Creative Creature Catcher is a “first-person” AR children’s book, as the characters and creatures interact with the reader in the same manner as a videogame. It was a lot of fun to develop, but not without its challenges.
In the following, I would like to offer an overview of how our team was able to realize our creative vision without going over-budget. The focus will be on how we incorporated Reallusion’s iClone and Character Creator into our standard AR pipeline, allowing us to create, animate and lip-sync Malcolm Tanner, the character that guides the reader through the adventure of reading the book.
First, we designed Malcolm. I did a couple of sketches, then Geirrod Van Dyke, perhaps best known for his work on Todd McFarlane’s Spawn comics, took those to finish. Next, I opened up Character Creator. This is a great tool for creating bipedal characters. With the in-program morphs and ones you can cheaply buy from their store you can really dial-in almost anything. I used a kid’s morph pack and their Apocalypse playset for clothes that remarkably pretty much matched our design.
A tip for those new to Character Creator, I will stress that it’s easy to max-out a morph dial. But sometimes you need more of a particular morph…say nose-size. If you want more of a maxed-out morph, you can first bake the morph, then the dials will reset and you can add more of that morph you want…making a really big character nose!
I added a few final, personal touches in ZBrush as a morph target. Then we were ready for some animating and lip-syncing.
iClone is where all the motion magic happens. I’ve been animating for decades and iClone makes it easier and faster than any I have ever worked with. For instance, when we bring in Malcolm in their iAvatar format, you can use models from tons of places with this program’s sister program 3DXchange, where you can retarget or even auto-retarget if you use Daz3D models.
But for Malcolm coming straight from Character Creator, none of that was necessary. For our lip-sync we used the Faceware Realtime for iClone plugin and a Logitech webcam. The capture is very robust and works great with very minimal calibration. But note: if you wear thick black framed glasses like I do, it doesn’t like that. Thin frames work though. And no glasses – all the better. We got a professional actor to deliver our lines remotely. I basically acted from that recording, then matched up the sound and we were ready to go.
For the animations we used a bunch of stock and purchased motions from our library. iClone excels at blending animations or just taking parts of one and say I’ll just use that left arm there, those legs there. Then, with edit motion layer I can fix or add those little motions that make all the difference. And at the beginning of each pose in the timeline is a handle you can interactively drag to create easy smooth transitions, even with using premade animations.
When the animation is complete we simply export via iClone and the 3DXchange Unity export. And we’re ready to rock and roll with an animated character for our AR app.
For those of you trying this for the first time, Reallusion offers a lot of tutorials. Their product pages are also helpful, even for experts who are familiar with AR/VR tools.
About the Author
Brian Haberlin, co-founder of Anomaly Productions, is a comic book artist, writer, editor and producer who has worked with Marvel, DC and Image Comic and served as Editor-in-Chief of Todd McFarlane Productions. Creative Creature Catcher will come out in April distributed by Ingram.