This is the third episode of a series that will last for 12 weeks where I will learn Nightmare Puppeteer and attempt to create short animated scenes. Along the way, I’ll share with you my discoveries, my mistakes, and my successes using this remarkable game engine.
“Nightmare Puppeteer takes the approach of puppetry where you do something with your hands, but instead of using your hands you are pressing keys on your keyboard….it’s an animation engine”
-M dot Strange
NP is a Game
It’s important to point out that Nightmare Puppeteer is a game and not a 3D application. The gameplay is focused on creating characters, animations and scenes within the game. And as M dot Strange points out “it’s an animation engine”. Also, the game is built upon the Unity Engine which means it has qualities that only a game made in Unity has (unique shaders and effects, for example).
Creating a Custom Actor
Character creation in Nightmare Puppeteer is very easy. Not only does the game provide you with a random character at the click of a button, but you can combine bodies and heads to create your own custom actor. And in a coming update to Nightmare Puppeteer, you’ll be able to import actor models from MakeHuman, Daz Studio, and Unity with one click.
Let’s get started.
At the main menu, click the puppet figure on the left. This takes you to the actor creation room. Note you can create an “A” actor or a “B” actor (the one on the right of the main screen).
For the “A” actor you can choose to randomize by clicking the white dice in the top left corner. You can also choose random actors with attachments (the purple dice). I like to add my attachments later, but choose what you like. Once you have a random actor, use the right mouse button to move around the viewing area and the mouse wheel to zoom or pull back. The Middle mouse grabs the screen and moves it any way you want.
The screen is a bit cluttered, so find a spot where you can view your whole actor from top to bottom. Still looking at the top left corner there is a figure with arrows on either side: these arrows allow you to change only the body (keeping the head). Just below the two dice and the figure is a circle with an arrow pointing up and an arrow pointing down. These buttons let you download actors from the Steam workshop or, conversely, upload your own unique actor to the Steam workshop. It’s a nice touch to allow the Nightmare Puppeteer community to share their creations with each other.
On the top right side of the actor creation room is a big head image with arrows on either side. This lets you change only the head of your character. A good workflow is to use random actor generation until you find a head or a body you like then look for a body/head to match.
In the lower-left corner are two rows of squares. The bottom row lets you save the actor you have created and the top row lets you load an actor. Once you’ve created a good combination of head and body, click the first save box. If your actor has a lot of hand props or head/nose attachments, you can remove them easily. To remove (or change) hand props look at the hand graphics on the left and right. X removes and arrows add props. The bottom is a crotch prop. Experiment to find something you like.
Customizing the Head
Now that we have an actor head and body we like and we’ve saved it, let's customize the head a bit. In the top right-hand corner of the screen, click the head or the tools graphic. This takes you to the headroom.
Again, you can randomize the head props/hair, etc in the top left corner. For the most part, you’ll work with the six graphic icons to the left and right of your character. They are self-explanatory. Here are the six features you can add/subtract:
- Props on top of the head
- Props in the mouth
- Props on the nose
You’ll see sliders underneath each item indicating that you can control the scale of the prop. You can also move/rotate any item by click on the prop and hitting the space bar. A move/scale bob will come up and you use that to make adjustments. Note that the X above/underneath an item means “remove” that item. Also, note that the face with colors on it in the top right-hand corner is a painting tool, but it’s pretty buggy right now so we’ll pass on it for now.
You may notice little ice cream cones in the actor and head rooms. These are visual “flavors” that the game provides in order to create strange and arresting visual effects for your whole actor or just the head. Go ahead and try some of them out as there are some pretty weird effects. You can always remove the effects by clicking the white cone.
The “B” Actor.
You’ll most likely want to have at least two actors in a scene. The game lets you create a main actor (A) and a buddy actor (B). The A actor is on the left of the table in the main menu and the B actor is on the right of the table. The creation process for the B actor is exactly the same as the A actor. The only difference is in the save function. That means you can only save an A actor you have created in the A actor room (and the same for the B room).
This means that you have to be sure to plan your scenes and save actors in the appropriate rooms. For example, I have two actors I want in a scene. I create one in the A room and save it, then create the second actor in the B room and save it there. Then when you are ready to shoot the scene, you’ll have the two actors on either side of the table in the main menu and you are ready to go.
However, if you create both actors in the A room you’ll only be able to use one. And you can’t transfer a saved actor to another room. I hope the game developer changes this in the future as it would be swell to be able to transfer actors from either room to a scene.
Here's a good tutorial from M dot Strange on creating actors in Nightmare Puppeteer. He's got a lot more at his Imagination Rabbit Youtube channel.