Laser scanning my face into Unreal Engine 4 (and id Tech 4)

16 September, 2019

Can you imagine a bigger waste of time for a game engine? Except for Alien: Colonial Marines, Lawbreakers and anything Peter Molyneux released post Lionhead Studios.

Anyone who thinks the nightmarish creatures from the Silent Hill series are the grossest things to be seen in videogames, are officially wrong.

Thanks to my face.

Though personally, I’d argue that the intrinsic catering to the male power fantasy that has been prevalent in our industry since it began, is far more disgusting.

See? I can do progressive. Money please.

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Introducing the Creaform Handyscan Black Elite

Laser scanning done at incredible speed

Recently, the laser scanners I ordered for our new labs at Staffordshire University have begun arriving. No small relief, given that Freshers literally start today.

One such scanner is the HandyScan Black Elite. This is a mind-blowing piece of kit, capable of scanning medium to large objects in a matter of minutes. This includes reflective surfaces, such as chrome, or my head in a week if any more new students ask me “Where is room number TBA?”.

I criticise, but I walked into Sainsbury’s on Saturday without realising how or why. I bought a curry and a wooden spoon out of shame.

Yes, the HandyScan is amazing. But don’t take it from me, take it from their promotional video. The music is really exciting:

The bit where you see the objects being scanned in the background - not bullshit. It's genuinely that fast.

 

I’ve only recently had chance to start learning the kit. Nevertheless, even in a short space of time it has proven very accessible, boasting powerful software and a clear, logical workflow.

I’m confident it’s going to prove a popular tool at the University, with the seemingly infinite opportunities it will open up to our students. This includes those studying games, visual effects, engineering, forensics and more. Basically, anyone with an interest in broadening their own academic, creative and technical horizons.

I on the other hand, am interested only in myself.

Therefore, scanning my own face was the only opportunity I was ever going to be interested in.

Laser scanning my face into Unreal Engine 4

Optimisation process

For this entry, I really just wanted to get a laser scan of my face into a game engine as quickly as possible. I’m not going to get into the technical nitty gritty about how the scanner works, processing, cleanup etc.

More detailed documentation on these things is planned for the coming weeks. Because I’m such a nice guy who believes in the value of sharing information. Also because technically speaking, that is my job, technically.

So just to summarise, we (myself and colleague Tom Vine) laser scanned my face and performed very quick cleanup in VXInspect, Creaform’s mesh inspection tool.

Sweet nightmares are made of these.

This got exported as an OBJ and imported into ZBrush. The mesh was subjected to a very quick decimation, I think reducing to somewhere in the region of 160,000 polygons?

Make no mistake – that’s bloody ridiculous for a game character’s face. Particularly one as flat and featureless as mine.

But since all I really wanted to do was just get the mesh into a game engine, I didn’t care.

Laser scanned face Zbrush

My laser scanned face (minus terribly unkept facial hair) rendered in Zbrush

The decimated mesh I then took into Maya (my preferred modeling software) and did a quick, automatic UV unwrap while also fixing the mesh alignment.

Like I say – each of these steps would be subject to considerably more optimisation and attention to detail, were this going to be part of a real project.

Importing into Unreal Engine 4

At this point, if you lined each of the processes up from the second Tom started laser scanning my face, I’d wager it took less than ten minutes. Possibly less than five, with espressos.

The mesh imported into Unreal Engine with no problems, I stuck a blank material onto it and experimented with some basic light structures.

As for the results, here’s some:

Laser scanning my face into id Tech 4

They look okay. Nothing to lose your mind over, but cool given how quickly they all came together.

But Unreal Engine 4 is built for this sort of thing. It is regularly updated and enhanced to squeeze out incredible visuals. I wanted to see how the mesh looked in an older game engine.

Obviously I was going to go with id Tech 4. Because I’m one of four people on the planet who loves Doom 3.

Having been released in 2004, id Tech 4 is a more limited engine and importing custom content isn’t as easy as UE4.

Therefore, a couple of tweaks had to be made to the process.

2004 – When game engines weren’t exactly ‘accessible’

First, I had to import the OBJ into 3ds Max and export as an ASE. This is the format id Tech 4 reads meshes in and none of the Maya exporters I found worked.

This ASE file then needed to be opened in a text editor and a reference to the material I wished to use, was entered manually.

The engine actually didn’t struggle with the polycount. It rendered the same mesh I used in Unreal Engine 4 perfectly fine, which I was surprised by. I thought the excessive polygons may have caused it to crash.

I experimented with different lighting structures, material references and UV layouts in the following screenshots.

Conclusion

So yeah, that’s how quickly laser scanning a face into a game engine can be done.

Although further steps were required for id Tech 4, we’re only talking another five or so minutes added to the process. I’m quite impressed with how the mesh looked in this engine. The holes caused issues with the textures and lighting, but aesthetically I’d say this only added to the experimental feel.

Hopefully in the coming months, I’ll be able to share far more detailed, visually impressive work utilising this process.

I emphasise hopefully.

Cheers!

 

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Posted 16 September, 2019