It was not my intention to do another article so soon involving InstaLOD but last week's article on using it to reduce a helicopter so it could be used in groups and formations also lead to a request to make a low poly crowd. Because we are talking about characters here, I turned to Reallusion's Character Creator 3 to create the original higher poly meshes to be reduced inside CC3 with the InstaLOD tool and to see if I could squeeze even more polys by going into InstaLOD Studio XL next.
Why not just use one or the other?
Because I seemed to get a little better result by doing the first poly reduction in CC3 then using InstaLOD XL Studio instead of using just one or the other. It probably has a lot to do with my inexperience with Studio XL, but they make it so simple to just jump in and use that I haven't felt compelled to dig deeper, which is a mistake I need to correct. It's easy to fall into a pattern of mediocre usage of a tool because one didn't take the time to learn the tool sufficiently to boost their skills with the program.
In any case, either way worked well enough to create a low poly character (1K to 1.5K) that retained enough form to look good at distance and some moderate shots. I did not use the LOD features of the Remesher in CC3 as this would be a real-time crowd for use in iClone. While the meshes could have been reduced further than 1K their fidelity was too poor as they lost shape and started to blend the shapes of the head into the body and hands looked more like fins.
In Character Creator 3, I created the mesh, and while I wasn't exactly keeping a strict poly budget, I did try to keep the characters as low poly as possible in their original form. InstaLOD allows us to not have to work this way but old habits are hard to break, so I still catch myself thinking low poly all the way through the pipeline. For a distant crowd, this probably wasn't such a bad thing. iClone can handle the poly counts but it seems to be the number of characters that make it take a performance hit as the crowds grow.
Once created I saved the original character then went to the "Modify" tab and used some iClone black magic to turn it into a single texture map game character that reduced the poly count a bit more.
Then I hit the InstaLOD tab to grab the Remesher tool. The InstaLOD Remesher is a powerful addition to CC3 that can produce multiple levels of detail (LOD) if needed for game engines but as I stated earlier this is for real-time use so the crowds would have been low, medium and high poly depending on the distance from the camera. We are concentrating on the larger low poly crowd.
The Remesher pumped out a mesh usually in the 4K range give or take a little either way. This was basically my target count at this point in the pipeline.
I used the RE tab, set to reconstruct with a low face count to hit the 1k to 1.5K target. I then loaded the modified mesh into XL Studio where I used RE tab set to Reconstruct with a Low fuzzy face count. This brought the mesh down to the target count with little to no difference in visual appeal.
As to crowd maker software I turned to Anima 4 from AXYZ Design. It handles CC3 characters with ease and had no problem with the highly modified meshes the pipeline produced. Considering how many times this mesh had been reduced I was quite pleased with the outcome. This pipeline of CC3, InstaLOD, and Anima is quick and efficient with plenty of custom options allowing me to easily place a large area crowd of around 200 animated characters going about their business.
Of course... this is a pre-covid crowd... we might not need a crowd pipeline if things keep going like they are since empty scenes might be the new normal.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.