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Create 2D Animated Characters with 3D Character Creator Tools and Artistic Filters

3D TET Character based on my Oppa Doll Avatar used as the base for a 2D character.
3D CC3 TET Character, based on my
Oppa Doll Avatar, used as the base
for a 2D CA4 character.

One of my favorite things to do is to create characters with any type of Avatar/Character creator app. In fact the first test I usually try with these tools is, can I make an avatar of me (or at least my The Extraordinary Tourist persona).

Previously I've used 2D character creators like Oppa Doll as a source of artwork for some characters I've made for Reallusion's Cartoon Animator 4 animation studio but 2D character creators are limited to... well 2D.

3D Character Creators

While you may think 3D character creators have no place in creating characters for 2D animation there are quite a number of advantages including:

  • No drawing skills required.
  • Render characters in any style. Use an art filter or even hand trace into line art.
  • Need to animate the character in a specific pose or angle? Render out an image of the character in the required angle and animate it in 2D.
  • Quicker to create different versions of the same character (change of outfit, hairstyle etc.).
I could probably go on but what you really want is a demonstration of creating 2D characters from 3D character creator tools in action.

The One Sprite Method & Character Creator 3

The Fastest Way to Rig a Character in Cartoon Animator 4 - The One Sprite Method
The Fastest Way to Rig a Character
in Cartoon Animator 4 - The
One Sprite Method

You can create full 2D character rigs based upon 3D characters but for the purpose of this article I'm going to stick to my One Sprite Method of rigging 2D characters in Reallusion's Cartoon Animator 4. If you're not familiar with this method, it's where I rig a single angle of a character using only one full character sprite image.

My 3D character creator tool of choice is Reallusion's Character Creator 3. It's one of the best creators available, that is easy to get started with, but becomes incredibly powerful the more you discover the things it can do. While it's not an expensive app (and you can trial it for 30 days free), I will give you some free 3D character creator alternatives at the end of this post.

Create the Character

It's beyond the scope of this article to go into detail of using Character Creator 3 suffice to say it's so powerful you can create virtually any kind and style of humanoid character.

I use it to create 'Toon' style characters which are well suited to being used in 2D animation. For the one sprite method you need to export a high quality, front facing image of your character standing in an 'A' pose, preferably with the palms of each hand facing forward so you can see each finger (the fingers should be separated).

If you're creating a different view of your character for a specific scene (say you need a back view of the character) then you'll export an image in the required angle.

Completed TET Oppa Doll Model ready to be exported as a PNG image.
Completed TET Oppa Doll Model ready to be exported as a PNG image.

As you can see in the above image I've created a 3D approximation of my Oppa Doll Avatar, which I've posed in an 'A' pose, ready to be exported as a 2D PNG image. You'll notice I've kept the background one solid color and reduced all the lighting on the character so I get fairly even color throughout the model. Removing dramatic shadows is optional. I removed them because I wanted a flat, line art, cartoon style in my final character.

Remove Background and Apply Art Filters (optional)

If you want your character to look less like a 3D model and something that looks a little more 'hand drawn' you may want to open your character image in a 2D illustration app like Krita, a free, Photoshop like, drawing tool. You'll at least need to do this to remove the background from your PNG image (I couldn't find any way in CC3 to export with a transparent background).

Once I removed the background from my character image I opened up the G'MIC-Qt filter window and applied the default settings for the Graphic Boost filter, followed by the Comic Book filter (Note: if you don't see these in your G'MIC filter list you may need to update your filters via G'MIC's settings - new filters are being added all the time).

In this screen shot from Krita you can see the Graphic Boost filter has been applied to the main image and I'm about to apply the Comic Book filter in the G'MIC window.
In this screen shot from Krita you can see the Graphic Boost filter has been applied to the
main image and I'm about to apply the Comic Book filter in the G'MIC window.

That was the full extent of my additional processing. From here I simply saved the image as a transparent PNG ready for rigging as a single sprite in CA4.

Rig the Character

If you want a detailed explanation of how to rig your character using the one sprite method, my tutorial is available to buy. Essentially it involves attaching all the character bones to the one image (attached to the hip bone), adding a morph-based head, thus creating a primitive rig that may be good enough for your needs. (I do show you how you can improve this rig in my two additional tutorials).

The finished One Sprite Character Rig with Morph-based
head and Bone hands.

To get this character rig I swapped out
my body sprite and reconfigured the
bones for the new position.
If your character is intended for a very specific scene you may want to use a freebone character rig as this will save you rigging body parts that aren't going to be animated.  Alternatively you could just swap the body sprite out of your existing character rig and reconfigure the bones as I've done in the image on the right (Saved a lot of time not having to redo any work on the morph-based head).

Summing Up

Hopefully you can see the potential of using a 3D character creator tool alongside 2D animation software like Cartoon Animator 4.

So much time spent drawing can be saved while still retaining a very 2D style. The look really does come down to the filters you apply to the final character models. (Plus, if you ever want to do 3D animation you'll already have the character models).

Other Character Creators

As mentioned Reallusion's Character Creator 3 is, possibly, the most versatile and easy to use 3D character creator out there. It doesn't require iClone7 (Reallusion's 3D animation studio) and characters can be exported to other platforms for further editing or other projects. It's also becoming a popular tool for 3D game designers. The base application is relatively low cost but (if you're like me) you may find yourself buying content packs to expand its capabilities.

However, if you just want to try using 3D characters as a basis for your 2D animated characters there are some free options to get you started.

VRoid Studio 3D Anime Avatar Creator.
VRoid Studio 3D Anime Avatar Creator.

VRoid Studio - Completely free, VRoid specializes in Anime Style Characters. At first it seems very limited (not helped if you can't read Japanese characters - I can't) but once you familiarize yourself you'll discover an extremely powerful tool for Mac or Windows. Also worth checking out the mobile VRoid app.

Make Human - Also completely free for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Designed for making realistic human like characters but still an excellent tool if you want to go for a more mature demographic with your art style.

Daz3D Studio - This is an entire 3D animation studio for Windows and Mac, not unlike Reallusion's iClone 7 but completely free. It includes a very versatile character creator as part of the studio itself. It's also a good entry point into 3D animation using premade characters and scenes rather than building everything yourself in a tool like Blender. Like iClone7 and Character Creator 3, while there's a lot of free content, you could eventually get addicted to buying additional packages.

There are definitely other 3D character creators out there, like Muvizu if you like their style of character, or you could even sculpt character models from scratch in Blender. This technique is also not limited to Cartoon Animator either. You could equally use it with MOHO, Harmony, Synfig, and any other kind of animation studio app that utilizes character rigs.

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