We explain how a silly summer idea evolved into a social media challenge and then into cool avatars that thousands of people are using in VR right now
Creating content on a daily basis and keeping the steady work for a long period of time is both daunting and exciting. On this case study I'll explain how a silly summer idea evolved into a social media challenge and then into cool avatars that thousands of people are using in VR right now.
Having the avatars being featured by VRChat. Unity's social media account reposting our content during the challenge.Increase of the followers both on Instagram and Twitter.
It all started back in September of 2018. I wanted to start investing time into develop new game art styles using Unity, I was not sure how to start but then I found about the 100 days drawing challenge by Amanda Oleander on her Instagram. Her challenge and commitment inspired me so much that I did my own version of it by doing 100 characters, 1 character a day for 100 consecutive days.
The condition for me was to make an Instagram and Twitter post with a moving character every day, so I had to create a steady workflow that could work for all the days of the challenge.
The challenge process
To succeed on a challenge like this you should try to define a process, and try to follow through it everyday, this will help you focus and will slowly reduce the time you have to dedicate to the challenge overtime, since your brain will be learning and adapting to the tasks. If you don't know how to set up a process, is okay, most of the times processes are the result of repetition, so just start, do it once, and then write down the steps you made to get to the final result, then the next day try to repeat them. Over time, the process takes shape, evolves and improves. During the 100 days a lot of people asked us how we managed to make 1 per day so we'll be taking a general overview of the character creation process. Most of the characters follow this scheme.
With the help if ZBrush and using Dynamesh we're able to quickly generate a "Shape Sketch" of our model without worrying too much about the final polycount. The result of this doodling will serve as a good base to generate the final topology on top of it.
I personally like using ZbrushRetopo with Zpheres, but you can use Maya, Blender, Topogun, or any other 3D software for doing retopo. If the shape is easy , let's say a Square or a Circle, I just export it as a reference and I would make it in MayaLT.
Fixing retopology with MayaLT
I found over time that doing retopo with Zpheres can generate issues, so instead of trying to fix those with Zbrush, I just keep the mistake and fix it later on with a 3D modelling tool such as MayaLT. Most of the work at this point is trying to reduce and remove triangles, and fixing animation loops. Even if you did the retopo on another software, I recommend to rotate the model around and try to find any issues on the model before starting the UVs.
UVs and Textures
To generate the UVs of a character, I like to make a planar projection of the model, then start making UV cuts on the most ideal zones. Here you can see all cuts we made for the characters, almost every model follows somehow this pattern. Once you have all the cuts done, you have to unfold the UVs. To create the texture, we like to use Adobe Color in the studio. Easily help us find color schemes that work for out characters.
Rigging and Animation
In order to save time we used Mixamo both for rigging and animation.
Mixamo is an online free tool that allows you to automatically generate humanoid riggings and it also provides you with a gallery of pre-fix animations that you can use on your project.
This tool is being used a lot when it comes to quick prototyping, so it was a no-brainer to use it for a challenge like this one.
Unity scene set up
Finally we got to the point where I wanted invest more time at Unity. The hole point of this madness was to force myself to use Unity as a quick tool to develop new visual concepts and ideas for future projects. Not gonna dig into every detail of what I did with Unity, but there are a couple of tools that helped me to save time and get great results during the 100 days.
Toony Colors Pro 2 by JMO
I just love using it, making a cool looking material with this shader is extremely easy. What I usually tweak with materials are colors and shadows and I also like to play a bit with outlines.
Post Processing Stack by Unity Technologies
This asset allows you to quickly add different post processing effects to your game scene.You can find a link to this asset here. Trying materials and shaders with our alien.
Once you have a cool looking scene is time to add music. Sometimes when looking for music I found myself changing the animations to fit with the sound. You can find tons of royalties free music online.
Once you have a music, we used Camtasia to record the Unity scene and edit the final video. Now that everything is done, is time to post it on Instagram and Twitter.Hot Dog avatar for vrchat dancing.
BONUS: extra tips to iterate faster on a challenge like this one.
There were some days that I used time tricks to cut time on different parts of the process so I could invest more time on others. Keeping body parts, cloning and reusing them on different models, reduces a lot the iteration time. On other type of models like the food and tools ones I duplicated the face, legs and arms so I had just to model the body part.
Uploading them to VRChat as avatars
Halfway through the challenge we came up with the idea of giving a second life to all the characters by transforming them into avatars for the Metaverse. They were all already rigged with Mixamo so we knew by experience that they could be used, at least in VRChat.Months later I decided to give it a go to the avatar idea with the help of 2 interns in the studio.
Initially we just wanted to give them simple rig and upload them into VRChat, but after a few days into the work, we got reach out by the VRChat team, they loved the variety of our characters, and they suggested us to give them some extra love, by adding visemes and optimising them for the new Oculus Quest release, this way they could be used by even more players. So we improved them and created a VRChat World to gather them. I must admit that Investing some more time into adding visemes made the characters way more interesting and fun to use!
There is a lot of documentation already about how to upload avatars into VRChat, so we wont be covering any of it on this post, but, we'll be releasing another blogpost with some tips for optimising avatars for Quest using MayaLT later on.
Next Steps for this project
As you can see in our roadmap for now our most closest goal is to keep uploading all the characters into VRChat with visemes, we're really close to have them all up and ready to use. At the same time we'll be improving the world too. After this our next milestone is to tokenize this avatars using the blockchain, our final goal is to release all model files for free to download on our site, as "Open source avatars" so anyone can use our avatars in any virtual world platform or project they're developing. During the time I was writing this post, the guys at LIV reached out to us to use the avatars for their platform, so you'll be able to use them for streaming Beat Saber soon. If you have a VR platform or a project you might wanna use our characters at, feel free to reach out so you can have a test before we make the open source release.
What started to be just a fun challenge to explore ideas, has become a larger project that is gaining interest in the VR community. Having 100 characters inside a hard drive felt like I wasted a lot of time just for a few Instagram awareness, but repurposing them for VR has been one of the most interesting things we've ever done in the studio. Walking around VRChat and seeing people having fun with your work, is just amazing.
If you want to see the characters during the challenge, you can check our Instagram and Twitter accounts.
founder and creative director at Polygonal Mind
In love with videogames since I can remember, passionate about geometry, VR addict and energetic persona.