Last week, Unity Technologies released "The Heretic: Digital Human" as a free package on the Asset Store. This package contains the character created for The Heretic, an animated short film released on January, and we are about to take a look at it.
The package includes, among other things, a facial rig from Snappers (more about that later), facial posing, a skin attachment system, a real-time posing rig, shaders. The package also includes the digital human (that cannot be used for commercial purposes, but only learning purposes). To run the package, you need Unity 2019.3.12f1 and up, and HDRP 7.3.1 and up.
I am just going to say it right away. The package looks amazing. The level of detail the character offers, and the realism of the materials (fabric and skin) is excellent. Obviously, the only thing missing is some hair (on a side note, Unity really needs a good hair solution that doesn't rely on polygon planes + transparency maps). This level of detail is not surprising, though. The model alone has over 200K triangles, meaning that the details are a combination of geometry plus normal maps.
When you enter Play Mode, you see there are a lot of options available. For example, you can switch cameras, and also switch animation modes. As I said before, one of the things included in the package is a real-time posing rig, and that can be used to pose the character when you select the Pose mode.
One of the things I found more interesting is the facial rig. You can pose the face using a few different markers and, what's interesting, is that it only has 37 markers, and they work on a certain way that make it easy to pose the face. The facial rig technology is provided by a company called Snappers, that specializes on character modeling and facial rigging and animation for cinema or video games.
The face skin material is created using Shader Graph, and you can just open it to see how it works. For example, you can see that the Snapper technology is even implemented on the shader, as a way to add maps that handle different kinds of details. While a lot of the shader is connected to the Snappers rig, other parts show you how to simulate other parts of the realistic human, like skin highlights and SSS, how to combine lacrimal areas, etc.
Now the big question is, who is this aimed for? Being honest, I have to say this is definitely not aimed at indies. This is more of an interactive demo, so it's not like average indies can download the package and learn how to make their own photorealistic digital humans with marker-based facial rigs. For the last few years, Unity has been trying to become a real contender in the high-end game development engines. This was evident when they began working on photorealistic graphics and HDRP, and even more evident now. If you see The Heretic demo, you see there isn't really any difference between that and photorealistic graphics created in engines like UE4 or CryEngine, and, as you know, high-end graphics is the domain of AA and AAA developers.
However, I do believe indies can learn one or two tricks from this package. For example, how high-end shaders work, how to drive blend-shapes using code, and how to add more detail to their characters with geometry and normal maps. The package also includes a couple of nice things related to audio, something often forgotten in game development.
The Heretic Digital Human package: https://blogs.unity3d.com/2020/05/13/the-heretic-digital-human-package-out-now/