"Reallusion has, once again, managed to deliver a product that far exceeds expectations."
A big plus and minus to any creative project are the characters. If not done properly or too generic the negative impact can run roughshod over the story, even a great story. This can cause the audience to lose focus which leads to a wandering mind... a possible and sudden desire to check your phone for messages or just about anything to get out of having to sit through the horror of bad characters. We don't all have the budget to hire someone to create our characters nor do we all have the skill to do it ourselves which leads us to the dreaded land of... wait for it... character generators! You know what I'm talking about... those apps that claim to spit out a unique character only to find out that the "unique character" isn't even close to resembling what was needed.
A lot of us have been down this road from pros trying to save time and budget to the home animator that doesn't have time or maybe the desire to learn character modeling. While there have been noble attempts like Mixamo's (now Adobe's) Fuse they only go so far in terms of customization, number of morph sliders and things of that nature. To be fair, it's highly unlikely that any character generator will have enough options to please a majority of users but Reallusion's Character Generator for iClone may be an exception to this trend. This reviewer has had a long relationship with Reallusion dating back to 2006. I have long used and advocated for their products as long as they do the job. That said I wasn't that impressed when I first heard they were developing a character generator. I knew they would try hard and put some honest R&D into the project but didn't hold out any real hope of an improved generator.
I am very happy to say how wrong I was.
Absolutely pleased would be a better way to put it because Reallusion has, once again, managed to deliver a product that far exceeds expectations. I should have known from experience not to write this project off as Reallusion really came out swinging on this one. As I've said before there are more sliders in this application than a Texas honky tonk bar on Saturday night. The user interface is loaded with morph sliders but it's not just the amount of sliders that make it stand out so much as it is the iClone clone cloth system which uses diffuse maps for texture and opacity maps for shaping. These major features combined add up to one powerful character generator. You can turn mundane clothing into sci-fi armor, super hero costumes and lots of other creative clothing. This reviewer found it necessary to have the optional CC Essentials Bundle as that provides the extra sliders that makes application so powerful. I have not worked with the just the basic Character Creator so this review is based upon having the extras.
Character Creator Interface
Starting Out With Character Creator
When you open the application you are greeted with a clean interface. Reallusion has put a lot of options at your fingertips displaying enough information to get the job done without overload. The user interface is very straightforward requiring little if any explanation to get started so one can just dive right in and start altering the base character. The top toolbar functions as most Windows applications with the New, Open, Save dialog along with Send to iClone, Export Character & Export Object options. Object and camera manipulators are next followed by Show/Hide buttons and then the Character Creator specific buttons of Calibrate, Conform, Modify and Morphs. Options for characters, character bases, hair, clothing and accessories are located on the upper left menu with the familiar iClone 6 style Tabs below.
The right side menu is where most of the action is. That contains the list of body parts and the morphs that go with them. You can either click on a specific part of the body or you can choose from the menu which controls a context sensitive menu further to the right that holds the morph sliders. Not only can you select body parts directly on the model but you can also manipulate the morphs with the mouse instead of using the sliders. It's up to the user to choose the most natural workflow of the two. With these morph sliders you can go from young to old, big to small, skinny to large and a lot of shapes and styles in between.
The far right menu of morph sliders is accessed by selecting the body or body part in the center workspace. The number sliders available depends on the body part selected and if the Essentials pack is installed. You can access all the sliders by selecting the Actor instead of a body part. This covers about one-third of the right side menu which also contains tabs at the top for other menus such as Appearance and Materials.
TIP: After creating several characters it seems best to move the sliders in small increments if you plan on using a lot of the slider morphs in combination as the combined tweaking of the morphs can produce some strange and undesirable results by the time you reach the bottom of the morph slider list.
The Middle Tab Appearance Editor Opens to Even More Options
The Cloth System
All this and we've barely mentioned the clone cloth system that allows you customize existing templates and assets from the Reallusion Marketplace. The system is based on a simple but effective black and white opacity map that only shows areas in white while relying on black to tell it which areas to hide. As with most systems of this sort all it takes is getting used to the UV Map layout of the character and how to interpret it (visualize) on the character. Once you get the hang of this the sky is limit in terms of what you can create... well... ok... you're not going to make sleeves out of a sleeveless shirt or top but you can remove the sleeves from the top or use a jagged map to make it appear like torn cloth.
With a little creative thinking, which is not in short supply around here, you use the underlying skin as one layer for skintight clothing and use the clothing layers for other parts of your custom outfit. Clothing wrinkles are enhanced by normal, AO (Ambient Occlusion) and WS Normal maps. The characters are also capable of holding multiple layers of clothing depending on the type. Your character can have underwear, shirt, pants, skirt or outerwear such as jackets and sweaters. Each of these has its own slots in the Appearance Editor along with the opacity maps.
One other thing that needs mentioning is the optional CC Essentials bundle. As stated earlier this review was based on an installation that included the CC Essentials bundle and many of the sliders, skins and material seen are from that bundle. While it is not necessary to have the bundle to create good characters the extra morphs and other items combined with the learning resources make it a more complete character creation application that is most likely targeted towards commercial users but benefits all users and provides a bit of extra flair to the hobbyist if they so desire.
From the Default Female Character to This in Minutes (iClone 6/Indigo)
All in all Reallusion's Character Creator is an easy to use, extremely fast character generator than can punch out great characters in a manner of minutes... all ready for animating or posing depending on your needs.