Epic’s New MetaHuman Creator Generates Digital Characters that Avoid the Uncanny Valley

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Every gamer has been there—you’re playing a title that has incredible sweeping vistas, razor-sharp controls, and clever writing. And then you get a close look at a character model, whose unrealistic, robot-like face breaks the immersion granted by the environment. Making authentic-looking human models without veering too far into the uncanny valley is not easy, but Epic might have cracked the code. The company’s new MetaHuman Creator promises to deliver photorealistic digital characters in a snap, and you can check out a demo right now. 

Epic is perhaps best-known for Fortnite, the most popular game on the planet despite its removal from the iPhone. This title uses cel-shaded visuals that aren’t supposed to look realistic, but Epic’s Unreal Engine is adaptable. It also powers realistically styled games like Gears of War and The Outer Worlds. 

Faces in Unreal Engine aren’t bad, but they’re very obviously synthetic. That likely won’t be the case in the future because every face generated in MetaHuman comes with everything you need to load them up in the Unreal Engine with full animation controls. Epic claims the process of creating a digital model of a character often takes weeks or months, but MetaHuman can do the same in an hour or two. 

You might think you’ve used a lot of character creators in games, and this will be no big deal. You’d be wrong, though. The level of detail in MetaHuman is on a completely different level. Epic says its cloud-based library processes every change the user makes, rendering the results with unprecedented levels of detail and realism. The output works out of the box with Unreal Engine, but you also get full Maya 3D source data, and it’s all compatible with Unreal Engine 4 as well as the upcoming UE5 release. 

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If you want to try the demo, you’ll need an Epic account and the Epic Games launcher. The Unreal Engine 4 is a 12GB download, and MetaHumans is another 4.7GB. The MetaHuman engine runs smoothly even on a modest system because all the heavy lifting happens in the Epic cloud via “Unreal Pixel Streaming” tech. You don’t need any programming knowledge to start fiddling around. Both of the faces in the demo are fully editable and rigged up to work with the Unreal Engine, but working with MetaHuman is more complex than your average character builder. 

Epic hasn’t specified when the project will move beyond the “sneak peek” phase, but you might start seeing much more realistic characters in the Unreal engine before you know it. MetaHuman also seems like it might allow for the creation of deepfake-like content — even at this early stage, it can be hard to tell the synthetic MetaHuman faces from the real thing. What a time to be alive.

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