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Animating a MakeHuman Character in Blender, Part 1

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

Welcome to part one of the MakeHuman and Blender tutorial. In this two-part series, I’ll provide you with the fundamentals of creating and animating an exportable humanoid character. Both Blender and MakeHuman serve as great assets to have in your programming arsenal. You can create game-ready 3D characters, animate them, and export your characters into most game engines. Blender and MakeHuman are both open source, which allows you the opportunity to learn at your own pace. Today we will create a character in MakeHuman, export it to Blender, and discuss rendering and compositing.

Downloading the Programs

Let’s get started by downloading the programs we will need. Go to makehuman.org and click the appropriate download button for your system. It is important to note that MakeHuman is Python-based, so we will need to tweak some settings in the menu to get it to work properly with Windows. MakeHuman is compatible with Windows, OSX, and Linux.

Now let’s download Blender by visiting Blender.org. Blender is a great program that you can use for animating characters, creating short films, and editing video. Blender is very popular, with many studios of all sizes using it for their games and movies, including Pixar!

Download Make Human
Downloading Blender

The MakeHuman Interface

Make Human Interface

MakeHuman is one of the easiest and most fun programs to use. You can create diverse characters that can be used on many different platforms.

Tip: When you first open MakeHuman, it notifies you that characters are anatomically correct, which means both male and female characters have all of their parts. Keep this in mind if you have children around or are easily offended.

The Menu

Modeling: Let’s start with modeling; here you can change the models gender, age, race, and body proportions. Moving the bar all the way to the left creates a female character, and all the way to the right creates a male character.

Geometries: Allows you to add clothing and add features to a character. Choose the clothes you like by clicking them. If you want to change your choice, press it again to avoid overlap. If you intend on animating your character, make sure to add teeth, eyelashes, and a tongue. 

Topologies: Choose either a male or female top mesh. We will explain this feature later in detail in the mesh portion of this tutorial. 

Tip: At first it will seem that adding a topology deforms your character. While it does change the mesh, your character will look perfectly normal.

Materials: Here you can change your character’s skin and eye color.

MakeHuman Menu

Pose & Animate: Here you will add a rig. There are different types, and in general using Humanik is perfect since it adds fingers and bones in the eyes for winking. I’ll explain more in the Blender portion.

Render/Viewer/Scene: For the purpose of animation, you can leave this menu on default.

Settings & Utilities: You should also leave these settings on default.

Help: This will pull up the MakeHuman manual and other information that would be good to read.

Top Menu: Changes your character view. If you place your mouse over the top menu boxes, you will see Load–>Save-->Export-->Undo–>Redo–>Refresh-->Smooth–>Wireframe–>Background–> You can also change the view to left, right, and back.

Save: Saves your character.

Export: We need to save our mesh format as Blender (mhx). When you choose Blender, the menu on the right changes, You can leave feet on the ground checked and leave the other menus on default. Make sure you create a folder where you can easily find your character.

Voila! You made your very own character. Now let’s get them moving!

Blender Interface & Settings 

Blender is a versatile program. You can model and create objects from scratch, animate them, and create fully animated movies. At first glance, it can be quite overwhelming. We will discuss shortcuts and the basics to get you started with editing and animating your character. The mouse is an important tool in Blender; you will use it to zoom in and out, to edit, and to look at your character in 360.

In order to use Blender on your personal computer, you have to change the original settings. Let’s open up the program and go to User Preferences in the bottom right. See the example below.

User Preferences

Once you click User Preferences, you will see a few tabs: Interface, Editing, Input, Add-ons, Themes, File, and System. Go to the Interface tab and check the box by Python

Python Menu

Now let’s head to the Add-on tab and search for the MakeHuman add on. This ensures that we can import and use MakeHuman files.

User Settings

Look for the left-hand search box and type MakeHuman. Once you see the dialog box open, check the box on the right (see the above example). This will allow you to import and export a MakeHuman character. Click Save User Settings in the bottom left, and then click the icon next to User settings with the wrench, and switch back to 3D View.

Blender has three different render settings. For animation and character editing, we will use the Cycles Render settings. On the top menu bar, next to the Scene tab, you will see Blender Render. Click the arrow and change it to Cycles Render. 

Cycles Render

Now let’s delete the cube in the opening scene. In the below example, you will see the Outliner tab to the right of the screen. This is where you choose your objects, edit, etc. Let’s choose the Cube by clicking it, and you will see the cube change to the color orange in real time. Right-click and choose delete. 

Object Settings

Importing Our Character

Importing Our Character

Go to File > Import > MakeHuman (mhx). Browse through the folder where you saved your character and double-click your character. At first, your character will appear all white—this is because objects import without any textures. The textures are saved in a different folder, located where you saved your character. Let’s save the file. You can name it anything you want. I named mine after my character: Micheal.blend

TIPRemember to save your file, because Blender does not do it automatically.

Where Are His Eyes? Compositing in Blender

On the Outliner tab (on the far right), you will now see your character and his/her connected objects. In order to make editing our character more convenient, let’s hide his bone rig for now. I’ll discuss bone rigs in more detail in part two of this tutorial. 

Next to their name you will find a +. Click it and you will see a list of objects associated with your character. Directly across from your character’s name is an Eye (see below example). Click the eye and the bone rig will become invisible. It remains there, but for editing purposes, you can temporarily remove it from the real-time view.

Hiding Bone Rig

Time to add materials to our character. This needs to be done in the Compositing view. Click the down arrow on the Default menu and choose Compositing. See the example below.

Composting view

You should now see three split views. On the bottom right we see our character. On the bottom left we need to change the view to Outliner, and on the top center we will see the Node editor. We also need to change from the Object view (white circle) to the Materials view, to show our textures as we edit them. See the example below.

Let’s also make sure that in the Node editor window we have the Use Nodes box checked.

Setting up Compositing View

To add materials to our character, we will choose them from the textures folder MakeHuman created for us when we exported our original mhx file. 

Now that we have our Outliner view open in the bottom left-hand window, we need to click the plus sign to show our character’s properties. Textures are added one by one, so let’s start at the beginning by clicking Body and then Add > Image Texture. Browse for your textures folder where your character is saved, and choose your skin texture. It should be a png image with either male_diffuse or female_diffuse on the end of the extension. 

Adding textures

You will see other textures in the folder as well, such as eyes, eyebrows, teeth, etc. You will need to repeat the above step until all of your character’s textures are added.

Textures Folder

Hair Texture

After we include the eyebrows and eyelashes for our character, there are extra shaders we need to add to make it look like realistic hair texture. Therefore, once you are finished adding all of the other textures, let’s go back to the Eyebrows.

Hair Shaders

We need to add a Transparent and Mix Shader and connect them via the circles on the shader boxes. Go to Add > Shader > Mix Shader and now move the box with your mouse between the Diffuse and Material Output boxes. The lines should automatically connect. Let’s now add the Transparent Shader and place it close to the Mix Shader. Follow the above diagram for best results. You will see your character’s hair texture change in real time. 

Smile! Time to Render

Rendering is an essential part of Blender’s interface. Rendering allows you to view your final character and see the end result of an animation sequence. Rendering speed is determined by your PC’s capabilities. It is not uncommon to render for hours or even days depending on how complicated your scene is. For the purpose of this tutorial, we will render on low pixels. I’ll discuss rendering in more detail in part two of this tutorial.

It’s time to change from the Compositing view back to our Default view. You should now see your character with all of their assigned materials. Check the eyes, lips, eyelashes, skin, etc. If you notice a material missing, repeat the above steps. On the bottom toolbar, choose View > Camera (you can also click the zero on your number pad). At first, you will only see your character’s feet because the camera is out of focus. 

Initial Camera Settings

The Camera is an object like any other. It can be moved and have its properties changed. You can choose any object in the real-time window by right clicking it. It will change to a pink/orange color. Once it’s clicked, you will see a red, green and blue arrow appear. Move the camera in front of your character. To confirm your position, go back to View > Camera.

Camera Settings

You can also change the camera settings under the Outliner tab by clicking the video camera icon on the bottom right. Once you have your camera positioned to your liking, let’s render our character. 

There are three very important things we need to do. First, go to the Camera icon (see below example).

1. Go to Output and select a destination. This will be where your rendered object will be saved. If you don’t assign a place, it will save under a Blender folder. You can save your image as a png, jpeg, bmp, or many other extensions. 

2. Under Sampling you will see Render and Preview. The higher the number, the clearer the picture/animation will be. Keep in mind that, also, the higher the number, the slower it will be to render. The preview section is how it will display on your screen while you are rendering. It is a good rule of thumb to keep this number low when you are testing your scene. You can tweak these numbers until you are comfortable with your final product.

3. Once you think your character is ready for the spotlight, click Render. You will see your scene rendering slowly as well as seeing a progress bar on the top. Once it’s complete, open your file destination and view your final image.

Rendering Settings
Rendering Image

Congratulations! You have successfully imported and edited your MakeHuman character in Blender. Now our character is ready to come to life. Stay tuned for part two of this tutorial, which will show you how to animate your character.