There are quite a few options to create avatars, some do it in Blender, those with Maya license use Maya, there is also Makehuman and Fuse amongst other options. Currently Adobe Cloud has been offering free creative cloud service, so I’ve decided to use Fuse which is their product. Another factor is Fuse’s integration with Mixamo which is a website which rigs the avatar. Rigging attaches a skeleton to the character which then can be animated. Without skeleton animation can’t reference the avatar and it simply wouldn’t know what to animate. Not all characters might have standard humanoid skeletons for example monsters or animals. Non humanoid avatars would require bespoke rigging which would outline the structure of their skeleton.
To create a rig it is necessary to connect the bones of the skeleton mirroring all the limbs. Skeleton has to mirror the structure of the body for example if a monster has six legs then skeleton should as well. Also all the parts of the body that we wish to move with animation have to have bones attached to them, for example if we wish to move fingers then each finger has to have all the bones. To mirror a human-like hand that would be three bones per finger and five bones in the palm. As you imagine, creating a rig which would be as complex as a human skeleton, which has 206 bones, can be quite time consuming. Hence there are solutions simplifying this process. Miximo is a website where you can upload an avatar and a simple rig would be added to it. In order to experiment with animation and to learn about mocap this will be enough.
Once a character is uploaded to Mixamo then the rig has to be attached. For each center point of the skeleton like legs, arms, head there are center points that have to be mapped. This can be done by dragging them into the correct space in the avatar. Once this is done the character can be downloaded and it is ready to be used.
Using Fuse and Miximo is probably the easiest workflow available and probably most popular amongst indie game developers. However, there are YouTube tutorials on character rigging using Blender or Maya. These solutions might be better for less standard skeletons, however might be more time consuming. One thing to mention is that rigging doesn’t apply to facial movements and only focuses on the body including the head. Working out how to animate faces is my next task coming up but before that I’ll have a play around in Unity with animations making my new avatar move :)