I've carried on before about this topic but little did I realize, when it came on the scene in its original version, how much Reallusion's Character Creator would change my 3D habits and take me from the fringes of character development straight into the deep end of the pool with characters, accessories and those soft-cloth jewels like capes, hoods, and mufflers.
Making characters, the mesh has always been a fun project but getting them ready to work in an animation environment took as long or longer. If you had to do both, it just sucked the creative juices out of you.
My career in 3D started with character development… sort of. Back then things were a bit more complicated and needed special rigging, so I became a control panel rigger for the big-time animators.
In the early days, rigging had nothing to do with the bones…that was skinning. Rigging was making the character easy to animate by providing control panels that were spline shape driven. You literally made a turning knob out of a spline cylinder that the animator can grasp to rotate or move the joint or joints rigged in succession.
This was way… way before IK and any of the tools we have today.
In fact, I’m pretty sure Thomas Edison was still inventing when I first rigged a control panel in what was then 3D Studio Max. At least I think that was its official moniker. It was hard to read the software box by candlelight and even harder to keep those damn mice running on the wheels to power the thing.
At least it seemed that way when compared to today.
From this grunt level start, I graduated to props and on to scenes. Vue became my choice for nature work along with Max for just about everything else. I did this to get out of making characters.
I generally avoided characters for two reasons… rigging and texturing. I could make an entire western ecosystem with storefronts and even a few interiors in the time it would take our pros to bring back a character demo let alone a final version.
Days, weeks and sometimes months went into planning characters for many reasons. A primary reason was the cost of development and you can see why with the built-in rigging inefficiency bottle necking everything.
Now… thanks to programs like CC3 and Substance Painter we can create a character in a manner of hours. It just doesn’t get more cost-effective. Poser and DAZ Studio are very capable tools but also very high poly making them unsuitable for some real-time tasks.
Low poly game characters were once the domain of a small group of artists due to the nature of creating in low poly or projecting high poly down to low poly models. I can remember one step in a pipeline being critical… merge everything…make a duplicate… reduce it the right amount then Boolean subtract it creating a hollow shell… like 3D printing today.
That shell was then touched up by texturing artists and maybe even completely retextured before being rigged into a final character. The result was a great looking low poly game character that went through many hands and its own chunk of the budget.
With Character Creator 3’s Game Character option you can reduce any character down to a fraction of its original weight by combining maps and whatever else it does under the hood. These characters might not be quite as low poly and vibrant as the team-built characters, but they are viable game engine characters as long as you kept the total poly count reasonable to start with.
I used to be sent character concepts which I studied off and on before and while working on them. I very seldom had to recreate a face that exactly matched the concept character but the body frame and everything else had to be spot on.
With CC3 you can use the morph sliders for a lot of customization and if you don’t get exactly what you want, then you can easily launch the mesh into ZBrush for sculpting or alteration that will truly be unique.
All in a few hours.
Now we are limited only by our own personal speed of development… not the software… when we put Character Creator in the pipeline. CC1 and CC2 where great products but CC3 Pipeline opens character creation to just about anyone.
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. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.