Creating custom characters is a breeze with updated 3D tool

3D character creation software Fuse is ideal for freelancers or small studios that need to add some movement to a scene, says Steve Jarratt.

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Mixamo's new 3D character creation service Fuse is fronted with an app that lets you build characters, apply materials and then link to the Mixamo website where you can upload the model for rigging. You just select the items you want - torso, limbs, hair, clothing - and Fuse melds them into a single polygon mesh with flowing topology, ready for animation.

There are basic controls for scaling body parts, and tweaking materials, but you're restricted to generic male and female forms unless you sign up for Mixamo's All Access, which offers a larger preset library. However, there's currently no option to alter facial expressions, add props, set poly counts and so on.

You don't necessarily need to use the Fuse app, though. You can either buy a stock character, or - if you have a bipedal mesh under 30MB in .fbx format - you can upload one and have it rigged for you. You then either apply one of Mixamo's mocap files or download one in a T-pose, ready to animate in your app of choice. There are scripts to add IK control rigs for Maya and 3ds Max.

It's free to upload and apply animations; you only pay for the download, so you can at least test your mesh to make sure it animates well. We made a character in the free app MakeHuman, and it rigged and animated fine. So if you do think $79 is expensive, consider how long it would take to build the skeleton, paint weight maps, apply a mocap file, do clean up and so on.

The auto-rigging seems pretty good quality. We had one minor issue with a female character where the fingers were distorted, but we simply reset the bind pose and all was well. The characters are mainly game-level quality, but they are nicely done and the mocap is clean and smooth with good foot to floor contact.

Free versus paid?

The free version of Fuse is very limited, but it's just there to promote the service and tempt you to upgrade to All Access. At $1,499 a year it feels pricey, but it offers access to Mixamo's substantial library of models, motions and textures, and lets you auto-rig as many characters as you like.

We bought one character, auto-rigged it and added a mocap file, and it cost $96. So if you'll make regular use of these services, it's easy to see how $1,499 could be a bargain.

Mixamo's substantial library lets you auto-rig as many characters as you like

Whether Mixamo's service will appeal to game devs depends on the kind of game they're working on and the assets they need. However, it's ideal for freelancers or small studios that need to add some movement to a scene, generate pre-viz animatics or populate architectural projects.

Words: Steve Jarratt

Steve Jarratt has been into CG for many years. He's a regular contributor to 3D World and edited the magazine for a period of two years. This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 181 - on sale now!