I’ve been pursuing the development of Modular Entity Construction Systems for some time now. All of my current UE4 development efforts are focused on using Blueprints exclusively to create PROTOS: An In-Game, Multi-user, High Density Modular, World & Entity Construction System AKA “the Customizer for everything…”.
PROTOS is being developed to handle Architectural, Mechanical and Organic Entities (Characters). The Character Customization I’m aiming for is inspired by Black Desert Character, Destiny Character, and Spore Creature Creator. I’m currently at Milestone 1, completing Architectural Construction/Customization. Next will be Entities Construction/Customization for Characters, Creatures, Weapons, etc. With that said I’ve been planning my approach to answer questions similar to yours.
My modular workflow for Organics uses a single or sectioned (seamless) base-body mesh that contain MorphTargets. Clothing, Armor, Accessories, Accents Parts & Pieces are attached to the base-body mesh at run-time to add detail piece-by-piece. The purpose of the base-body is to fill in areas where seams and weighted joints are a concern. I’ve also considered using cloth meshes as flexible ‘patches’ to cover joints with seams/gaps.
My plan is to create base-body meshes for Characters and Creatures w/ MorphTargets using a DAZ3D Genesis 8 ->UE4 Workflow. There are several Youtube Tutorials for achieving this and VerumBit’s Tut is good place to start. I’m a lazy programmer, and considering acquiring the Character Creator in the UnrealMarketplace for boilerplate which contains morphtargets & slider widgets etc.
Decals are Materials that are projected onto meshes in your level, including Static Meshes and Skeletal Meshes. These meshes can have a Mobility setting of Static or Movable and the Decal will still project on them. Many Decals can be rendered at once without a large performance decrease.
I’ve also planned a Clothing System in PROTOS (GLAMOUR) inspired by Marvelous Designer (MD) which uses sets of geometry pieces in the shape of garment patterns authored in Blender (or other 3D Tool that exports to FBX) and attached at run-time. Using ‘Cloth Pieces’ artist can apply cloth paint to these pieces with UE4’s new Clothing Tool. The systems also leverages UE4 layered materials (layered material creation) to apply fabric PBR to specified areas of the base-body mesh. Layered Materials will be easier to use in UE4.19. YAY!
The previous modular cloth technique employed was to create separate clothing meshes for each body part you have to render an entire new skeleton and sync it’s animations with the main skeleton resulting in excessive draw calls. I would say, you could employ this technique if necessary, and if you do morphtargets would be useful.
As stated above, I’m using DAZ3D to produce a single or sectioned (seamless) base-body mesh + MorphTargets, attaching Parts & Pieces. If a 3rd Party Editor such as Blender or 3DMax is used, it will be for touch up and export to FBX. I prefer to use tools that specialize in Character face/body and Clothing such as DAZ3D & MD. I would not try to craft that sort of detail from scratch, but, if you can pull it off…go for it.
The video tutorial series on the Skeleton Asset is one of Epic’s best in my opinion. Master the Skeleton Asset and bend any Character to your will. Its a good thing you’re not new to 3D Modelling, because its takes a special kind of 3D Modeler to author 3D assets for modular assembly. We can discuss this further (live) in chat.