Epic’s free MetaHuman Creator is pretty amazing

Epic Games launched MetaHuman Creator this week. It’s a video game character creation tool, essentially, but it’s free, it’s not followed by a 140 hour RPG, it runs in your browser (actually in the ubiquitous “cloud” ), and it can export ready-made character models for Unreal Engine projects. To try it out, you need to register here, and it may take a while to receive your invite.

I’ll probably never use any of my “MetaHumans” for an Unreal Engine project (that’s all you’re allowed to use them for), because it seems difficult, but MetaHuman Creator itself is easy to use . And funny. Who doesn’t love a good character designer? You can sculpt features by clicking and dragging parts of the face, as well as blending features of included faces, which is so easy it seems obvious – I’m sure trigonometry under the hood is no big deal, is not it ?

There are also granular options for eyes (what do you think of scleral vasculature?) and teeth (plate slider confirmed), skin and makeup options, a handful of hairstyles to choose from, and a few styling options. facial hair.

MetaHuman Creator is not a full 3D modeling tool and does not literally interpret your inputs, such as moving the tip of the nose wherever you drag it. It transforms the features based on your input while keeping the face within certain face type parameters; there are constraints, and you can’t use it to create just any type of person. It does, however, include 60 face presets, which is more than enough to mix and sculpt unique characters. After tinkering around for less than an hour, I had created someone who really didn’t look like anyone else, but looked like a real person. It’s pretty wild.

And there is something even wilder to discover. MetaHumans Creator was built by a pair of studios owned by Epic, 3Lateral and Cubic Motion, the latter doing facial animation. The software includes three built-in animation sequences. Hit one, and your made-up human begins to realistically yawn and puff out his cheeks. The animations are nuanced enough that you can tell the character is only claim smile at some point – smile for a camera. But this character, or at least its facial structure, did not exist an hour ago.

Sometimes I have to pull myself out of a kind of technological numbness. 10 years ago, I never imagined that I would have free access to something like this. I was playing Skyrim and thought it looked really good.

Limited hairstyle options and minimal hair customization will reveal that a character was created with MetaHuman Creator, and I suspect that after a while you might notice recurring nose and ear shapes and textures of skin, etc. But 3D artists can export their MetaHuman characters and edit them in Autodesk Maya or other applications, make them as unique as they want, then animate them by hand or with their own performance capture, using something like FaceWare.

The only rule is that you can only publish characters you create with MetaHuman Creator to Unreal Engine projects, linking them to Epic’s Unreal license. This license is quite permissive for small projects: you can use the Unreal SDK for free, and if you publish a game created with it, you pay no royalties to Epic until you have made at least $1 million. of income. After that, the royalty is five percent.

To use this early access version of MetaHuman Creator, you must register on a registration page. There is no requirement to join, but it took me a day to get the email saying I could pitch in.

I’ve never used this kind of cloud-based software before, and I’m begrudgingly impressed. I use it through Chrome, and it reacts very instantly to my input. Sessions are limited to one hour at the moment, but you can start a new session right after startup, and it automatically saves your work. I had to briefly queue to get in once, but no more than a minute.

MetaHuman Creator could be seen as one aspect of Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney’s long-term vision for a gaming “metaverse,” a vision that just helped Epic secure an additional $1 billion in funding. dollars. This vision encompasses many different ideas, including things like cross-play, but part of the plan is to produce technology that enables more people to do more things, by growing the “maker economy”, in the technology industry. (We used to call it “indie game development.”) Valve and Unity have also been instrumental in making powerful development tools more accessible.

I’m sure I can hardly imagine what small development teams will be able to produce in the future using the powerful technology of large companies like this. At the same time, it seems inevitable that a low-fi, hand-coded, model-driven game development scene will continue to exist and perhaps grow as a counter-movement.