After taking the sample photorealistic footage above to "recreate" in the 3D Animation software, it was time to get started on character design. For this step, which includes facial design, hair, and clothing, I chose to use Real Illusion's "iClone 7 Character Creator". Character Creator is a pipeline extension for Real Illusion's iClone 7- a 3D Animation software where you can build environments, animate and film animated sequences. The pipeline Character Creator, on the other hand, is solely for designing your avatars and is compatible with iClone 7, Blender, Maya, UnReal Engine, Unity, and other 3D animation platforms. Alone, Character Creator retails for $199 USD but I purchased a "boxing day bundle" that included iClone 7, Character Character, and Headshot for $349 USD. The latter of these plug-ins, Headshot, works with Character Creator to create 3D head/face meshes from real photos. I didn't intend on using this software, because I had read on an iClone Facebook forum it caused lots of issues with lipsync and facial animation (something I plan to use in the near future). It just happened to come with the bundle I purchased. But curious minds prevailed and I decided to try it out before REALLY venturing into 3D character design and, in my humble opinion, created a monster instead of a realistic 3D avatar.
My novice attempt at creating a head mesh from an imported photo of my face using iClone's "Headshot" Plugin.
To be completely honest, I rushed into the Headshot plugin feature out of sheer curiosity. I cannot give a constructive opinion about the plug-in because to be fair, I didn't watch any tutorials or read any manuals on how to properly use it. Maybe it works beautifully if you actually put time and effort into learning it but nevertheless, I decided to stick with my original plan to design my "Jamie" avatar the old fashion way - molding her with Character Creator alone and nothing more.
The first thing I did before even attempting to design my avatar in Character Creator was watch a tutorial. Instead of scouring YouTube, I paid $13.99 CAD for a UDemy course called "Learn iClone 7 | Character Creator" by Micheal Ricks. UDemy told me this course is typically listed for $184.99 CAD so what a steal! (I'm being very sarcastic- this is typically UDemy form tricking you into buying something by "marking down" the price). Nevertheless, Section 5 of this course called "Let's Get Off To A FAST Start and Create Our First Character!" proved to be incredibly helpful and easy to follow at just 54 minutes long. I would probably pay $14 alone for the tips and tricks Micheal gave for facial/character design, but the course boasts 5 full hours of beginner tutorials on both Character Creator and iClone 7 animation techniques (including lipsync, movement, and filming). So, in short, I would highly recommend this course for newcomers. So, in the words of Mr. Ricks, let's get off to a FAST start and create our first character.
The base of Character Creator female model that I worked with
First, you need to pick a base model. There are a few choices based on various ethnicities for both male and female characters, so I chose the standard white, female model above. Under the morph tab (highlighted above on the right panel) is where most of your modeling work takes place. Not unlike The Sims 4 (a game that I have lots of experience in), you use sliders to determine the scope and size of intricate details on the face. The right panel above shows the conforming scales for JUST the head (i.e. head width, head upper width) but as you can clearly see just to the left of those scales there are sections for nearly every element of the human face and body. The amount of detail you can manipulate is pretty amazing.
I started to play around with these morphine scales and whilst doing so, had a mirror on my desk so I could constantly check in with my reference (aka my face). I would tilt and rotate my avatar in the process to make sure, for example, the nose looked similar to mine both facing straight on and from the profile. It took roughly an hour of playing around with each section of the face while checking in on my own reflection to start seeing a result. However, with ONLY these sliding controls, my avatar started to look more and more like me and less like the white, female model I began working with. Before continuing on, I picked out some hair because looking at myself bald started to become a bit unnerving.
Character Creator comes with a limited amount of options for character hair (9 styles at varying lengths) but luckily, one actually worked quite well. In the video footage I captured of myself, I was wearing my hair pulled back into a messy bun (a repeat occurrence for me in quarantine). I think in the future I will have to seek out Character Creator hair from somewhere else (a few Facebook groups I'm in upload "megapacks" of independently designed assets), but for now, this one seemed to fit pretty perfectly.
Further refining facial features with morphing scales - hair added.
Once I felt satisfied with the details of the facial features and body sculpt, it was time to add some texture. Although I was happy with the overall look of my avatar, she was too "perfect". Though I would love to be flawless and air-brushed, I wanted to add more realistic depth to the face. Character Creator comes with "skin templates" you can add and adjust to your character. They have freckles, acne, capillaries, eye bags, "roughness" and all the other elements that give realistic texture to your character's skin. You can simply add these on by dragging the feature right onto your avatar and, if need be, adjust the scale, colour, opacity, width, and height of the layer to make it fit your avatar's needs.
Working with skin details to add a realistic depth and texture to the face
For my character, I added freckles (light), capillaries to the cheeks (light), acne (side of the face only), a bit of skin roughness, and my classic eye bags. I chose not to add any makeup because I usually don't wear any, but that is a fun option Character Creator boasts as well.
The final product ended up looking like this:
A few of my friends commented that this character looked "more worn out" than I do in real life, but I think it's just because I haven't seen them in so long and quarantine has taken its toll.
Alternative angle of face and body - I put temporary clothing on my avatar to keep her decent.
Overall, I was very pleased with the results. It's not an exact replica of my face/body, but it's a decent substitute. In my opinion, even though the morphing scales were incredibly in-depth and easy to control, the skin details were by far the more impressive aspect of Character Creator because they added a realistic depth. It's still uncanny valley-esque, but not wholly alien. I want to once again reiterate that this process was incredibly smooth thanks to tutorials for Micheal Ricks' UDemy Course.
Next up, I will be tackling clothing design in Character Creator to recreate my outfit.