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Using Adobe Mixamo to rig a custom character for Flipside

- by John Luxford

In this tutorial post, we will show you how to use Adobe Mixamo to rig a custom character model for importing into Flipside Studio.

Rigging is the process of creating a skeleton for a 3D model that determines how it can move. Mixamo is a free tool that helps automate the process of rigging 3D character models.

Prerequisites

This tutorial assumes you have installed and setup the Flipside Creator Tools. It also assumes you have registered for an Adobe account, which you can do on the Mixamo website.

Step 1. Get a character model

For this tutorial, we're going to use the Iron Giant character from Google Poly. Click on the Download link and choose OBJ file to download the character model. This will download a zip file of the character model, its materials, and any associated texture images.

"Iron Giant" by Steve P is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

You can upload the zip file directly to Mixamo, but if you want to explore what it contains you can unzip the downloaded file by right-clicking it in Windows Explorer and choosing Extract All. You should have an unzipped folder containing two files:

  • materials.mtl - This file describes the material properties of the character.
  • model.obj - This file is the 3D model of the character itself.

Some characters will also include one or more images that are the material file uses as textures on the model. In this case, there's just the two files.

Step 2. Upload the character to Mixamo

Log into the Mixamo website, then click on the Upload Character button on the right. Select the zip file of your character model and click Next. After the upload is processed, you should see the following screen:

If you need to rotate your character so it's facing the front, use the left-right arrow button in the bottom left corner. Click Next to continue when your character is upright and facing forward. This will take you to the Auto-Rigger screen below.

Step 3. The Auto-Rigger

First, uncheck the Use Symmetry checkbox, because this character model is not symmetrical.

It should also be noted here that characters will work best if they are in a T-pose with the palms facing down, however Mixamo does a pretty good job in many cases with models in various poses.

Now drag each circle on the left to its corresponding point on your character. When you're finished it should look like this:

Click Next again for the auto-rigging process to begin. If everything looks good after Mixamo has rigged your character, import your character into Mixamo by clicking Next again.

The last step is to download your newly-rigged character model. Click on the Download button in the top-right corner and leave the default options as is.

You are now ready to import your character into the Flipside Creator Tools! Here are some links to guide you through the next steps:

 

Flipside Alpha Update #9

- by John Luxford

Continuing our focus on bug fixes from last week's update, we've made lots of little improvements again this week too. But we also have one new feature we're excited to share:

Sky's the limit

You can now upload your own 360 photos to change the skies in Flipside! Combined with our blank set, this means you can use any 360 photo as a custom environment for your shows.

Flipside supports both mono and stereoscopic 360 photos in either PNG or JPG format. Stereo photos must be in "over/under" mode (left eye on top, right eye on bottom).

This opens up a world of new show possibilities, and is step one on our way to completely custom set importing. We can't wait to see where you guys take Flipside next!

Bug fixes

Here's what we managed to improve for you guys since last week:

  • Improved keyboard controls for camera editing: Pressing 1, 2, 3 now respects the current latch setting (cut or move), but you can override the latch via C+1 or M+1 combos to specify a deliberate cut or move.
  • Imported props now support a much wider number of material settings, so your props should be looking better than ever.
  • We made more fixes to the slideshow, which now supports loads of video formats, as well as photos, YouTube links, Dropbox links, and live streams over RTSP and RTMP.
  • Lots of smaller behind-the-scenes fixes.

We're moving fast, and we have lots more coming up too that we can't wait to share with our amazing creator community. Make sure you share your creations on our Discord chat, our community forum, or using the hashtag #madeinflipside on Twitter.

 

Flipside Alpha Update #8

- by John Luxford

This week's update is focused on bringing you bug fixes and quality of life improvements.

Slideshow supports YouTube videos

We've made a big upgrade to the slideshow video playback, and now you can link to YouTube videos, and a wider list of video formats are supported now too.

That's our Flipside Studio trailer, playing in Flipside via YouTube!

Hands, touching hands, reaching ooout...

In the last few releases, your real hands and your character's hands weren't completely aligned. This caused noticeable issues when interacting with props that feel like they're not quite in your hand. We're happy to say we've solved this by adding a little stretchiness to the arms, which works more closely to how our arm system worked in the past.

For characters with really long arms, we've also found that you can run your body calibration sitting down and without fully extending your arms. Then you can act that part while sitting, and your arms will stretch to feel more natural for your character. This is one of the techniques actors use when embodying puppets that don't match their own dimensions, and it's pretty fun too!

Holding props while recording starts

There was a bug that caused props that were being held at the start of a recording to be reset to their original positions on the set. That's been fixed, and now you can grab a prop and have it ready in hand when recording starts.

Twitter photo sharing

Photos weren't showing up in Twitter photo shares, but that's now been fixed. Share on, Wayne!

Misc fixes

  • We've added more error checking to prevent the disappearing menu bug.
  • We've fixed how characters scale, so now you can adjust their size in the Creator Tools and Flipside will apply the correct scale to your characters. Note: Make sure you update to version 0.8 of the Flipside Creator Tools.
  • Playback and physics are now paused when you open the Steam menu or Oculus Dash.
 

Flipside Alpha Update #7

- by John Luxford

It's time for another Flipside Studio update!

Discord chat server

First, we've added a Discord chat server to our list of ways you can reach us for help, as well as meet other creators in the Flipside Creator Community. We're also active on our Steam Discussion page as well, so feel free to reach out in whatever way work best for you!

Mixed Reality filming in Flipside (preview)

Flipside Studio now supports Mixed Reality filming via an HTC Vive Tracker attached to a real-world camera. The coolest part is that it also works with our existing Vive Tracker support for tracking your lower body! The second coolest part is that you can still switch back and forth between Mixed Reality and any other cameras you have on your set, without exiting Mixed Reality mode.

We're calling this a feature preview since it's a big change and may have introduced new bugs we didn't catch yet. And of course, you can find the complete info on using Flipside's new Mixed Reality mode in our documentation.

Special thanks to Raktor and LIV for their help in getting this feature built.

Viking props

Vikings are cool. Because vikings are so cool, we've started adding viking-related things into Flipside, starting with some new viking props. More viking-related things will follow.


Why yes, you may see my battle axe. Would you care for another flagon of ale?

Bug fixes

1. We fixed an issue that caused Flipside Studio to fail to load in some cases. Apologies to everyone that was affected by this bug!

2. Oculus Touch controllers now work the same through SteamVR as they do through Oculus Home, including the ability to control the slideshow and teleprompter in VR (HTC Vive users will be able to do this soon too, we promise!).

3. Camera previews in the Set Builder now show a 1:1 preview of the real camera output, so now you have an accurate reference when setting up your cameras.

4. We've made a big improvement to the feel and accuracy of throwing props away in the Set Builder. For reference, you can delete objects by throwing them over your shoulder or with the Delete button in the Prop Settings panel.

5. We've added a scale reference and automatic fixes for scale when your imported character is way too small or too large. Click here to go download the latest version of the Flipside Creator Tools. A big thanks to Bruno Pato for working through these issues with us!


That's it for this week. Stay tuned, we've got tons more exciting things to share in the coming weeks!

 

Flipside Alpha Update #6

- by John Luxford

Flipside update time! This week we have a small update with some really cool things for you.

Stickman characters

We've added two stickman-style characters for you to play with. Making your own stickman shows in Flipside is ridiculous fun!

Character importer movement previews

Last week we showed you that you could press Play in the Unity editor to preview your characters in VR before importing them into Flipside. Now when you press A/X on Oculus Touch, the Application Menu buttons on HTC Vive, or hit the space bar on your keyboard, your character will do a little dance for you that shows you how your character moves from all angles, helping identify issues in your model's rigging, weighting, textures, etc.

Here's a little video of our stickman dancing in the Flipside Creator Tools.

Character importer texture fixes

We've also improved our texture handling, particularly for Adobe Fuse & Mixamo character importing. This should make everyone's lives a little easier importing custom characters. No extra steps, just make sure you're on the latest version of the Flipside Creator Tools.

Visit the Creator Tools page to download the latest update (v0.6).

That's it for this week. Stay tuned, we've got tons more exciting things to share in the coming weeks!

 

Flipside Studio is live on Steam Early Access!

- by John Luxford

Flipside Studio is now available on Steam Early Access, and we couldn't be more excited to welcome more creators into the Flipside Creator Community.

This has been a long time in the making. When we first set out to create Flipside, we had trouble even conveying what a piece of software that helped people make "shows" using VR was or did. We called it things like a "social performance platform" that often left people scratching their heads.

Now we can just show you.

Our message has become much clearer too. Flipside Studio is real-time animation software that lets you be inside of your animated shows like a TV or movie set. Press record and act your parts by being your characters.

In working with actors, we've found that we can often reduce the time it takes to produce animated content from around 1 minute produced per week, to 1 minute produced per hour, including editing and post. That's a 40x efficiency boost. That's an order of magnitude in time savings that is going to change the way people make animated shows.

And it's only just the beginning.

We have so many ideas, many from talking directly to creators like yourself, that Flipside Studio is going to also become not just the fastest but also the most powerful way to make animated shows. Our priorities are to give you the most creative agency by bringing in your character to make your shows your way, and to provide the right tools to make the best shows you can, in both 2D and 3D.

Flipside Studio captures your movements, just like a motion capture suit, so you can replay and record as many takes and new camera angles as you want. We also capture them this way so your YouTube shows today can one day be shared in 3D too. One show for all screens.

We're still on the road to 1.0 and there are lots of bugs and features that aren't perfect, or even complete yet. But Flipside is improving rapidly, and becoming something really special for us. It's a privilege to help people make their art, something we take very seriously inside of all the ridiculous fun we have making this app for you.

We hope you love it too. We hope you make lots of great things with it, and we can't wait to see those things.

Click here to download Flipside Studio on Steam.

Sincerely,
The Flipside Team

 

The Animator's Dilemma: Beating the YouTube Algorithm

- by Lesley Klassen

At the end of each year, YouTube creates their Rewind video that celebrates the videos, people, music, and memes that hit big. For the first time, YouTube featured animators in their Rewind video

In fact, animation is really growing on YouTube and you can see this at conferences like VidCon, that are seeing more programming devoted to animation. 

You may be saying to yourself, “What’s the big deal? Animations are becoming more popular on YouTube, so what.” It all comes down to the YouTube algorithm and the added challenges that animators face over live-action content creators.

If you have an hour or more to spare watch this enlightening video on the YouTube algorithm by the Fine Brothers and MatPat from Game Theorist. There are some great insights to take from this video. Primarily, creators need to post regularly and have videos with longer watch times, preferably over 10 minutes long.

Creating 10 minutes of live-action video is challenging enough, but it’s not nearly as tough as it is to create 10 minutes of animated content on a regular basis. It’s actually damn near impossible. Animation takes a long time. 

YouTube made it even harder for animators with the new changes to their monetization policy. Now you need 1000 subscribers and at least 4000 hours of viewership over the last 12 months in order to qualify for their YouTube Partner Program. This means that animators need to create 10 minutes of content or longer on a frequent basis, preferably 2 - 3 times a week, and build a subscriber base of 1000 before even turning on monetization. For many animators, why bother?


Channel Frederator represents over 3000 animators on YouTube and provide services that help YouTubers market their animations.  They felt the need to respond to the new YouTube monetization policy. "Channel Frederator Network has decided to allow members of the network, who have been kicked out of YouTube's Partnership Program, to stay and use our tools & resources to help them reach new audiences," states Director of Networks Kenneth Ash. 

Animators really do have a dilemma.  Especially those up and coming channels who haven't reached monetization. That's the thing about animators, they are so passionate about animating that they will persist for the love of the art. But persistence won’t change the YouTube algorithm, however technology can help. 

Flipside Studio is a real-time animation studio. We simulate a film set or TV studio inside virtual reality to allow an animator to use filmmaking techniques along with real-time motion capture to make animated content. Because it’s real-time, it takes about the same amount of time to make a Flipside animation as it takes to record a live-action video. We make it easier to make longer animations more frequently so animators can start competing against live-action creators for subscribers and watch time.  

There are multiple strategies animators are using to currently keep pace with the demands of the YouTube algorithm, and we know Flipside can help. 

  • Interstitial content
    Many animators release monthly, which is not optimal. Interstitial content can be created with Flipside and released in between the larger monthly releases to keep a channel freshly updated.
  • Add to an already existing animation format
    Augmenting an already produced show with new elements made in Flipside will speed up the process. For example, Liam the Leprechaun is using Flipside to introduce his gaming channels. 
  • Create new animations
    Use Flipside to make a new show that satisfies the YouTube algorithm by taking advantage of the real-time nature of Flipside. FunPack is an example of this.
  • Live stream an animated show
    Real-time animation is great for live streaming.  Each stream can be captured and re-edited too.  Take advantage of connecting with a live audience while making content well suited for YouTube. 

We believe that real-time animation technology will play a big role in the future of animation. This is especially true on competitive platforms like YouTube that have algorithms that play a role in surfacing content. Animators have it tough but new technologies like Flipside are emerging to level the playing field. Sign up for our private Alpha to give Flipside a try.  

 

Flipside Alpha Update #5

- by John Luxford

This weeks' update has a number of features we're really excited to share, so I'll jump right in!

More new characters! Meet Jess, Phillip, and Meg

Jess, Phillip, and Meg round out our set of default human characters, and they couldn't be happier to join the others in Flipside to help you make your shows.

Texture fixes on imported props

We were having issues with textures loading properly on the custom props being imported, which hampered the usefulness of our custom prop importer. We've made some big improvements that should make this much more useful.

Major improvements to our character importing process

The Flipside Creator Tools got a massive overhaul with this update that we've been working on for the past few weeks. In addition to fixing some issues with shader importing, there are three big areas of improvement:

1. The workflow has been made much simpler, with a new panel placed front and center that walks you through each step in the process.

2. You no longer have to match Flipside's exact list of blend shapes for facial expressions and lip syncing, because the Creator Tools now let you map our list to yours, including skipping missing blend shapes and mapping one of ours to multiple blend shapes on your characters. This means less time tweaking your characters in Blender before bringing them into the Creator Tools.

3. You can now hit Play in the Unity editor with your character's scene loaded and then you can hop into VR to see your character standing in front of you to check for scale and other issues.

This is just the start, and we have lots more planned to make character creation faster and more fun.

Roadmap to 1.0

I mentioned we were working on a public roadmap in the last update post, and that's ready now too! Head over to our Roadmap page to see what we're currently working on, what's already completed, and what is coming up on the road to Flipside Studio 1.0. There's also a Roadmap link in the Creator Community so it's always just a click away from the discussions.

Misc changes & fixes

  • Scaling the set in Set Builder mode now goes down to 25% size and up to 1:1 scale, making it easier to place big objects quickly.
  • The puppet was able to grab itself, causing a puppet inception bug that was neat but ultimately still a bug. That's been fixed too.
  • Improved colliders and interaction points on props. Still lots of work to be done on improving prop interactions, but they should interact with each other a bit better now (e.g., setting an object on the desk).
  • We've enabled Oculus Dash support for our Rift users.

Try it out, then head over to the Creator Community and let us know what you think!

 

Flipside Alpha Update #4

- by John Luxford

Starting with last week's update, we decided to try for weekly updates as we approach Flipside Studio 1.0.

With that in mind, each update will be smaller and mainly focused on these areas:

  • Bug fixes
  • Stability
  • Performance
  • Usability
  • Finishing incomplete features

We're also working on a public roadmap that we can share with the community to better understand where we're going, not just for 1.0 but for future versions as well.

Meet Ruth and Steve, our newest avatars!

Ruth and Steve (internal names only, since Flipside characters don't have visible names) are the newest members of our built-in character set. They're an elderly couple who just don't understand what all the fuss is about with this new technology.

Highlighting objects

One big usability change with this update are objects that you hover over will highlight if they're grabbable. We notice a lot of newcomers to VR don't reach out far enough to grab things, so this is meant to provide a visual cue to show that you're within reach. This should also help to know which object you're grabbing when several objects are close together.

Bug fixes

  • Hand interactions could sometimes get flipped on the Vive controllers (but not anymore!)
  • Fixed more bugs in the character importing process
  • Minor visual fixes

As always, the updates should happen automatically via Oculus Home or Steam. Looking forward to seeing your feedback and creations in the Flipside Creator Community!

 

Flipside Alpha Update #3

- by John Luxford

Hot on the heels of update #2, we have a fresh batch of bug fixes for our Flipside creators. You should see the latest version automatically updated on Steam or Oculus Home.

Slideshow video issues fixed

The slideshow had some issues playing video files, which should now be fixed. For users that still have issues, see our Installing Flipside help page for a link to download additional video codecs from Microsoft.

Eye movement fixes

In the process of getting our Flipside Creator Tools ready for everyone to import their own characters, we ran into some snags that left our eyes less expressive than they used to be. Eyes should once again be naturally looking at points of interest, which we call eye targets. This includes other characters as well as things like the coffee mug, which the eyes will focus on briefly as the cup is picked up.

Magic pencil default colour is now black

It used to be white. Now it's black. Watching how people are using Flipside, this was a small change that should have a big positive impact :)

Unity upgrade and misc fixes

There were several other behind-the-scenes fixes, including updating the project and Creator Tools to Unity version 2017.3.1p1. If you're using the Creator Tools to import your own characters, you'll need to ensure that you're using that version of Unity or you may run into issues like your character's textures showing up wrong. You can find the correct version of Unity on their Patch Releases page.

As always, please post any fixes, feature suggestions, or things you create over on the Creator Community.

 

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