The world has entered a digital age and immersive technologies are becoming the standard. More and more virtual worlds are being created and they continue to impress us with their quality and visuals. Having all these virtual spaces means we need good graphics and 3D models for them, including character models called avatars.
3D character design has always been challenging. This has recently changed, but building avatars is still a fascinating and rewarding task. What was so challenging about it and how has the process improved? You’ll learn about it by reading this article and interview with Łukasz Grobelny, our Art Lead.
When you may need to create a 3D avatar
What makes a 3D avatar great? Photorealism, movement, excellent optimization? That depends on where and how we want to use it. So what do we use avatars for anyway? They are needed in most software projects and animations. Video games are a field that extensively utilizes 3D character design too. After all, we need a visual representation of both the players and NPCs.
Any metaverse project, whether a social platform, business tool or elaborate game, will require creating 3D avatars as well. Some of the less apparent applications include e-commerce solutions like chatbots.
The avatars our team creates are mostly human models for virtual reality training solutions. For example, we’ve completed a number of medical VR training projects. 3D character design can be a small standalone project but oftentimes is part of something bigger. All in all, most software projects require avatars, similar to the ones below.
3D character design – the process
Until recently, we had to model the whole avatar by hand in a tool called zBrush. It was a gratifying and exciting task, but it was time-consuming. Creating a realistic avatar with clothes could’ve taken up to 3 weeks which meant high costs for the client.
Nowadays, we use Character Creator – a tool for creating 3D human models. It produces a base avatar and lets us personalize it. But it’s far from something you know from The Sims or other games that allow for character customization. Instead, Character Creator is a professional tool with advanced options.
Avatars created this way are automatically rigged, making it easy to animate them. As a result, it usually takes less than 3 days to create a complete 3D avatar with the apparel. We sometimes buy the clothes from different artists but, if needed, we’re able to make them from scratch in Marvelous Designer.
Once we have the avatar ready, we can use it in Unity or any other popular environment (although we use the Unity engine almost exclusively). Then, we optimize it for the specified hardware and transfer it to a tool called iClone – a powerful tool for professional character animation. An animated 3D avatar may look like the one below.
What do I need to prepare when ordering an avatar?
First of all, we need to identify who the target audience is. Based on this, we can determine the race and profile of the avatars. After all, it’s easier to identify ourselves with people who look similar to us.
Next, we specify the characteristics of the 3D character model. This can be done in many ways. For example, we can provide our clients with a template spreadsheet in which they can determine the exact details of different body parts of their avatar.
Finally, we agree on the character’s style of clothes and accessories. It’s good to keep in mind that the more complex these are (for example, winter clothes), the more time and funds are needed to create them.
3D character design from the perspective of an Art Lead
Now that we’ve covered some basic knowledge about the process, let’s listen to Łukasz Grobelny. With more than 10 years of experience in graphic design, Łukasz holds the position of Art Lead at 4Experience. You can view his work in his profile on ArtStation.
Łukasz, you’re an experienced 3D graphic designer and have become Art Lead at 4Experience. What does that mean? What tasks do you perform daily?
First of all, I keep track of ongoing projects and work with all of the Art Team to ensure top quality and flawless execution. My job includes verifying our work, giving feedback and helping solve any issues that may occur. I also introduce our team members to new projects and new team members to our projects.
Moreover, I keep in touch with clients. When I first meet them, we try to establish the scope of the graphic work and reconcile the client’s budget with their expectations. Next, an Art Document is prepared. Finally, we consult with the client, discuss technical details and wait for their approval. Lately, I’ve also been working on our internal knowledge base. I’ve written detailed documentation about realistic 3D character design.
So how long does 3D character design take today?
If we’re talking about one realistic avatar ready for devices like the HTC Vive, with clothes and simple animations, we need around 5 business days. This estimation includes receiving feedback from the client and making adjustments, which usually takes around 25% of the time.
What are the limitations? Is there something you cannot create?
There are virtually no technical limitations in 3D character design at this point. The only thing that limits us is the client’s budget. There are some challenges, though. For example, the preset models in Character Creator used to be only Caucasian. So it’s still quite challenging to create a realistic Asian, for example. Of course, you could just scan an actor and make him a 3D model, but that’s a costly method.
I remember a project that included developing human avatars for a client in Asia. We had to create them in Character Creator, turning a caucasian character into an Asian person. The internet pretty much told us that’s unfeasible. But we managed.
What was the key to your success?
Persistency, extensive research and good communication were what helped us. First, we gathered the necessary information. We spent a lot of time researching and analyzing the differences between Caucasian and Asian anatomical details and used what we’ve learned to design ultrarealistic human models.
Then we presented the effect to the client and received feedback. We made improvements following the client’s comments and repeated this process multiple times until the result was entirely satisfactory. Below you can see one of the Asian avatars I have created recently.
Congratulations! My last question. What makes the graphic team at 4Experience the best option for someone looking to create a 3D human avatar?
We have developed a complete methodology for creating avatars. Having tested multiple solutions, we know which ones work best and are most optimal. This means we can maximize the effects while minimizing the budget.
We’re also versatile. Our team is capable of creating ultra-realistic avatars for high-end hardware and well-optimized low poly models. In addition, we have experience with almost all types of hardware, from the Meta Quest to the HTC Vive.
Furthermore, we offer quick realization times. We utilize programs and tools used in creating AAA games. Thanks to them, we create great-looking characters within 2-5 days instead of 2-3 weeks using the old methods (which some companies still use).
Thank you, it was great talking to you!
If you’d like to read more valuable technical insights, Łukasz has also written an article about static scene optimization for the Meta Quest. Be sure to check it out!
View our offer and order your 3D avatar today
Our extensive knowledge and experience, combined with the professional tools we use, make us an excellent choice when you need 3D character design. So whether you need a set of universal avatars or are thinking of developing a larger project with stunning visuals, we’ll help you achieve success.
Find out what else we have to offer, read about the technology we use and meet other members of our Art Team. Get to know more about our 3D modeling services and schedule a free consultation with one of our experts today!