Epic’s Unreal Engine is making it easier for game developers to create and customise realistic human-like characters with its new MetaHuman Creator, which gives devs the ability to fine-tune facial features, skin complexion, and work from preset body types, hair, clothing, and even teeth. Watching it in action, I can’t help find it a souped-up version of the The Sims 4 character creator. Some of my colleagues find it incredibly creepy, but I personally love it.
In a sneak peak video, you’ll see what I mean. Like The Sims 4, users can customise precise points on the face, enhance cheek bones or lips, or change the overall size and shape of the nose. You can raise and lower eyebrows and adjust ear height and jaw shape, and even add make-up and lengthen the eyelashes on your character. There’s a slider to change the depth and size of facial wrinkles. MetaHuman Creator has so many similarities to The Sims 4 character creator and other in-game character customisation creators, and it also looks so easy to use.
Perhaps the coolest feature of this new tool is that it’s a cloud-based app, so you can create lifelike virtual humans directly in your browser — no stand-alone software required. That’s great news for anyone who doesn’t have a super fast computer. From there your human creation can be exported and downloaded directly into the Unreal Engine desktop app and come to life. The creations are fully rigged and ready for animation, and will work with motion capture in games, movies, and other visual formats. I’m no developer, but that seems like it would save a lot of time creating characters.
Unreal Engine has two fully-rigged character samples available if you’re curious about trying the MetaHuman Creator out for yourself. The full program is not available yet, but Unreal Engine says it’s coming sometime this year.
It may seem a little creepy seeing virtual characters that look, well, so much like humans. But the tech is so neat. Recent advancements in AI and deep learning have made it possible to make game characters more life-like, including animating full body movement and a character’s lips to move perfectly with what they are saying. That combined with a graphics breakthrough a few years ago that gave developers the ability to make CGI skin (pores and all), and you’ve got something just short of a deep fake.
The texture of a virtual character’s skin is still very different than a real person’s, and that difference is obvious. But watching Unreal’s demo videos, I still can’t help but feel like I’m watching something very close to human.