For as long as I’ve been in the VFX industry, creating photorealistic digital humans has always been one of the hardest challenges. Though incredible progress has been made, this type of work is still largely limited to elite teams that have the resources to pay for scanning services, infrastructure, expert artists and tool development.
At Epic Games, we believe that tools for content creation should be free so that anyone can create stunning content. There shouldn’t be barriers to entry for someone that wants to get started in our business. Our main application — Unreal Engine — is now used by many people across the industry for animation and virtual production. Earlier this year, we were excited to add our new MetaHuman Creator tool to the arsenal as well, which we hope marks a new era in the creation of high fidelity digital humans.
MetaHuman Creator is a free, cloud-based app that empowers storytellers and artists to create photorealistic digital humans — complete with hair and clothing — in minutes. Building upon decades of research and development from pioneering companies, like 3Lateral, Cubic Motion and Epic, MetaHuman Creator dramatically lowers the barrier to entry so that indie and mid-sized teams — or even individuals — can now create a wide variety of characters quickly and without requiring sophisticated hardware or deep technical expertise to get to a good outcome.
MetaHumans come with a full facial and body rig, and are ready to animate in Unreal Engine, either keyframed or using a performance-capture solution like Epic’s Live Link Face iOS app or other solutions from ARKit, Audio2Face, DI4D, Digital Domain, Dynamixyz, Faceware, JALI, Speech Graphics and Cubic Motion. There are near-endless combinations of facial features, skin complexions, hair, eyes, makeup and teeth available to customize your character, and when it’s ready, you can download it directly into Unreal Engine or also get the source data in an Autodesk Maya file so that you can keep refining. MetaHuman Creator derives its data from real-world scans, so you can feel confident that your character’s movements are physically plausible in the real world.
MetaHuman Creator has been available in early access since April, and the feedback from the community has been great. Artists really appreciate that their characters are fully rigged, animatable and working in-engine right away, which is a huge time saver. Artists using Unreal already had free access to photorealistic environments and other assets, thanks to Quixel Megascans, and now they can easily bring their scenes to life with high-quality characters as well.
Looking ahead to our wide release in 2022, we’re listening to feedback and exploring where we can continue to add improvements. We’ve been asked for a wider range of hairstyles and hair colors, as well as more customization options for things like makeup and scars, so we’re working to deliver those. Another upcoming feature we’re excited to add is the ability to play with lighting presets. Right now MetaHuman Creator gives you a basic lighting setup, but to really try out different lighting contexts you have to bring the character in-engine. We’re working to add a range of different mood setups so that artists can experiment and make those creative decisions directly in MetaHuman Creator.
Looking to 2022, we are also excited to get Unreal Engine 5 released. Unreal Engine 5 brings powerful new features, like Lumen (realtime global illumination and reflections) and Nanite (virtualized geometry). In conjunction with MetaHuman Creator, this will help artists take their scenes and characters to the next level of detail and quality. We’re incredibly excited to see what the talented people and studios in our industry can achieve with these powerful new tools.
Paul Doyle is director of product – MetaHuman, at Epic Games (www.unrealengine.com/digital-humans).