The contest requirements were simple: enter with any fully-rigged, animatable, humanoid character. We were given three months to bring a character to completion while making use of two of Reallusion's products: Character Creator and iClone. I had a plan for a portfolio piece that I had wanted to do for a while and having a contest deadline was a great way to motivate myself to put in the time required to actually do it.
I decided to base my character on a Medieval noblewoman, so I drew some sketches and put together a moodboard of concepts and materials that I liked.
I wanted to go for something a little rustic and well-worn for my character, with a mix of fabric, leather, metal and fur. I wanted clothing that was stylish and high-quality, but still functional, and which has seen some wear and use. Unfortunately, the concept of a tame fox never made it into the finished product due to time constraints, but I still like the idea.
Instead I made liberal use of the fox theme in the decorations of her garments and accessories. For this project, I wasn't interested in designing a suit of armor or anything military, so I focused on clothing that could be worn on a hunting trip or a stroll through the snow. Once I decided on the winter environment, it made sense to make sure that she had plenty of warm clothing, including a fur-lined hood. Concepts in hand, I headed to Character Creator.
Editing the base body in Character Creator
Character Creator is a very user friendly program used to generate base characters and equip them with clothing items and accessories (either custom items or ones picked up from Reallusion's Content Store). I found it easy and enjoyable to quickly dive in and drag around the proportions of the custom female base to get to a body that fit the character I wanted. The main windows that I find myself using are the Modify, Scene and Content windows. The body can be changed in the morphs tab of the Modify panel, as well as by selecting a region of the body and dragging the mouse to make it bigger/smaller/wider/skinnier/longer/shorter.
In order to make her appear more childlike, I shortened her height, increased her head size, made her eyes bigger, decreased the breast size. Under the Appearance tab of the Modify panel, you can activate the Appearance Editor to make additional changes. I added some redness to the cheeks (it's cold out there!) as well as some color to her lips and a subtle amount of shadow to her eyes. I also gave her freckles and adjusted the part of her face affected by them, as well as the spread and density. Character Creator saves all of these changes to texture so that you can edit them in Photoshop later for even more control.
Modeling the gambeson
To prepare for modeling, I exported the base model that I had made and built my clothing items around it in my modeling program. Character Creator creates an fbx key file at the same time. Make sure you save that file, it will be needed later!
Ronya's gambeson (padded undercoat) was relatively simple to make. First, I extracted faces from the base mesh's torso and extruded faces from the bottom hem, the sleeves and the neck, and then adjusted them to get the shapes that I wanted. After that, it was a simple task to model a belt clasp to keep the top closed. There are plenty of modeling tutorials out there, so I won't focus on the details of how all of this was done. I gave them some quick vertex colors to bake out color maps, and then set out to make high poly versions.
Sculpting the gambeson
I opened the low poly gambeson in Sculptris and added folds, creases and seams. The laces were modeled separately and just layered over the top. I focused on the macro details in Sculptris, and elected to add the micro details such as fabric weave using Quixel's dDo and nDo instead. After sculpting, I baked out a tangent space normal map, object space normal map and ambient occlusion map using xnormal. I used these maps (in addition to a color ID map from the vertex colors) and moseyed on over to Photoshop for some texturing.
Texturing the gambeson
Quixel's dDo is a nifty program that allows you to isolate areas of your texture and apply masks generated from your maps to add materials across all channels simultaneously. I started with a burlap material for the cloth, worn leather for the straps, and scratched and tarnished brass for the buckle. I overlaid a grid pattern over the garment and used Quixel's nDo to generate a normal map from it so that the padded squares in the gambeson would pop out. After that I did a detail pass using grunge maps, cavity maps and various tools to give it a worn look. In the end, I needed to make an adjustment since Character Creator does not support gloss maps as of this moment. This meant that I lost a lot of the brass material's color and had to add it to the diffuse map instead of the gloss map. A bit of testing led to values that I was happy with.
Modeling the outfit
I won't go over every item of clothing individually because they all mostly follow the same process as the one listed above. I made pants, undershirt, gambeson, vest, gloves, hood, boots, belt, knife, pouch and a fox-head brooch. My regular workflow would have been to model the gambeson, vest, belt and gloves all as one mesh, but in this case I made them all separately, despite the fact that some of them would barely be seen. I did this because I wanted to make a character that would utilize Character Creator's intelligent layering system. You can determine the layer order of your clothing items, and Character Creator will run some calculations to prevent clipping. It can also allow you to hide faces that won't be shown, so the polycount remains reasonable. This way, clothing items can be added and subtracted at will, which makes character variations easier.
Researching 3D fur
One of the greatest challenges for this character was achieving believable fur. Since realtime rendering of millions of strands of hair was out of the question, this problem required a special solution and I spent a lot of time researching and testing out various methods. Here are some tutorials that I found particularly interesting and helpful, so feel free to have a look:
In the end I came up with a workflow that worked pretty well for me
Modeling and sculpting fur
After sculpting out the main details in Sculptris such as seams, folds, and such, I went into paint mode. Here, you can paint your normal map straight onto the model using various brushes. I made use of some excellent fur brushes from voronart.com You can pick them up here, if you want to try them out yourself. The whole pack is available for free.
I used a selection of fur brushes to paint in the fur strands, trying to move in a natural direction from bottom to top. This formed the base layer for the fur.
I then created a flat plane and simply drew on some of the brushes to export their normals for use as hair cards. Using the same brushes for both the hair cards and the underlying layer ensured that they blended together better and provided visual unity. Once I was ready, I once again used xnormal to bake out my normal and AO.
For the geometry of the hair cards, I experimented with automatic placement tools, but in the end I opted to place each hair card by hand. Time consuming, sure, but it gave me results that I was happy with.
Texturing the fur
In Photoshop, I blended my layers together. Base cloth, sculpted fur, fur cards, and albedo texture, a very subtle specular map and an opacity map to cut out the parts that I didn't want to render. In the texture map, I hand-painted the fur color, generated the fabric using dDo, and added a layer of snow on top of everything using a cavity mask.
I also created a weight map because I wanted the fur to be affected by the wind effects in iClone. Only the light parts are simulated, so I made sure to keep the roots of the fur cards black so that they wouldn't blow away in the wind. The myriad of fur cards around the hem of the hood made it so that I couldn't fully apply physics to the hood fabric itself without causing strange animations, but I added small amounts of light grey to some of the folds in the fabric so that they would at least have some gentle motion.
End result of the fur
In the end, I was very happy with the way the fur turned out. The polycount wasn't outrageous (1645 quads for the fur cards, 4127 when you include the entire hood) and it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the piece.
Items and accessories
The other items were fairly straightforward and mostly utilized techniques discussed above. The boots just reused some of the hair cards I made for the hood. The accessories were a lot of fun (especially the pouch) and I enjoyed transferring my hand-drawn fox knot onto the leather texture, making use of Quixel's nDo Normal Map generator to really make it pop.
Getting it into Character Creator
Once everything was to my liking, it was time to rig the items and import it all into Character Creator. Rigging is beyond the scope of this tutorial, so I'll just mention that I copied the weights from the base mesh and fixed up areas that didn't deform properly. The accessories (pouch, brooch, knife) had to be parented to a single bone instead of weighted to multiple. When exporting, ensure that you are selecting the item/s you want in Character Creator as well as the base model you started with.
When you try to import into Character Creator, the program will ask you for the fbx key (remember that?) which you will need in order to complete the import. You can import one item at a time or multiple, but you might want to consider doing them separately to avoid problems. Next (assuming there are no import errors), you will be given the opportunity to determine the clothing layer for each item. This number between 1 and 20 will determine which items will be above each other. So essentially, you'll want the inner, skin-tight items to have a low number, and the additional layers to have higher numbers. There's a chart in the Asset Developer Guide that can guide you as to which layers to assign to different items.
Character Creator can read the textures in your fbx file, but you can also assign and tweak them manually in the Material tab of the Modify panel. Double-click on a texture slot to find it in your computer, or simply drag and drop the textures to the appropriate boxes. After assigning the textures, you can edit the Material Settings to boost the specular and glossiness levels, as well as change the specular color and adjust opacity (for meshes such as hair planes that only need part of them to be opaque, import a black and white opacity map). Make sure to check the two-sided box at the bottom if you want to render the backfaces.
Editing the mesh
Problems that you spot with the mesh once it is in Character Creator can be fixed in the tab of the Modify panel. Once you click Edit Mesh Mode, you can select faces on your mesh and move them in order to fix clipping issues. The transform tools are found in the toolbar at the top of the screen and can be used to move, rotate and scale selections from the mesh.
Hiding the mesh
If there are parts of a mesh that will not be visible because of layers of clothing on top of it, you can select those parts (still in Edit Mesh Mode) and click hide. This will remove the selected faces from view, and upon export, you will be given the option to delete the hidden faces in order to lower the polycount. This can be done to any mesh; the body mesh, inner clothing layers, and so on. One thing to remember is to make sure that Backface Selection is checked, so that you grab all of the faces that you want, instead of just those that are visible to the camera.
Character Creator doesn't support animation, as such, but you can test out your skinning by using the Calibration tool in the toolbar at the top. This will allow you to assign a pose from the list which will give you a good idea if your mesh is deforming properly. Some of the poses are pretty extreme, so if your clothing still looks good in pose 04 or 08, you know that you've done a good job with the skinning and that it will look good during animation in iClone.
Saving a template and exporting your character
Once you are completely satisfied with your mesh, you can save it in the Content panel. Choose the appropriate place to save it (clothing items > coats > custom, in my case) and then press the + button at the bottom to save it as a template that can be drag-and-dropped onto any character you use in the future. The clothing meshes will automatically resize to fit different morphs as well. Once you've imported all of your clothing items and saved them as custom templates, you can drag them all onto your character and save it as a clothed character template too.
Finally, you are ready to export your character. You can save your character as a CC project file, or you can navigate to File > Export > Send to iClone and conveniently send it straight to iClone, where it can be used immediately.
Preparing the character in iClone
Within iClone, we've now got a good looking character. There are just a couple of things left to do before we are completely set. We need to set up the weight maps for the soft cloth physics, and we need to create a collision mesh so that the clothes won't clip through the body. To select a clothing item attached to a character, you need to find it in the drop down menu for that character in the Scene panel. Then you can make changes in the Modify panel. If you added a weight map in Character Creator, it will already be loaded, but if you didn't you can still add it by clicking Edit Weight Map in the Physics tab of the Modify panel and browsing to the weight map you made.
In order for the weight map to do its job correctly, the underlying body needs collision shapes. Go back to the Scene panel and select the body of your character. Then you can go to the Edit tab of the Modify panel and click Collision shape to add primitives to the bones of your character for the soft cloth to react to. The difference between a character with collision shapes, and one without is illustrated in the animated gifs below:
And there we have it! A complete character ready for animation. This was an exciting contest and I learned so much during the three months it took to bring the Young Baroness to completion. Reallusion has been a pleasure to work with (both the tools and the team) and I look forward to giving it another go next time! I hope you found this tutorial useful and interesting.