What are some options for adding customized characters for someone new to it?

TL;DR: How’s a solo developer supposed to add characters in UE4 without spending years learning to make them?

*Don’t demand that I devote several months to learn how to model, rig and animate professional-quality animations. I’m NOT talking about Last of Us or Detroit: Become Human type stuff here with masterful IK rigging. I’m talking basic humans with different faces and builds and a way to fit them onto the UE4 skeleton.
*Don’t assume I want to completely outsource a character design job to a program. I would love to hire a professional to make good characters and animations worth being proud of. Right now I don’t have the resources to do so. I make 3k a month in an unrelated job and I have around 2 1/2 hours a day to devote to development.

I’m a solo developer, and I’ve been making games for a while. Now I want to start adding basic, decent characters. Thing is, I haven’t made enough money from games to hire a character modeler or animator, and I’m not looking to get a bachelor’s degree to learn basic modeling and animation.

I’ve been using the Mixamo creator because it worked well for making unique and specific character models and faces. But, it never worked with the UE4 rig; the in-box clothing, hair and animations are limited; and it no longer has support, so it’ll be obsolete soon.

How have you guys been able to import unique characters with the Unreal skeleton without a massive time investment to learn it from scratch? I’m interested to know if there’s a way I haven’t found, since I’ve seen it happen. Answering either of these questions will help:

1: What are some character creator programs or plugins that work with the UE4 Mannequin skeleton?
Can be a standalone program or a plugin/addon for UE4 or Blender
Must work with the UE4 rig for Marketplace animations. If it needs some tweaking, I can learn.
No fancy features necessary. Just customizable height, build, and facial features.
Not prohibitively expensive

2: How can I find resources to learn to make clothing that fits and moves with a character?
I’m willing learn how to model and rig clothing, I just need to find a good tutorial to do so.
Method must work with the UE4 skeleton
If there’s somehow a program/plugin that does this, that’s fine too.

Try to BARTER: Find someone who you can ‘trade’ some skills with.:wink:
Everything else in game dev can be learned by a solo dev alone imo.
But character design is highly specialized, there’s just no short cuts…

First, bartering is a bad idea all around. I’ve tried it multiple times and it never worked out well. Most often it comes down to “favors” and promises of royalties being weak motivators and much more risky for both sides. Money in well-defined amounts is an actual motivator, but a resource I don’t have enough to give out to a freelancer regularly.
Second, we’ve all seen character creators with easy to use sliders for player characters in hundreds of games at runtime. That alone is a “shortcut” for basic character design. If it’s impossible for a program to do something similar, I’d like to know why.

For sure, there’s plenty of tools around, even on the UE4 Marketplace.
But in general there’s always some additional customizations needed.

Some are ok for sub-characters, but none are really ideal for the main important roles.
Look there’s no easy obvious answers here. And you’ve just about covered everything.

I’ve the highest regard for talented character creators, so I’m resigned to paying them.
Why not ask for cash gifts this year, explain why you need it, and just pay someone?

That’s what I’m looking for. You don’t understand that I’m not trying to pretend I’m a AAA studio. I’m not looking for AAA-level Last of Us-quality characters. I’m ok with sub-characters to start out with. Once I make a basic game with basic characters and get some reliable income coming in, then I’ll happily hire someone for high-quality character design.

Let me show you what I’ve been able to make without any real character design or animation skill:

That was with the Mixamo program; a freeware character creator with in-box animations. I want to know if something similar exists that plays well with UE4 marketplace animations.

Look into Make-Human (Mixamo too possibly), and go through Community-Tools looking for ‘free character generator’…

Thank you for finally giving a straightforward response. I’ve tried Make Human before, but it was worse than Mixamo and also didn’t work well with UE4. However, I just looked it up and it seems like they’ve been updating the program. I’ll give it a second look.

Update: It still doesn’t have compatibility with the UE4 rig.

Might be worth going through Community-Tools section looking for ‘free character creator’ or generator… Or try one of the Marketplace paid ones… Epic also give away free packs each month. Sometimes these contain free characters that you can tweak yourself. Apart from that, someone else will have to help.

You can trial Character Creator and iClone. You’ll also need their 3D exchange program as well to do anything in Unreal.
They support LiveLink as well.

Doing it yourself at high quality is pretty snappy. You just need about two to three months to learn how, and higher understanding of trigonometry, materials, and armatures.

There’s plenty of free entry stuff you can use to copy/simplify the tedious bits like weight paint onto your models.

Basically even exporting a paragong character and transferring weights by distance from it will do, but using a make human generated base will probably do it better.

And make human had compatibility with the ue4 rig 10 versions and a year ago, so I have no idea what you are on about. Surely They didn’t remove a feature that existed.

I hate to break it to you, but “once I make reliable income with my game” = never.
Don’t count on it, games don’t offer steady income to begin with, let alone for an indy dev/studio.

Ureal marketplace animations- the free ones - are trash. They rely on skeletal retargeting and often have bad animation tracks for several bones. So saying “my custom character doesn’t work with retargeting to these animations” doesn’t mean jack. You can make it work with the proper skeletal settings just like the mannequin works with it.

Make your own / learn how.
That’s an important skill to have since you will always be making new ones for stupid little actions as you make a game (opening doors, driving cars, picking up flowers, etc) that you just won’t find form the marketplace.
once you know how, it takes about 2 hours to make a good animation from nothing at all.
Also, you can now make them in-engine with Control Rig. Never used it so not sure how good that actually is. I prefer using blender so I have copies and backups.
The theory is the same. The difference is that the tracks made in unreal will always look the same as you made them. Those you import may change slightly depending on settings.

Last thing.
As with Everything, you have evolving tools and changes to the engine.
Hair grooms for example. Or the now supported morph target adaptation to joint bending. Chaos physics, including cloth. And a bunch more things that will always be in Flux, so unless you start getting your hands dirty with some character guts yourself you’ll never actually manage it.
even expensive marketplace assets can be obsolete in less than a minute with all the changes.

If you put the work in, high definition final results at home are completely possible.
they probably won’t be as good as the unreal professional captures seen here Digital Humans | Unreal Engine Documentation
unless you do have several $10,000 to dump into gear for captures. But the methods listed On that link, are a very viable starting place to understand what goes where.

As far as “do it at home” I recommend a good camera and MeshRoom for getting a photogrammetry start - not of the model mind you, but of the skin textures. Skins are hard.
You can pop the good model with the good UVs into mushroom and have its photogrammetry algorhitms pop out the skin/roughness/normal for you. Compared to painting it by hand when making realistic stuff at home its a godsend.

I think you hit the right program I need. It’ll give me enough to work with until I can pay someone to help me.

I don’t know where your pessimism or vendetta against solo devs comes from, but I’m doing what I can with what I have to get to a point where I can afford to do what you’re asking. I have about 3 hours of free time a day to work on a game. It would take more time than I have just to learn how to make, rig and animate characters with the UE4 rig the way you want them to.

maybe you don’t realize, but this is a profession. Its rather normal to take several years to learn a craft.

And maybe you don’t realize you don’t have to have character models that would impress Naughty Dog just to have characters in a game. I’ve been trying to learn every other side of development including marketing for several years already and I haven’t found any character designer to join any projects. I’ve looked. I don’t need photorealism. I need quest givers. Whats the point of the Marketplace if everyone thought you have to make everything from scratch like you guys think?

You are asking us how we manage. We answer you that we put time and effort into learning.
That’s not good enough.
We tell you we delegate to others and pay professionals for professional work, and that’s not good enough.
We give you specific program names and how-to and thats not good enough.

going out on a limb here, maybe if you were to put the time you are spending by writing “its not good enough” into learning the things people pointed out you’d eventually manage to add custom characters in without too much trouble…

Hello @Menelin

I created this thread for these questions. This is a subject that i devoted my UE4 Learning and Development too. I’ve focused not only on humanoid character customization, but customization of weapons, vehicles/machines, structures, props, and other types of entities. I’m developing a In-game Customization System to customize many types of entities at design-time and in real-time with multiplayer support Whole books could be written about the subject (one in the works) as there are many way to approach it using:

  • Modular Skeletal/Static Mesh Parts Swapping
  • Skeletal and Static Mesh Attachments
  • Mesh Morph Targets (Blendshape) Deformation
  • Skeletal Mesh Bone Scaling
  • Material Swapping
  • Parameterized Materials

One of the Character Customization Solutions in the Marketplace would be a great start for a Single Player game. To date, I haven’t found one that supports Multiplayer. Another challenge with pre-made Customization System is Clothing options. Due to Marketplace restrictions on dependencies, Publishers cannot not produce new supplemental packs for their Character systems. Thus, if you need multiplayer support and a vast number of clothing options you’ll find your self needing to perform massive code modifications and authoring clothing. With the amount of work involved, developing your own Character Customization system from scratch is reasonable.

The first step in pursuing Character Customization System is to determine what kind of Character customization you desire. By doing this you will get an idea of what features the Base Character Model will need and workflow needed to customize it. I referenced many games with character customization: Fortnite (Epics Character), Destiny (Armor), Black Desert(Humanoid), Armor Core (Mechanical), and Spore Creature Creator (Non-humanoid).

For Humanoid Characters in our game, I’ve elected to use DAZ3D Genesis for Humanoid Base because it makes pretty characters and to take advantage of its Morphs. I’m applying Bone Scaling for additional customization. I acquired a Marvelous Designer license to generate Clothing. In my opinion, Clothing is the greatest challenge with Character Customization. I’m hoping MD will make it a little easier to deal with. At minimum, provide patterns for use with UnrealEngines Apex Cloth / Clothing Tool. Character Armor will be static mesh pieces attached to base body.

I know there is a lot to think about, so your take time to research. I’m always available on discord for deeper discussions about this topic. Good Luck to you on your game dev journey.

Not that its an easy task, mind you, but its totally possible to make clothing in blender, on the fly.
Very similar to MD - and free mostly, though you should probably donate to the modeling cloth developer if you actually make a profit using his addon, but my opinion is unpopular :stuck_out_tongue:

MD is great for some stuff. Definitely a faster solver.
however in both cases, with chaos coming in, things have changed somewhat.
The baseline workflow is still the same, the paint is also still mostly the same - and thats a shame. I was really looking forward to changes to that pipeline since the way nvcloth was implemented into the engine was anything but right, with backstop not working at all, and the distance of the vertex not being anywhere near the correct radius.

For OP - yes, you definitely are fighting against engine changes like donchichotte fought windmills about 90% of the time you make characters.
In conjunction to bad marketplace asset rules - forced epic skeleton compatibility is just wrong - this is the reason you don’t see very many modular character in the marketplace.

ARK did the replicated character bone scaling mess 4 years ago (or more?) - they used that. Because its easy to replicate.
I’M positive I recently saw a plugin that did this with replication on anything - you just can’t expect it to look any good at all. After all you are literally deforming a mesh.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was some kind of standard for character clothing/parts, similar to the Unreal Skeleton? So I could buy a chain mail, or flak vest, or maid apron, or whatever, and it would fit?
Most of the “customizable” systems on the marketplace have too few parts that work with them – there’s no way to mix-and-match with additional content. And most of the characters are hyper-stylized custom rigs that may work well for a level boss or a “single character game” but doesn’t work for item-based RPGs, sandboxes, and such.
Similarly, painting in skin tight clothing in known UV locations, and knocking out hidden skin segments when covered by bulkier clothing (not just for performance, but to avoid clipping-through) would be helpful.
Something like the Daz3D Genesis series, except for Unreal, and focus on game based characters, would be pretty great!
Make the base mesh source files public, so it’s easy to build new parts that fit, and see if we can’t get a marketplace of separately provided, pluggable items, going…

You know you can export and modify any asset you buy on the marketplace right?
if all you need to do is match an apron you don’t need anything. Delete or do not export LODs, load up in Blender. Load the model under it for sizing. Go to the sculpt tool and deform away to fit.
So long as you do not alter the verts at all - by removing or adding any - weight paint, morphs, and whatever else will still work.

Preventing clipping is more of a challenge. You would have to remove parts of your character that are under the clothing to prevent it.
in a pinch you can get the shader to move the vertex inward based on a texture and negative normal ws.
so when clothing A gets put on, Texture A is used by you skin shader, and you solved clipping.
Making the texture can be problematic- because everything is unwrapped differently. But its also just a texture. You could even generare it in engine with a RT system and save it - think Bruks impostors system, but for 1 character and 1 cloth item to produce an occluded geometry texture…
id make this, its just that like 2 people would buy it, and the rest would just paint textures…

Back in the UDK days I attempted to develop a Standardized Customization system called Universal Modular Entity Construction Hierarchical Sets (UMECHS).I believe Epic intended to build a standard with the UE4 Mannequin, however, retargeting negates it. I believe that a group of Marketplace Publisher could collaborate to build a standard character and parts catalog.

Things are never that modular.

To prevent clipping entierly, you need to remove geometry however you see fit.
you can’t expect the maker of a t-shirt asset to modify the mesh you made your self to remove the correct amount of mesh from under the shirt.

Likewise, you can’t expect the shirt maker to be limited in sleeve length by a standard without majorly compromising any and all originality.

Thats why what you want is something you must learn and actively DO rather than a script you can run.

Just buy an asset that’s rigged to the epic skeleton, delete the part of the mesh from under it that is not needed. And export out as a new skeletal mesh - a dressed asset.
(You’ll also have to correct the UVs. Possibly unify the material into one if you need mobile compatibility, and maybe set up a lightmass compatible no-overlap UV.)

Now, the assets can have bad weight paint, so in that case the maker of the t-shirt would be the one responsible for bad work.
same for bad vector paint/cloth paint.
Again. If you want to keep the existing stuff, you need to keep the vertex order untouched.
so you delete under the character skin, export it out separate as “skin for t-shirt x” and you add the shirt on top with master pose component.

either approach is maybe 10m of work. If even. Save for when you have to mess with UVs i guess.