Previously, creating a single digital human took a whole lot of work and skills. From the research and scanning phase to 3D modeling of the facial geometry, a professional studio needed a month or two to get it right.
MetaHuman Creator released by Epic Games changes everything
With no understanding of technology, 3D vectors, art or human physiology, anybody can now create a fully rigged, coiffed and clothed photorealistic digital human in less than a couple of hours, or even minutes.
“The demo version looks really good-we’re super enthusiastic about this,” Neweb Labs technical director Samy Lamouti explains. “Now, we can quickly create the digital character, or give the art director of a production complete control over how the character looks—they can build the character themselves using an iPad from their living room couch. This is a step that used to cost a lot of money and take a lot of time.”
“It accelerates the time it takes to bring the character to our lab where we breathe life into it.”
MetaHuman Creator is a cloud-streamed app that enables the creation of photorealistic 3D humanoid characters intuitively, with user-friendly tools. Starting with a preset human from the existing library, you can alter the nose, the shape of the face, the eyebrows, etc. You can also choose from about 30 hairstyles that use Unreal Engine’s strand-based hair, or hair cards for lower-end platforms. There is a selection of clothing to choose from, as well as 18 differently proportioned body types.
When you’re happy with your character design, it can be downloaded via Quixel Bridge, fully rigged and ready for animation and motion capture in Unreal Engine--complete with LODs. You’ll also get the source data in the form of a Maya file, including meshes, skeleton, facial rig, animation controls, and materials.
Faster to create and animate digital character assets
In a recent panel discussion on Unreal Engine’s YouTube Channel Pulse, Jerome Chen, of Sony Pictures Imageworks, described his first experience working with the new tool.
His upcoming production needed six digital characters, and he was concerned they couldn’t be done with the budget and resources he had. “It’s a terrifying prospect every time you have to make a character—you never know if it’s going to work or not.” He knew that using traditional techniques, “we didn’t have the resources to make six.” He reached out to Epic to request advance access to the MetaHuman Creator.
He had no idea it would be so efficient. “I thought it would take weeks,” Chen explained. But during a one and a half hour screen-sharing session on Zoom working with Vladmir Mastilović of 3D Lateral (now part of Epic Games), he came away with a digital version of one of the six actors he was working with. “We were really grateful to have early access to this,” he said.
“The beauty of the system is that the rigging is already done,” he explained. Metahuman Creator runs on a huge database of information from real people who have been scanned. Offsets against universal models are used to, giving the process some standardization.
Before, importing from one software to another required constant forethought, compromise, and corrections, time needed to be budgeted for correcting problems, such as artefacts. “Now everything is in the same universe,” Lamouti explained. “With this tool, with a character ready to go, on our side, we bring in our motion capture, performance, and animation expertise to get the production in motion. MetaHuman Creator smoothes the process—making the characters look better, run better and get to the production stage faster.”
Standardization makes this a game-changer
In the world of digital human modelling “standardization was a big step that a lot of people missed,” points out Isaac Brazel, chief designer and innovation officer at Brud, the creators of L’il Miquela, a digital human with over 3 million followers on Instagram. During the panel discussion on Pulse, he also noted that he is especially impressed by the hairstyle options available in the software. “They (Epic) took a lot of care making the groom library.” He says a character’s style is extremely important; it is what makes them who they are, what makes them believable, and helps audiences identify with them. “With Miquela…if we didn’t lean into the style to define who she is, it wouldn’t have worked as well.”
Amy Hennig of Skydance Media agrees. The subtleties are what bring a digital person, and ultimately a story, to life. This tool makes it so much easier to get into the subtexts of storytelling, she told the Pulse panel. The “holy grail” is when you don’t have to think about the technology and you can go for a level of subtlety at the writing stage,” she explained.
Before, “we had a texture map and a few polygons--we wrote around that.” Now, she said, “we can have a level of fidelity in the performance.”
For example, things like having a character take off their jacket can now be written into a script. Before, this wasn’t possible. Characters were created with their clothing on. “There was nothing underneath.” As a digital character, “You are your jacket,” she explained.
Technology is a means to an end, she said. “The end is a deeply believable immersive story, where you’re not yanked out by frictions.”
This is definitely not going to eliminate artists, Hennig adds. “This liberates them from all the drudgery work, to let them do their art.”
Neweb Labs is playing with the new tool and preparing to integrate it to speed upcoming productions.