Aloha. Thanks so much for the support. Amazing community. My turn to share what ive learned. Trying to use the UE4 mannequin in blender made me smash several keyboards with my head, and I know I’m not the only one. Eventually though, the answer just appeared in my head. Like a lightbulb just went on. I tried the idea and it worked perfectly. It was so simple. Anyone can do this. I cant believe I didn’t think of this earlier. OK enough talk, lets start the tutorial. If someone wants to make a youtube version of this go for it. I dont know how and dont care to learn ATM.
(this is an advanced tutorial, I am assuming at this point you know how to use blender, and are familiar with the scaling issues and how to fix them for ue4 so you dont have messed up physics assets or giant/tiny sockets for weapons. I am Also assuming you know how to retarget skeletons in unreal so they can share animations.)
In this tutorial I will show you how to create an exact replica of unreal’s ue4 mannequin for use in blender, to rig your own characters to. Why? Well if you have used retargeting before, you may find that even if you match the bones pretty close and retarget to the humanoid rig, the animations wont always be perfect after retarget, and sometimes you get horrible results especially if your character is in the wrong pose or has different proportions. So many people, like me, just want to use the actual skeleton, instead of trying to retarget everything.
I will also show you how to rig a character to the skeleton, even if it is in a different pose, or has different proportions.
First things first. Export the ue4 mannequin as an FBX from your 3rd person (or animation starter kit)
now bring the fbx into blender.
if you have tried to use the skeleton in blender before you may already know whats next. a strange broken version of the skeleton. it is possible to rig using this skeleton with some skill in weight painting, but it is annoying, and if you have re imported this skeleton back into unreal, you’ve probly seen there are yet even more problems. here is the pick
So what I will do now is teach you the super easy trick to recreating an easy to use blender version of this skeleton that can be retargeted perfectly when you re-import it into unreal.
Step 1: delete, hide, or move the mannequin mesh to another layer. I like to keep him for reference which I will talk about later, so I just move to another layer for now.
Step 2: Delete all the mannequin’s IK and TWIST bones. (you can make new IK’s later after making the new rig, and if you know how to use the twist bones you can keep them but not necessary)
Step 3: make a NEW armature. In this armature add your first bone and call it “pelvis” (we are recreating the ue4 skeleton so name all the bones the same)
Step 4: the super easy trick to recreate the skeleton is SNAPPING! You can literally just snap each bone to the mannequin skeleton even though they are separate objects. (make sure they are separate objects lol. you should have 2 armatures, 1 from unreal, and the new one you are making)
*if you didn’t notice this already, the bones in the unreal skeleton are all still in the correct places, they just have odd rotations in blender, so we can make a normal skeleton by snapping our bones to the same root locations and simply correct the shape.
Step 5: now you can extrude/add bones up the chain using snapping to make sure they are in the same place as the skeleton.
here are the two skeletons next to eachother so you can see where the bones snap to
Step 6: make sure all the names are correct. add any iks you want to use for animation. you should now have an exact duplicate of the mannequin skeleton, but one that works well in blender, and can be exported into unreal.
ok now we can delete the old broken skeleton, we have our own that is the exact size, location, and pose of the original. if you rig a character to this skeleton it will retarget 100% perfectly in ue4. but we are not done. if you are using your own character, or a character from make human, you’ll notice the pose is different. if you try to move the bones in the skeleton you will end up with messed up animation when you retarget. Retargeting is cool but lets face it, at the end of the day, the animations were designed for a character with the exact proportions and pose as the ue4 mannequin.
There is an easy way to redo your characters pose so it matches the ue4 mannequin.
Step 1: import your character to the same blender file we have been using, and rig it with its own separate rig. (this is very important.) for this tutorial I will be using a make human character with the default “game engine” rig they provide.
I moved mine to the side so you can see but you want them to overlap in the center.
Step 2: scale your character up so that the SHOULDERS match the ue4 mannequin. (don’t use the head as a reference, use the shoulders.) Now you can use your characters skeleton to make your character match the pose of the ue4 mannequin as closely as possible. Ideally it will look like your character is wearing the ue4 mannequin like a suit of armor.
*if your character has different proportions like long/short legs or arms, or small hands, or big head, you might consider modifying it now to more closely match. it isn’t required but will retarget more easily. You can easily modify a rigged mesh. if your hand is too small for example, you can click the lower arm in pose mode, and scale it up, this will make the arm longer and the hand bigger.
For demonstration purposes I made it super huge, hopefully you get the idea.
step 3: once your character matches the size, scale, and pose of the ue4 mannequin as closely as possible, you can apply the armature modifier to save your mesh in the new pose.
You should now be able to rig your character to the blender version of the ue4 skeleton, and retarget it perfectly in ue4.
for this tutorial I just used a naked make human character with no eyes or hair because the rigging was faster and easier.
*DISCLAIMER - as mentioned previously, the animations designed for the ue4 mannequin are made for that exact character with those exact proportions in that exact pose. this tutorial is to show you how to recreate that skeleton, and modify your character to fit onto it. if your character has a different pose you can easily fix it. However if the proportions are different, like a shorter female character with smaller hands, it will be more difficult. you will have to spend some time adjusting the source pose and animations to fit your character.
fortunately if you follow this tutorial most animations will look perfectly fine for any character with any proportions after retargeting. But the pistol pose and any other pose requiring accurate hand or limb placement will require some adjustments. you can export the retargeted animations into blender and modify them if this is the case.