Creating Digital Humans: 3 Amazing Applications

May 03, 2021 at 11:59 am by -gToon


I'm not sure it's just simple serendipity, but over the last several months the idea of the digital human has become increasingly part of the gamedev and 3D character creation worlds. This is primarily because of three new tools that have emerged at approximately the same time frame that claim the idea of the "digital human" and offer new ways to create realistic human models in 3D. Although the idea of the "digital human" is not new, this term is much more precise. The term also includes an emphasis on a very high standard of realism. The digital human is likely to be game-ready, relatively easy to create and looks so much more life-like due to AI and human scanning technologies.

The three tools that have started this new dialogue on digital humans are: Reallusion's Character Creator 3, Epic's MetaHuman Creator and a Blender plug-in called the Human Generator. Character Creator 3 has been around for a few years, but their recent update and development of their "skin-gen" technology has pushed them to another level. And MetaHuman is currently floating around in a one-hour beta (yes, you can use the application for one hour only) and the Blender plug-in is brand new.

Let's start with a quick look at Character Creator 3.4 + Skin-Gen plugin.
Character Creator was built with its sister program, iClone, in mind. Where iClone is the main program where you create 3D scenes, add animation and effects, then export to various file formats, CC3 was developed for the sole purpose of creating primarily 3D characters simply using morph sliders and direct manipulation of the mesh. Poser pioneered this technology (and continues to do so under Renderosity's new ownership) and provided the model for CC3.

Essentially, you start with a base mesh then either morph that mesh into the shape you want or you can completely change the model mesh with something closer to the character you are trying to create. The ability to manipulate parts of the model using simple sliders is very detailed. Additional elements like clothing, hair and poses/expressions are simple drag-and-drop.

With the recent update (3.4) CC3 has taken their character creation tool to the next level with a new modular hair system, ExpressionPlus face-blend form and a spectacular upgrade to lip-sync with the AccuLips system. And while the Skin-Gen system has been around for over a year, it contributes to the idea of the digital human significantly.

I've been working with the new Character Creator 3.4 (Pipeline version) for the last week and am so pleased with the workflow and final result that I've incorporated a 3D model into my weekly news videos for Renderosity, moving from a 2D character to a 3D one created directly in CC3. This program is a terrific tool that is simple to use and very effective. The recent inclusion of CC3 into NVIDIA's Omniverse application gives it an even better look as Omniverse uses a ray-traced render system that is simply gorgeous.
Now let's turn to Epic's MetaHuman, a much-talked-about digital human creation tool made primarily for the Unreal Engine. I like Epic's wording on their MetHuman page, "MetaHuman Creator sets a new benchmark for both the believability of digital humans and also for the ease of creating them. You can directly manipulate facial features, adjust skin complexion, and select from preset body types, hairstyles, clothing, and more. You can even edit your character’s teeth!" This is not hyperbole, MetaHuman is exactly how they describe it, in fact, I think they slightly underplay how truly remarkable this program is.

Currently is a very narrow beta release, MetaHuman Creator takes the same approach as Character Creator in that you use sliders to manipulate a truly amazing variety of features on your character mesh. However, MetaHuman Creator goes a step further in providing 3 races to start with: Asian, Sub-Saharan African and Caucasian. The staging platform is also so much better than any other program. You move in and out of an open stage with your character with ease and you can apply basic idle animation with a click to see your character moving (this makes a big difference in your creation process). MetaHuman Creator also provides much more subtle changes to a character's features than any other program I've seen. Actually, manipulation of teeth, veins and subtle graduations of skin color and texture are simply off the charts. I'm including a short demo of MetaHuman Creator below because I can't come close to describing how good the creation process (and result) is.
MetaHuman Creator is a very hard act to follow as I think when the application is released (depending upon the price) it will instantly become the digital human standard.

And lastly a new Blender plugin "Human Generator" by Oliver J. Post & Alexander Lashko is very much in line with the previous applications I've discussed: it is a digital human creation tool built (expertly, I might add) right into the GUI of Blender's open-source 3D application. While the results are not as high-fidelity as MetaHuman Creator, it is certainly acceptable. And when you add in direct manipulation of the mesh in Blender (which is quite easy) plus the real-time rendering Eevee engine in Blender, you get the fasted method for creating digital humans of all three programs mentioned here.

Human Generator is also the cheapest of all three programs, although MetaHumans is still in beta and its cost is still being determined. But at $68 you get a lot for your money with Human Generator: characters, clothing, facial hair and a surprising amount of variables in appearance you can manipulate. And since the program is open source one imagines "packs" of clothing or hair being made in the future for this very appealing digital human creation tool.
Final Thoughts

So there you have it: three very different tools that make it much easier to create digital humans for use in games, machinima, advertising, architecture and AR/VR. With Character Creator 3, MetaHuman Creator and Human Generator the ability to make believable 3D humans quickly has taken a big leap forward. It will be interesting to see what professionals and creatives do with these amazing applications in the future.

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