Introduction: Digital You #1: Create a 3D You in Under an Hour!

Hi friends- have you ever wanted to create a realistic 3D character for animation or games, but have no idea how to use complicated 3D softwares? Well, <cue Mighty Mouse theme> have no fear!

This is the first tutorial of a four-part series: Digital You. The first part goes over how to model a realistic 3D character in Autodesk's free online Character Generator. The second part shows you how to customize the model in Maya and Photoshop by replacing the skin texture with your own. The third part shows you how to bring your character to life in video games by inserting the custom model as a character controller in Unity. The fourth part is just for fun: how to create a papercraft mask from your custom model!

Each part was created with beginners in mind! So, if you've ever wanted to create your own 3D characters, here's your chance!

I've created YouTube tutorials for each part, so if you get stuck, check them out! Here is the first one.

Step 1: Getting Started

You'll probably need to do some face stretches and aerobics to get it ready to be digitized. If your face is already warmed up from excessive gossip or eating croissants, then feel free to skip the warm-up.

The next step is to take a few pics of your face. You'll need one straight on, one in profile, and one of the back of your head for hair texturing.

Once all that is done, head on over to Autodesk's Online Character Generator site. It's mostly free to use, but you'll need to create an Autodesk account to use it.

After you log in, you'll be taken to the main screen. Click on "+New" to create a character. In this first screen, you'll see some main body types and pre-made examples. Start fresh by clicking on the first female or male avatar. Pick one, select "Customize" and let's roll!

Step 2: The Head: Gettin' Work Done

Now we'll move to the customization section. It's split into three columns: the first is a rotating preview of your model, the second is the character's customization tabs, and the third is the asset catalogue. If you've ever made an avatar for a game, this should be nothing new for you.

The mechanics are pretty simple: drag and drop two of the character faces from the right catalogue onto the customization tabs in the middle. Then, use the tab to average out those faces. The first is the main face shape, but you can drill down into more detail by selecting any of the tabs below it and changing the faces (eyes, ears, mouth, nose, ect).

The preview on the left can be rotated by pressing the arrows in the top left. This is where having a profile and portrait of yourself will come in handy. Choose various features from the face catalogue and try to get it as close as possible. Don't be afraid to switch between the male and female tabs to get facial features that match your own face!

When you're happy with your face, click on the hand icon with a thumbprint inside to move on!

Step 3: Skin, Eyes, and Hair

After clicking the hand icon, you'll have access to a new catalogue: skin tones. If you're going to replace your model's face texture with your own, try to pick one close to your original skin tone. If you're planning on something original, there's lots of choices, from Captain Planet, to a sparkly skin R-Pat, to the Blue Fugates on the female tab. The power is yours.

The next tab down (an eye) is for eye color. Eyeballs!

The next tab down is hair. Again, it's possible to switch between male and female if you want more choices.

Click on the male bathroom icon to go on to body!

Step 4: Body Type

The body is just like the face: Choose from multiple types in the asset catalogue, and drag and drop them in the various attributes. No, I don't know what's going on with Lawrence's abs. I think he swallowed a samurai shogun's mask. When you're looking fighting fit, move on down to the "Clothes" icon.

Step 5: Bad Fashion Choices (Especially for Girls)

The clothes are the only gripe I have with this software. All the male clothes are either soldiers, doctors, or bad Christmas sweater contest winners. All the female clothes are either hookers, streetwalkers, prostitutes, or sexy nurses. Sincerely. Autodesk, if you're reading this, maybe you should have ran this section by some of your female employees. Just a quick "Hey gals, we're thinking about publishing this software to real people including members of the female species... See any potential problems?" would have sufficed. Instead, all there is are some barfy jeans followed by an all-you-can-eat buffet of lingerie, fishnet stockings, and Catholic schoolgirl dresses. I'm still blushing from the time I showed my Grandma this website. Sorry Gran.

Anyways, you can tab down from shirts to pants to shoes. All dressed! When you're done picking out shoes, click on the "Finish" link at the bottom right. Time to export!

Step 6: Export Magic!

Ok, you're almost done! Your finished character design will go to the "Character Design" section. If you click on the pencil below your avatar, you can return to editing it. Clicking on the square/arrow icon below the avatar opens the "Generate Character" tab.

There's a lot of options for exporting, but the most important ones are in the bottom left "Generate" section. If you just want a regular 3D model, you can select "Generic .fbx". This model can be converted to a .stl and 3D printed if desired! If you wish to animate your character in Maya, select "Maya (.mb)". If you wish to follow along the second (personalized face) and fourth (papercraft mask) parts of this series, select this model. If you're more comfortable using Max for personalization, download that type. Finally, if you're interested in creating a video game character from your model, choose "Unity (.fbx)". The third part of this series goes over how to convert the model into a 3rd-person character controller.

Ok, make your choices and hit "Generate" in the bottom right. If you get a "Warning: This model contains assets that must be purchased", you've used an element somewhere that wasn't free. Go back to edit mode to see, or make sure you have "Low Poly" selected in the generate section. You do get five free downloads if it's a non-educational/unpaid account, so there's that option as well!

After the model generates, it will be found in the "Generated Characters" tab. From there, you can preview the model by clicking the eye, or download the model by clicking the down arrow. All done! Woo!

Stay tuned for Part Two: Personalizing Your Character, Part Three: Creating a Video Game Character, and Part Four: Create a Personalized Papercraft Mask!