Sunday, 9 October 2011

Animation Chronicles - Episode 3: starting over to "Evolve"

A grim sounding title, but there's actually good news in that article.

In a normal pipeline, you would model your character, then rig it and skin it. As I was using the UDN's skeleton, which is in a relaxed pose, I assumed I had to put that skeleton in a T-pose before being able to model something around it. This is why I started to rig the skeleton first. But today, I've made a discovery that would save me the trouble of modelling a character.

Well, rather than a self-credited discovery, a guy named online|offworld on the UDK forums shared the link to a very interesting website created by Autodesk and called Evolver. It allows you to create custom 3D humanoid avatars. Where it becomes really interesting, is that you can export the rigged and skinned mesh of that avatar to FBX (or Maya scene), allowing you then to create animations for that avatar and then export all this to various game engines.

Granted, the characters aren't that good looking, but that is perfect placeholder art. Oh, and I forgot to mention that a full facial rig can be exported as well?

The export offers the following options:

Keeping Unreal in mind, I used the following settings:
  • Poly resolution: the figures given are a bit BS. The High poly model has nearly 70k triangles once imported in Unreal. I went for the medium one, which has about 18k triangles.
  • Output: As I work in Maya, the .mb output is the natural choice. FBX, doesn't seem to be working in all configurations.
  • Skeleton: I chose the Game one, which closely resembles the Unreal one, but doesn't have roll bones. GameRoll does have roll bones, but they're set up in a way Epic suggests to avoid. I'll add those roll bones later (a good opportunity to learn skinning).
  • Global Axis: Z up.
  • Geometry: Quads.
  • Height: To avoid scaling issues, I will convert here the character size to Unreal Units. So if I'm making a character that is supposed to be 172cm, then, I'll enter a custom height of 86.
  • Include clothing and hair: Well, unless you want your character naked... and bald.
  • Include specular/normal map: up to you, but the entire character (body and head) is mapped to one 2048x2048 texture, you'll probably want to redo that from scratch.
  • Facial Expressions: I'll keep it simple for now and choose none.
Here's a picture of the character I've created and imported into Maya:

So as a result, I had to start over my controller creation since I'm working on a new skeleton, but that wasn't a big deal since I haven't progressed that much since last time.

You may notice that I've added two new controllers. The first one is around the waist, to which the hip bone has a parent constraint.  The other one is the white one on the ground, to which all controllers are parented, allowing me to move the entire character around the scene, without having to modify her pose.

Also, this picture should make it easier to understand why creating those controllers are useful: I can animate the character without being in wireframe (to select the joint) or without having to browse the outliner looking for the right joint.

Those controllers' shape have been realised by drawing some text (using Wingdings font) as curves. For the colour of the controllers, I've used the drawing override of the controller (note that this is passed on to children).