Character Creation Software: The 5 Best Apps To Create Your Video Game Character
Over 155 million Americans play video games on a weekly basis.
And four out of five households own at least one device that’s intended for online or individual gaming.
The massive popularity of video games is largely thanks to the designers who spend a great deal of time creating realistic, memorable characters.
However, we must also give some credit to the character creation software that enables the video game designers to turn their incredible ideas into reality – albeit, a virtual one.
If you’re interested in making a video game yourself, then we definitely want to encourage you to do so. In a recent post, we even provided you with a few tools that can help.
In this post, we’re going to expand a little further by offering you a few software programs designed for creating incredible video game characters.
Character Creation Software #1: Autodesk Maya
Developed for interactive 3D rendering in video games, animated films, television and movies, Maya has been used in everything from Game of Thrones and Spider-Man to Halo and numerous Pixar films.
Since it was first released in 1998, Maya has become somewhat of a gold standard for character creation.
And that is largely due to Maya’s extensive functionality. There is little that Maya cannot do when it comes to character creation, including:
- Visual effects
- 3D animation
- 3D rendering and shading
- 3D modeling
- Motion graphics
Naturally, Maya’s rich functionality comes at the expense of two drawbacks that can be a decisive factor :
- Significant cost: Like most Autodesk products, Maya is not exactly cheap. Depending on the billing plan, it will set you back $205 per month, $1,620 per year or $4,375 for three years of access. This pricing can put a significant dent in the budget of a small independent studio or be completely inaccessible to up-and-coming designers.
- Complexity: Maya might be a very powerful tool, but it’s hardly friendly to users who are not familiar with it. It has quite a learning curve and mastering all its features can take a lot of time and effort.
If you want a powerful tool for character creation and animation, Maya is the way to go, as it allows you to sculpt and paint your character in ways that few other tools dare to dream of.
However, it’s a significant investment and novice users will most likely take a while to master it.
#2: Maya’s Biggest Rival, Autodesk 3ds Max
Maya’s biggest rival is another Autodesk tool that’s become a top choice among video game programmers and designers around the world.
If you’ve seen Harry Potter or any of the X-Men movies, then you’ve already seen 3ds Max at its best.
The benefit of 3ds Max is its ability to make 3D rendering easier than Maya, even allowing you to import real-world images that can be turned into digital models on your computer screen.
While the two apps are quite similar in terms of functionality, 3ds Max is more optimized for:
- Modeling and texturing
- Animation and effects
- Design and visualization
3ds Max is generally considered to be easier to master than Maya, due to its more straightforward interface.
However, the pricing can still be a concern, as 3ds Max costs exactly the same as Maya.
#3: Character Creation Sculpting Tool, ZBrush
Using its branded “pixol” technology, ZBrush is a great alternative to Autodesk tools for modeling, texturing and painting high-resolution 3D video game character models.
But it’s more than just a drawing software – it’s really more of a sculpting tool – and it doesn’t eat up your processor as much as other programs out there.
ZBrush has several unique features that differentiate it from the competing software, such as:
- 2.5D Tool: In addition to 3D modeling, ZBrush also offers the so-called 2.5D Tool, which adds 3D rendering to a 2D canvas, allowing you to create artwork and textures with a depth effect.
- ZSpheres: ZSpheres is the exact feature that led many to refer to ZBrush as a sculpting tool and not a 3D modeling tool. It allows you to quickly create a 3D model from a single sphere, akin to a piece of clay, apply textures onto it and animate it.
- Polypaint: Polypaint is essentially a painting brush on steroids. It allows you to color and texture your 3D models via a varierty of brushes and patterns. Its main advantage is that it doesn’t just add a color or texture overlay to your model but, rather, changes the color of the texture of indivudual polygons that the model is made up of, enabling you to achieve a smooth, natural look.
While ZBrush might not be as capable at character animation as Maya or 3ds Max, some of its modeling capabilities are unparallel.
Another unparalleled aspect of ZBrush is affordability: it’s available on a subscription basis for $39.95 per month, while the lifetime license will set you back $895. Compared to the Autodesk tools, that’s quite affordable.
And if it’s good enough for Assassin’s Creed and Gears of War, you’ll probably enjoy taking ZBrush for a video game designing spin.
#4: Free Character Creation Software, Blender
Now let’s get to the free stuff. While it isn’t as powerful as some of the other programs mentioned above, the open-source Blender is an incredible 3D modeling tool.
While it might not be as sophisticated as the paid tools we’ve mentioned above, it still offers a rich functionality for rendering, modeling, animating, rigging and even video editing.
Blender has two key strengths:
First is the open-source nature of the app, which means that it’s not only free, but also fully customizable to your needs.
Blender is built on a custom architecture with the internal software framework of the app available for you to tinker with and change the interface or the shortcuts to your liking.
Second is the user community.
As is usually the case with open-source software and projects, Blender is powered and partially developed by its users who are eager to put their custom-developed plugins up for grabs or simply answer questions.
Blender maintains several websites and forums that allow the users to interact with each other, share advice or ideas and provide tech support, including:
- A Stack Exchange portal
- A Discord server
- A news & updates website
- A forum for artists
However, while these two aspects are arguably Blender’s strongest advantages, they are also its main flaws. The open-source nature means that Blender’s software architecture and, as a result, the user experience is far from polished.
Similarly to the more complex apps, such as Maya, Blender can take a while to fully master.
The community can also do more harm than good. The custom extensions and plugins made by community members vary in quality and getting them to work like they should can significantly affect your workflow.
Yet again, Blender is entirely free and if you want to get into character creation for video games, it is definitely a great place to start.
#5: 3D Graphics Tool, MakeHuman
Like Blender, MakeHuman is an open-source 3D graphics tool that can help you make some seriously realistic human beings – just like the name suggests.
It has even won some industry awards in spite of it being a free program and collaborative effort by a community of designers, programmers and academics who all have a fondness for digitizing mankind.
Perhaps the best aspect of MakeHuman is just how easy it is to use. The entire modeling process is controlled via a set of toggles and sliders that allow you to alter the appearance of your humanoid model.
These controls divide into those that alter the macro properties of the model and those that alter the details:
- Macro properties are the basic features of a human body, such as weight, age, sex and ethnicity.
- Details are the smaller, more subtle features, such as the ear shape, the finger length and the nose size.
The combination of these controls allows you to create a realistic character model with great precision.
Apart from this functionality, however, the MakeHuman’s capabilities are rather limited. You can create a realistic humanoid, but you cannot animate it or embellish it with exotic or fictional features.
In other words, if the character you have in mind is an anthropomorphic lizard, MakeHuman might not be the app to go for.
The good news is that the developers of MakeHuman realize that and offer integration with other apps, such as Blender, that allow you to transfer your models into the more capable app for further refinement.
If you’d like a great place to start, this is it, and you can even begin by making yourself into an avatar for a little MakeHuman practice session.
Character Creation Software: The Final Verdict
If you wish to get into character creation and modeling, you can easily find software that will suit your needs, skills and budgets.
Free open-source apps such as MakeHuman or Blender are perfect for beginners who are just starting to get into character design. They are relatively simple to use and allow you to explore the basics of 3D modeling and rendering.
ZBrush is the perfect app for the more advanced users who already have some skills and wouldn’t mind investing into a powerful, versatile tool that will help them visualize their character ideas.
Finally, 3ds Max and Maya are best suited for the more advanced users who are already quite skilled in 3D modeling and would like to produce industrial grade designs.