can you follow up why you excluded Daz3D?

OK since I love to tell stories assume that this is not a sales pitch but the first correction is unlike the other solutions Daz3D is a “company” that sells usable art assets across many different industries via the means of using Daz Studio as the pipeline between various applications where you harvest what you need that is not an obvious push button solution based on a single market use. OK so the first step in getting a handle of this beast is to first download Daz Studio, the application, and then buy the asset product that best fits your needs as part of your project and harvest the assets you actually want to make us of.

Using your list the first starter product you should be looking at is the Genesis 3 frame work (note I did say framework :wink: ) and that is free *mostly.

Fancy or not out of the box DS scales as to need

With the G3 framework you have access to both and once again harvest what you need. We don’t need facial animations but have gone with bones just because it’s there and best fits Epic’s current FBX animation pipeline. (few other reasons as well)

Using the G3 framework you can export just the arms for 1st person or even the head if you want to Lego different heads onto different body shapes. With the purchase of a few other assets 10-20 characters in one scene would be a good start.

The G3 product comes with a basic set of textures but inexpensive add on’s are available (note I did not say cheap :wink: )

Don’t get me started. G3 is like playing dress up Barbie.

Sure.

But

Our character developers have leveled up by using the GoZ bridge to import back and forth between Daz Studio and Zbrush but Blender would work fine by reimporting targets and using DS’s morph loader tools.

DS does have some animation tools but we use a totally different animation pipeline.

Once again totally different pipeline but once again DS does have tools available for this. DS loves plugin’s by 3rd party though

At the moment there is a bug in the export of the G3 framework that causes the mesh to spike due to the custom weighting being used, that seems to “only” show up in UE4, but is an easy fix by exporting to 3ds Max first but we have been using G3/DS now for about two years and have yet to come across a deal breaker.

OK when it comes to Daz3D licensing gets a bit strange as they are not out to sell you programs and applications but art assets at reasonable prices so a lot of their base products like Daz Studio and the G3 framework are free and you “only” pay for what you use. If you want to use 2d rendered assets the license is only the cost of the product you buy and licensed in hand so if you hang your own stuff off the G3 framework there is no additional cost but if you have to add the raw asset to your project there is an additional fee. Not going to talk about fees as they are always changing and if Daz3D products break into the game industry I would expect the fee to be dropped in favor of selling more art assets.

Well as luck would have it I’m not a programmer but a designer and a bit more in that I’m the content and asset manager on our team. My job is to look at solutions that makes other on our team jobs easier and working with our character designer Daz3D > Daz Studio > Genesis 3 is the only single character development pipeline out there that functions based on the demands on what we want to get out of it and not settle for what the application forces us to accept as a push button solution. Content creators hate ready mix. :wink:

To sell the point we did not just poke at it but spent at least 2 years to make a decision based on discovery and not assumptions based on first impressions.

A bit of bad news is Daz Studio does have a “high” learning curve as it is “not” a single industry solution but…

The thing about a character development pipeline is it’s not a single off the shelf solution that is even available at this time or even comes close to what the G3 framework offers that the other products “say” they will or might offer one day as it is a product available now to fit the needs and demands of the high end, high detail, market that can “scale” down when there is to much that is very well suitable to the content development pipeline.

To add a bit of development pathology to the mix code is about making it work to day content is about the iteration process of how it needs to work days before release and that part of the pipeline “has” to scale and grow over time.

In this case using the G3 framework all things “only” have to work with a single channel solution that covers everything and the more we hang off the framework the more we can recycle to make additional and unique characters.

Then again to put it into a different perspective.

Saying that content envelopment is easy with a push button app would be like saying coding is easy because we have blueprints :wink: and if it did you probably don’t want it. :smiley:

Just saying.

P.S. To cool for school it looks like the porcupine import problem is solved so now it’s possible to go DS > UE4 with out a side trip :smiley:

Which versions of Daz/UE4 is this true for?

UE4 4.14. preview 3 DS 4.9.3.71 Pro Public Build

Yay, so I picked the right time to jump in, I guess.

Thank you, FrankieV, for the elaborated answer. I just downloaded the most recent Daz Studio and will try to play with it to see how it works out. Unfortunately I don’t have access to Max but I guess I’ll be able to find out how to use Blender to make some small adjustments and fixes, if needed at all.

Well you don’t need Max as the only reason to use it was to fix the import bug. For small editing details to get it just right I use Hexagon 2 as it’s dirt cheap and there is a send to feature in DS that will send assets via a FBX network over and once I finish editing I can send back to DS. Since it’s free Daz Studio is well worth the effort as far as a look see goes and the only down side that as a character design tool it does not have the made for video game creation sticker… but then again neither does Max. :wink:

Thanks for the Hexagon tip, it might turn out to be more useful for occasional hobby developer than Blender. The problem with Blender is that I tend to forget all those convenient shortcuts and workflows after not using it for a few weeks. Something more intuitive would work much better. It is good to have intuitive and simple menus and buttons to look at and immediately remember what is what.

It would be so great to have a series of tutorials for creating a character for Unreal Engine, using free or reasonably cheap tools (at least to keep in $200 budget). I would donate for the tutorials themselves, if they show the entire character customization process from the beginning to the end.

Let’s say, we start with a DAZ or MakeHuman base model, then customize it (body, face, custom hair, facial hair), then add some customized clothes, then set up textures etc. so they can be translated to UE4 PBR materials, then add body animations (can use BVH freebies etc., but it is important to show how to deal with possible incompatibilities such as root bone issues, different skeletons etc.) and facial animations (blend shapes) accounting for clothes and facial hair (the beard should move when character talks), then create some LOD levels to make it possible to have 10 - 20 characters in a game simultaneously, and then get it all working in UE4 with full compatibility, so I can use UE4 IK constraints on animations (to climb stairs or shake hands with another character etc.) and physics. Also some optimization techniques - reusing the same skeletons, animations, facial morphs on multiple characters etc.

This entire process is complicated and there are so many ways to go wrong just because you forget to click some checkbox along the way.

There are lots of separate tutorials for different things, but the problem with them is that 90% of them is just a “proof of concept” - here’s how you do this single thing; but if you want to integrate it into your pipeline then look for other tutorials. It all often just does not stick together because of using different tools, different software versions, different models, rigging, animation techniques etc.

I haven’t even found such a paid complete course on sites like Pluralsight, lynda, Gnomon, 3Dmotive (maybe I missed some…). So, yeah, I guess I’ll have to put it all together bit by bit through lots of trials and errors.

Humm how not to sound like an advertisement :wink:

To start I did this as to how we are using Daz Studio > Genesis 3 as part of our character development pipeline.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iY-T87ly0wE

Always being a Daz Studio fan since version 1 I’ve always seen the possibilities of using DS as a video game production tool but the problems has always been the 99% of all engines out there had hard coded limitations that was deal breaker issue but with Unreal 44 those limitations have been removed. My first experiences with UE4 4.0 was the same old same old that the fidelity loss was such that it was not worth the effort to pipeline from DS to UE4 due to some things were broken, butchered materials, and UE4’s inability to import the FBX file verbose.

Some where along the line things got fixed soooooo

YES Daz Studio > Genesis 3 does that and includes the in app ability to create the required resources as to purpose and need so if you are looking for a resource to do some code stuff stop looking. :wink:

So far I’ve tested full merged characters, injectors, morph targets, expression sets, base material import, component export, animations, and it all works with our character frame work using a single skeletal rig and physics along with our animation blueprints and hard coded c++ classes.

All of this for free as a starting point so with a 200 dollar budget you can buy a lot of stuff, if you can’t find it for free. :wink:

P.S. Anyone making assets for the marketplace might want to option, animations for example, to repackage for Daz3d’s marketplace as it is WallMart huge.

FrankieV

Do you have any other videos? I would like to see how you handle daz asset creation, clothing hair exc, for importing into UE4

Well we just started to included Daz Studio as part of our character development pipeline but as someone would use say 3ds Max or Blender can make use of DS as long as Unreal 4’s FBX import can parse the data one can almost export anything from DS and to any point in between as to UE4 being the destination.

More or less how anything would be made that needs to be glued to the G3 framework but for the most part clothing the rig, playing Barbie dress up so to speak, is done using Zbrush that could go back to DS to make use of auto fit. At the moment we do an additional step of processing via 3ds Max until we figure out how to glue stuff together in DS.

Hair as far as Unreal 4 goes is still rather immature so we have found that it’s easier to buy hair assets that works with the already in place frame work. The cost is usually in between $15 and a $1.95 with discount so by having a lot of different styles on hand we can iterate the desired result rather than waiting for an acceptable solution. More or less for now we are building up a catalogue of hair resources that we can make use of today that can scale once Epic makes things easier on the engine side of things.

As a starting point this is as bad as it gets, at the moment, as far as a 1-1 export/import.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgn-GawuIoo

Keep in mind this is work in progress done over coffee and donuts but is a good starting point as far as the iteration progression goes.

P.S. I’m more than happy to do more videos in the future once we figure out a lot more of the usability factors that makes things interesting but for us it’s just another solution to a million dollar problem.

FrankieV

Thanks for the answers. I found your youtube channel, who would have thought it would be called FrankieV? Pretty interesting with a lot of good info. I see you break the characters into pieces, making them Legos so to speak. Never thought of that and can see where such a system would be a huge benefit in the future as you build up more pieces.

Hey @FrankieV,

Not sure if I missed some of your text, but is it possible to export a Daz skeleton that is compatible with Unreal Engine’s skeleton? Or would I have to rig that on my own?

Thanks in advance!

Very much so. The character blueprint is a nice bit of kit where you can add the parts as a sub component as the total character and break up the workload across our character development team. The best part optimization takes place at the component level as part of the framework so as a requirement is limited to areas where it’s needed.

Humm I’ve not tried it but using the joint tools in Daz Studio one could try renaming the bones but unmatched joint rotation could be a problem. In general animation requirements is to unique in most cases that proper retargeting is required and for our needs Motion Builder is very good as to this task along with the source FBX files that usually comes with the animation assets we purchased via the market place. You could also try retargeting in Unreal 4 but the results is rather unpredictable.

The other option is you could give animating in DS a go. It does have some OK tools and support for HIK posing.

Got a quick question, I believe you may be a good source to answer this.

I have used Daz a lot in the past but was recently thinking of picking up the Iclone 6 animator kit for 350 from their website. A deal made even sweeter seeing that you get a free upgrade to Iclone 7 next year

Wouldn’t you know before I buy I get an email saying Marvelous Designer is on sale for 30% (550 - 165.00 = 385) which is a pretty sweet deal in itself.

Problem is I can only buy one at this time and having a little trouble choosing

It could be me but I find Iclone makes better skin than Daz. Yet at the same time I hear there are real issues with their character creator when it comes to performance in UE
But

Marvelous designer makes cloths so much easier. I already tested it with a daz model and seems to work great. Of course I do not have any experience trying to use MD clothing inside UE

So I am hoping you or anyone else with some experience could share their thoughts on the issue. Stick with daz and use MD or move to Iclone and model my cloths?

The only reason I have stopped trying to use Daz Studio in UE4 is because Motion Builders UI gives me headaches, you cant just import your character, then say make his legs able to move and then export, they need a lite version that sets up everything for you once you import a character and then you just have to export, a keep it simple stupid version for less technical minded people like me

Yeah we looked at Iclone and morph3d as options but our issue was the per seat license was just to expensive as from the very beginning we would need 6 copies so it made sense for us to add DS to the pipeline as the starter package is free as to access to DS and the G3 framework that anyone on our team could pick up a copy of the working package just like anyone could.

The upside though is Iclone can import assets from Daz3d so it would be possible to use the G3 framework in Iclone

To be considered though is it’s only been with the release of UE4.14 and DS 4.9 that it has even been possible to maintain the fidelity of a Daz3d asset in a video game engine due to hard coded limitations with in the engine it’s self that would at times refuse to even parse a 64k model or high resolution texture images.

On the other hand Iclone is a nice package as in most cases it does what you want it to do now as far as making characters for UE4 but does the same things as DS does from the different perspective of paying for convenience.

The other deal maker question in regards to fitting new applications into an active pipeline has nothing to do with how slick it is, how much it costs, but if those who have to make use of the pipeline will actually do so and given the choice will always revert back to doing things the way they know even if the new way is better. With the GoZ bridge our artist can continue to work their way and still make things like clothing as to fit to finish requirements.

I would have to say that it’s going to take a year or so to figure out all the nuts and bolts as to usability as with in my experience this is the first time, being a Daz Studio fan, that what I see in DS actually translates to a usable asset into “any” kind of real time environment labeled as a video game engine along the same lines who would have though that Vis would be an option as to practical use.

So for us adopting DS make scene as to solving our problems and with on going and active improvements to Unreal 4 we are “investing” in what we can do today in relationship as to where we can be five years from now by not buying into convenience solutions designed to just do one thing.

Best advice I can give at the moment is to wait and see what happens but for most a UE4+Blender+Daz Studio would be a good starter package as kitting up does not cost you anything and if you feel Iclone is the better option you can move your asset builds over from DS.

Looks like IClone 7 has been announced and Iclone Character Creator is getting a PBR update in its 1.6 update.

http://www.reallusion.com/event/iClone7-preorder/purchase.html

I seen that which is way I am confussed on which to buy Iclone 7 or Marvelous Designer

Any word on Morph3D coming to unreal? I know they are part of the Daz Studio company.