How you can get access to these Hollywood-style digital make-up effects

Ada Productions has crafted SkinGen make-up effects assets for use with Reallusion iClone and Character Creator.

Wounds, scars and skin effects were once purely the domain of practical and prosthetic make-up effects work in Hollywood. More recently, there has been a shift to achieving these kinds of effects digitally, although that task itself can involve complex and sometimes expensive processes.

Now, one studio–with a background in practical make-up effects–has made highly detailed make-up effects available as SkinGen (short for skin generator) assets in Reallusion’s iClone and Character Creator. Need a Hollywood make-up, an SFX make-up or a VFX make-up look for your animation, game or film projects? Ada Production’s DMFX tools might be the solution.

Ada’s DMFX tools are the brainchild of Simone Boria and Stuart Sewell. Both have experience in crafting make-up effects and visual effects on real film productions, with Stuart having worked on large-scale films such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Saving Private Ryan and The Hours.

With DMFX, they’ve turned to 3D animation software, including iClone and Character Creator, to apply their knowledge to digital projects and package up a set of digital make-up effects tools any artist can use. Originally, the DMFX tools were developed with applications such as ZBrush and the Substance suite, before the Ada team discovered that Reallusion’s SkinGen Premium plugin in Character Creator was an incredibly accessible way of creating the same kind of make-up effects assets.

Thus, the idea of crafting DMFX library assets for iClone and Character Creator was born, giving users a cost-effective and quality solution for 3D creators on their films, animations, game, AR/VR and real-time projects, or any characters they create–be they CG characters or as digital make-up effects augmentations to live-action actors. The assets, sold in bundles that show off particular gore, zombie-like effects and other scars and wounds, are available on the Reallusion Content Store.

befores & afters asked Stuart and Simone more about how they came to be offering these DMFX solutions inside Reallusion tools, and about the cross-over between practical and digital make-up effects.

b&a: Stuart, you’ve worked in different areas of special effects, make-up and prosthetics–how has that helped you with the transition to the digital side of this work?

Stuart Sewell: I started with a very low budget film in Spain around 1989-90. From there I migrated to larger budget, more prestigious productions like Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, which had Robert De Niro in multi-stage make-up effects. There was something like 17 appliance pieces for the face alone. It took hours and hours to apply the make-up and it took hours to take it off.

Later, digital started creeping into everything and I thought, well, this is something that you can’t ignore and you’re going to have to ride the wave or get swept under. By then I’d done other films like The Hours with Nicole Kidman, and I did Saving Private Ryan, where I was the prosthetics designer. There was a worry that practical prosthetics would be removed from film altogether, but actually I think it’s like a complementary thing. I’ve seen quite a few make-ups that have been enhanced by digital. It’s all about the final image to me. It doesn’t really matter how you get there, personally.

b&a: How did you both then come to be using iClone and Character Creator and SkinGen for your digital make-up effects offerings?

Simone Boria: We’ve been watching the Reallusion developments over the years. When they brought out the SkinGen plug-in, it was so relevant to us in the sense that it creates the effects we had already been working on. For us it’s all about being able to enable people to use low budget tools for making cinematic projects.

Stuart Sewell: Yeah, the thing that’s so great right now is that the tools are becoming cheaper and cheaper with less barriers to entry. With Reallusion, for example, it’s a very inexpensive way to get your hands on a comprehensive toolset. Also, the tools are getting so much more responsive and, with something like iClone and Character Creator, what I like about them is that they’re iterative and elastic. They allow you to change things on the fly.

Significant wounds and scars, right up to the point of zombie-like effects, can be crafted with Ada’s DMFX tools.

I had been trying to build some characters for a personal project and I was going through the traditional pipeline of Maya and ZBrush and building each character. But I found that I could build something a lot quicker with Character Creator. And it’s not just speed, it’s the fact I could look at the characters and go, well, actually I’m not happy about this or that, and I could tweak it and keep tweaking it and keep evolving it and change it.

And then you can still go off and do all the other things that you want to do if you want to take it to the next level.You can tweak in ZBrush, you can work in Substance Painter for adding in these textures. But of course with the SkinGen plugin, you’re able to do all that kind of work right there and then in the tool. When I realized that was possible, that was just a dream.

The Character Creator UI showcasing DMFX assets.

b&a: How do the DMFX assets work with SkinGen and Reallusion tools?

Simone Boria: The main aim is for people to have access to really high quality cinematic effects. That’s always been the intention. We want others to have the ability to create something very quickly, very easily. And we use these tools for our own projects, too.

So, what you have access to with DMFX is a dynamic drag-and-drop make-up effects asset, like a wound or scar, that you can just drag onto a character within Character Creator. Then you can actually modify that in terms of colour, shape and size, and you can put these make-up effects anywhere on the body of any character.

A view of the Character Creator UI showcasing how a DMFX scar is added to a character.

b&a: The idea, it seems, is to have some high quality scars or wounds or other make-up effects and be able to easily add them to characters?

Simone Boria: Simplicity is really the most important factor. The DMFX assets also gives the user a good basis to start from.

Stuart Sewell: Usability and simplicity. In prosthetics, we are actually often trying to make ‘generic’ prosthetics, especially on big movies like Saving Private Ryan. Because, the whole point of the DMFX tools, well, they came about because we wanted the most requested effects such as, bullet wounds and burns, to be generic prosthetics that could be injected into Reallusion.

This creation relied on the DMFX assets by Ada Productions.

b&a: Where do you see DMFX assets mostly being used?

Stuart Sewell: Where I see DMFX being used the most is not just for enthusiasts but more for the boutique studios. It’s for the kind of studio that wants to get characters done but doesn’t necessarily want to hire in a phalanx of character artists. I think it’s the boutique studio where it’s going to be at for the iClone implementation of these products.

Simone Boria: It’s all about independence. It’s about giving people access, without having to be in a big studio. For Stuart and I, the most important thing is to be actually quite independent in our production process. And there are a lot of people out there who find this desirable for various purposes, to produce things of a very high quality, which this lets them do.

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Learn more about SkinGen Premium Plug-in:

Learn more about Ada Productions:

SkinGen assets by Ada Productions:

Brought to you by Reallusion: This article is part of the befores & afters VFX Insight series. If you’d like to promote your VFX/animation/CG tech or service, you can find out more about the VFX Insight series here.

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