This week, Epic Games released the "MetaHumans" sample project.
MetaHumans are digital humans created by MetaHumans Creator, an application that Epic Games might be releasing soon. They have a website where they explain what MetaHumans Creator is about: it's a cloud-based human character creation tool that lets you create very realistic humans, from a pre-existing library, to be used in Unreal Engine. Since the tool uses a set of predefined database elements, I can't really tell how far you can go when customizing your characters.
The MetaHumans sample project includes two humans and two different sample scenes. In one scene, you can see the characters in a turntable. In the second scene, you can see them animated. I have to say the quality of the characters is very good, very comparable to what you can get using Reallusion's CC3, or what you saw in The Heretic: Digital Human demo from Unity.
The high quality of these characters is achieved with a combination of geometry, materials, textures, and Xgen groom hair. They have actually used grooms for eyebrows, beard, mustache, and even peach fuzz, not just hair. They even have morph-driven normal maps to add to the realism. For example, if the character raises the eyebrows, normal maps on the forehead are triggered to create the skin wrinkles.
The characters are using UE4 rigs for the body and face. I have never used these rigs in the past, since I do all my animation in an external application (be it Maya or more recently iClone). The facial rig is pretty interesting, and it gives the character a lot of versatility for facial posing, resulting in very expressive faces.
If you are testing this project, make sure you have Unreal Engine 4.26.1 and a powerful computer. I am using my MAINGEAR laptop that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, and it manages to keep up, most of the time, but sometimes it runs out of video memory and also gets some frame drops in the middle of the animation.
As a game developer, you can learn a couple of things from this project, like how they set up the hair or how they create their realistic human shader. You can even learn a couple of things about UE4 rigs if you are interested. However, for the most part this is a showcase project (just like The Heretic: Digital Human was a showcase project for Unity). I think the important stuff will come when they release MetaHuman Creator.
Learn more at unrealengine.com.