MetaHuman Creator — First Impressions
–Alec Kunkel, creative technologist, McKinney Brand Experience
Alec Kunkel, a creative technologist on our Brand Experience team, shares his thoughts on Epic Games’ MetaHuman Creator, a cloud-streamed app that allows users to create real-time digital humans in less than an hour.
For those of you who haven’t heard, MetaHuman Creator is the latest and greatest innovation from Epic Games. The promise: Create real time photorealistic avatars in a matter of minutes. And, like most, when I saw the first demo footage, I was in awe.
I’ve played around with other character creation tools in the past — Adobe Fuse, Character Creator, and Human Generator. These tools are great, but the MetaHuman demo made them look like child’s play.
Being able to have a high-def 3D character completely rigged in minutes would be a game-changer! So when the first official beta dropped for MetaHumans, I had to apply.
Does MetaHumans live up to the hype? Is it all bloat or is this really a step closer to the metaverse? Here’s what I’ve learned after playing around with it for a few days.
Simple to Pick Up
Yup, the MetaHuman character creator is surprisingly easy and intuitive. First off, it’s all cloud-based. Meaning, you can make these characters right in your browser. No high-end computer necessary. You can catch me outside on my college Chromebook ushering in the next evolution of virtual humans.
When you open up the site, it only takes a few minutes to get your bearings. MetaHumans lets you blend, move, and sculpt characters with predefined parameters. Each tool is easy to understand and actually use. Unfortunately, the simplicity that makes it easy to dive in becomes a frustrating constraint on truly unique creations.
The options are designed to work well in a tightly controlled sandbox where all the face structures are guaranteed to look good. This means the silhouette of the face will always live in a pretty consistent box. This restriction becomes most apparent when trying to re-create recognizable people with distinct face shapes — so don’t expect to make a Brad Pitt look-alike.
Here’s the thing, though: It’s in beta, and I get that! I’m not going to hold this against them. As the tool evolves, I’m sure we’ll get more options.
Now, if you do want to actually use these characters in your work, know that you’re limited to use within Unreal Engine and Maya, only.
Honestly, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It really feels Epic has fine-tuned the workflow. Your model from MetaHuman Creator is instantly available in Bridge and can easily be exported to UE4.
Breathing Life into Your MetaHuman
The other exciting feature of MetaHumans is that the characters come fully rigged. Not only does the face come pre-rigged and ready for animation, but the body maps neatly onto the standard Unreal skeleton and is ready to pair with existing animations or fresh mo-cap data.
It only takes three clicks to get your first face mocap up and running. It really is something else to see your creation come to life so quickly. I couldn’t help but smile watching my MetaHuman mirror my movements.
Basic head tilt, eye movement, and mouth shapes seem to map easily. However, nuances of speech quickly show the need for more advanced fine-tuning. Specifically, small lip and palate movements can be lost or mispositioned. For example…
What’s the Verdict?
Are MetaHumans going to replace human actors? Not yet.
There is a distinct and consistent “feel” to your MetaHumans. Between the challenges of performance capture and the “sameness” that comes from the beta limitations, it’s not about to replace traditional actors.
However, looking at this as only a human-replacer would be missing its potential as a creative tool. There are a million use cases for MetaHumans. From pre-vis to game dev, there are plenty of reasons to get excited about MetaHuman Creator and try it out.