Universal Character System
Creating realistic digital characters can be an arduous task involving many separate tasks (modeling, uvs, texturing, rigging, animating). This project/experiment is looking at ways to cut down on the process and (in some cases) automate them. The idea is to have a system that allows one to dial-in different body types, faces, and features in a very intuitive way. Once the body appearance is created the body is created, clothing can be chosen and it is automatically rigged ready for animation.
Traditionally, each new character would require a new mesh, skin weights, texture, etc. The key to optimizing this is to figure out the middle ground between all character types and leverage that through scripts and clever pipelines. For example, a common topology can be created that works for most body types out there (young/old, skinny/obese, etc.). Once this topology has been defined it allows for selective morphing between body types and physical features so one could be 50% obese, 75% aged, and 100% female. (slide 2, 3)
A common topology also allows for a consistent UV set which simplifies texturing since regions can be reused and tweaked. (slide 4, 5, 6) This topology also allows for a rig/skeleton to be predefined so that new characters can be setup for animation in 5 minutes instead of a solid day. With a common skeleton, animations can now be easily shared. The optimizations just keep going and going. (slide 7, 8)
This concept really isn't anything new but not something often shared. Those in the film industry have been building up a library of body parts (often from scan data), common texture elements, etc. over the years to allow them to create realistic characters fast enough to meet production deadlines. Projects such as Poser or MakeHuman have been doing something similar as well. Video game developers have been getting into this as well for recent games through "character customization." Everyone is starting to realize that to maintain the quality that people come to expect one has to work smarter and not harder.
The system here is targeted at next-gen realtime use and was created out of the growing demand for characters, my refusal to step back in quality, and the fact that we did not have a resident artist at the 3D Lab to build assets. It doesn't work miracles and is still in it's early stages but it is promising. The system can currently blend 7 body types (aged, obese, skinny, muscular, female, male, pot belly). Textures are organized in layers allowing for swapping parts or color correcting areas for different skin-tones, eye colors, etc. Scripts have been written to apply scanned data to the system, and all characters have a consistent CAT rig which speeds up the rigging process. For example, the sailor (slide 6) was rigged in 5 minutes since it used this system.
Sailor model by: Andrew Smith
Additional body type sculpting: Walter Lowe III