For some time, the folks at Reallusion have envisioned putting the power of character creation in the hands of the average user without requiring extensive modeling and rigging knowledge. A lot of users just want to tell a story... not get into the mechanics of envelopes or poly count and generally avoid the huge learning curve that bogs down so many private projects. Reallusion is a company that listens to its user base and more importantly... it responds to their input.
The battle cry of many users has been "Give us Morphs"! Reallusion responded and produced Character Creator, a morph based character creation tool that boasts a good number of morph sliders. Now, with Update 1.4, they have gone one step further and it's a very big step: Custom morphs! You can combine existing morphs into new ones and/or create new morphs in modeling packages like zBrush. Any new character going thru the Character Creator->zBrush (and others)->3DXchange 6-> iClone 6 pipeline is a new morph and can be incorporated into your menu with other morphs. This leads to an ever expanding library of morph sliders to manipulate your base meshes with.
Create a New Morph
Creating a new morph is a simple process of evoking the Create Morph dialog and making a few selections such as where to place the morph in the user interface tree, its name, thumbnail if any and a morph file (character) if needed. You can create morphed characters to use as the basis for the source or target morph or load Character Creator iAvatars as morph bases. As shown in the image there is also a default morph for the Source Morph. Reallusion even provides us with a thumbnail background image to use if we so desire.
Top Half of Morph Slider Popup
The custom morph process requires a bit of jumping around but it's a pipeline so that's expected. Other than bouncing between multiple applications it is a very straight forward and simple process to create custom morphs outside of the Reallusion ecosphere and bring them in seamlessly. Did you notice that last word? Seamlessly? Don't overlook the importance that simple word. As long you are re-arranging the existing base and not changing the topology then its smooth sailing.
Like all morphs you can't increase or decrease the weight, mass, vertices count (whatever your thing is) and expect it to work. You'll be disappointed. But stay within the confines of the existing mesh and you will be a happy character creator. You can increase mesh density to add detail for later projection to texture maps on the lower poly morph figure. This gives you the best maps (normal, diffuse and so forth) possible to increase the relief of the character features. This requires you to go to the highest level mesh and create your textures and normal maps then jump back down to the original mesh density to export with the high density maps. Once again... the exported mesh must equal the vertices count of the original mesh to be loaded as a morph.
All of my testing has involved zBrush but I'm using the OBJ file format as the go-between so I'm guessing it will work with other sculpting tools like Sculptris and Mudbox. In the video tutorial I use zBrush to alter the existing, non-morphed avatar into something that looks very different. This is the great part of this pipeline. We aren't starting from scratch. We get base meshes to import into our modeling tool and reshape while keeping us in the original vertices count.
My tutorial mesh base was not morphed within Character Creator prior to export so just imagine the possibilities of morphing that base BEFORE you add custom morphs in another app. That's right... export big, small, skinny, errr... not so skinny and so forth, as your base morph, then customize that beast to your hearts content (while staying within the original vertices count... can't say that enough to those new to morphing).
To really appreciate the crux of this 1.4 update I'm hoping you will view one or both of the tutorials if you have the time. I tried to keep them as brief as possible while showing the new features and basic concept of custom morphs inside and outside of Character Creator.
In summary it's a very exciting time to be an iCloner with all the tools and features Reallusion is packing into this beast of an animation pipeline. And while it's not shareware... it's not thousands or tens of thousands of dollars either. The Reallusion side of pipeline is value priced with a lot of bang for the buck and can produce animations within minutes of installation. The cost per minute is minuscule depending on your setup. Animators may cost you... but the software... not so much. It adds up but it's still a very small investment compared to other tools and stands alone in the real-time production environment.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. You can learn more about MD at his website.