5 Top Tips to Realistically Animating MetaHumans

Reallusion MetaHuman contest
(Image credit: Reallusion)

Having received more than 450 entries from around the globe, Reallusion is happy to announce the final winners of the 2021 iClone Lip Sync Animation Contest from a line-up of very compelling artworks. 

Using 3D tools to represent real-world visuals is difficult, especially when it comes to human facial expressions, subtle behaviours and expressive emotions. There were incredibly diverse MetaHuman performances from the submitted entries. These not only demonstrated the efficient use of iClone animation tools, but also proves that creating realistic humans in 3D does not require one to sacrifice originality. 

Here are five lessons learned from the contest winners, underlining the tools used and their insights into animating MetaHumans.  

 iClone Live Link - MetaHuman Animation Magic 

Lesson 01: Achieving outstanding facial and body animations in iClone 

Complex human emotions such as affection, nostalgia and indignation, are features that Metahumans must possess in order to give convincing performances. And in order to express those emotions in a life-like manner, artists need to have a keen eye for details. 

For example, understanding the interconnected musculature between the eyes and brows, the frequency of blinks accompanying a variety of motions, like dancing and talking, and even the digital actor’s relation with the environment and other props in the scene. Most contest winners have integrated many different tools to overcome these challenges to deliver the most convincing performances. 

Petra Puljiz (HR): Best Character Animation, 3rd place 

In Puljiz’s winning entry above, you can clearly see how he skilfully combines several critical animation techniques to complete a well balanced piece of animation. He was able to deploy the best practices of the iClone to MetaHuman animation pipeline – a must watch as below.

Here are some key takeaways from Puljiz’s workflow: 

  • After refining the Rokoko mo-cap data, Puljiz used iClone’s Motion Layer Editor to create several natural body movements giving emphasis to the character’s talking animation, including hand contact on the table, grabbing and releasing the cup prop.
  • Like the other contestants, he used AccuLips to drive the main lip-sync animation, and observed the Unreal render in real-time via the iClone to Unreal Live Link.
  • Instead of using facial mo-cap, Puljiz cleverly chose to blend subtle emotional expressions using iClone’s Face Puppet, and made final detailed tweaks via MetaHuman’s facial controller.
  • He relied on Marvelous Designer to create the character’s unique dress, and give it a dynamic animation within an environment built up in Blender.

Jae Solina (US): Special Award – Best MetaHuman 

Apart from wearing a Rokoko Smartsuit for motion capture, Jae Solina’s choice of using Perception Neuron is a prime example of the high degree of interoperability within the iClone pipeline.

Robert Suckrow (DE): Special Award – Replica

By combining both Replica and AccuLips, artist Robert Suckrow was able to make his character deliver a very convincing comedic monologue, combined with exquisite eye movement. 

“I used Replica Studio to import the voice," Suckrow says. "Then I used AccuLip sync to improve everything a bit, in collaboration with Replica Studio – it is simply fantastic.”

Lesson 02: Taking advantage of useful software synergies

Quite a few of the contest entries attempted to blend the MetaHuman system with Character Creator into one holistic scene. Some entrants chose to apply both tools to one character, like Farayi Chinyanga, who used Character Creator to create an African warrior’s armor. 

While others have created two different characters to interact with one another, like in “Beauty and the Beast”, by Lim Phong Hian, who skilfully captured the essence of a tearful scene between the MetaHuman Beauty, and the Beast made with CC3. 

Farayi Chinyanga (ZA): Special Award: Best MetaHuman

“iClone facial animation is a life-saver," says Chinyanga, founder of Formation Animation. "iClone’s Live Link compatibility with Unreal Engine makes that part of the production pipeline seamless."

Lim Phong Hian (MA): Special Award – Movie Remake 

“AccuLips provides me with a highly efficient way to make my character talk," says Lim, founder of Betapuru Digital. "I learned so much from using the various software from Reallusion. This is not the end but a new beginning for me.”

Lesson 03: Fast talking with style

Rapid talking animations can be the bane of accurate lip-syncing. However, some participants went beyond mimicking the audible language, and worked to capture  inaudible body language as well. 

In this regard, CENIT Studio was able to reproduce the monologue performed by Woody Allen in Annie Hall, and layer upon it details that the original act did not have. Warren Gokul’s bold move to replicate the fast, but subtle rap of Scatman John, was also very impressive. 

CENIT Studio (MX): Special Award – Movie Remake 

Compared to the long shot in the 1977 movie Annie Hall, CENIT Studio was able to change the camera angles to sustain the audience’s interest. Woody Allen’s character delivered jokes about his relationships with women over a symbolic background, which is a metaphor of loneliness and unease experienced by the character, exemplified by what was and was not spoken. 

Warren Gokul (ZA): Special Award – Best MetaHuman 

“Accu-lips is amazing," says Warren Gokul of Appifiny Games. "I managed to produce an almost perfect animation in less than a day – it is truly unbelievable!” 

Lesson 04: Imbuing personality and attitude

People express themselves by wearing different styles of clothing, adorning certain jewellery, and even undergoing body modifications – and MetaHumans can do the same. In a small amount of time, artists can add these accessories to help personalise their characters and, in the process, garner attention. 

StyleMarshal (DE): Special Award – Best MetaHuman 

StyleMarshal’s Ex-Sicario (above) is a great example imbuing a MetaHuman with a lively personality and carefully selected clothing and accessories. The physics simulations of the fluffy hood and the Parka coat makes his dance more dynamic and interesting. His Eskimo suit is a dead give away of the cold, harsh environment in which he's in, and his tattoos, nose ring and earring are telling accoutrements of his quirky personality. When combined, these elements present a very compelling character, which makes the piece really stand out. 

Giuseppe Vecchio (IT): Special Award – Best Student Artwork 

Another good example is Guiseppe’s “War Cry” (above), in which a primitive warrior is chanting and preparing to fight with an enemy. The tension is thick between the clean face intruders and the tribal hero, adorned in war paint, as they face off. This piece has the dramatic impact to draw the viewers in to watch further as the telling of the hero’s past unfolds. 

Piero Varda (PE): Special Award – Honorable Mention 

Last but not least, “I Like to Move It” (above) makes a noteworthy appearance with eye-catching clothing and dance performance that is sure to arouse interest from the audience. 

Lesson 05: Tribute to the classics with a twist

There seems to be a trend paying tribute to pop culture classics with a surprising twist right now. Whether it’s a contemporary representation of the legendary sci-fi film “The Matrix”, or the satirical juxtaposition of an old lady lip-syncing to Britney’s “Oops!... I Did it Again” with impossibly nimble dance choreography, iClone animation tools makes it possible to communicate any artistic vision in a timely manner, while pushing boundaries beyond technical limitations. 

Bijay Balia Hembram (IN): Special Award – Best Digital Double

“iClone is really a very powerful software and is a boon for indie artists," says Bijay Balia Hembram. "The features in this software are amazing and it actually helped me by doing most of the heavy-lifting and allowing me more time to try many ideas in a short period of time.” 

Cesar Turturro (AR): Special Award – Best MetaHuman

“I never imagined finishing this type of work with this level of detail and quality, just in a matter of days!" says film director Cesar Turturro. "I tried to show how an older person looks when she is dancing and singing with a smile on her face. There is no age (limit) to do that. So yes, do it again!”

If you haven’t had the chance to use iClone before, we highly recommend you to try it now. A 30-day trial of iClone includes Unreal Live Link and MetaHuman Live Link Kit, which means you can animate MetaHumans in real-time for free in the Unreal Engine.

Also, with the aim of empowering the global 3D community, Reallusion encourages all freelance developers and indie artists to apply for the Indie License Program, which grants free access to the premium Unreal Live Link plug-in to produce like a professional studio. Check if you're eligible on the program page, or hone your craft today with free upgrade offers for iClone 8.

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