Kickstarter Special: Creation of a unique avatar based on your photo

An example how avatar creation looks like in Tau Station with grid model and textures

Tau Station’s Kickstarter campaign is active; you can support us by backing our project. To tie in with the campaign, we want to explain our co-creation rewards in more detail. Today, we’ll talk about making a personal and unique avatar, based on your photo! This special item is part of the last three reward tiers. On top of that, our talented artist Erik shares some special insights about his work creating avatars, and the process of co-creating an avatar.

The Kickstarter reward in a nutshell

  • Kickstarter: The personal avatar is part of the reward in three different tiers: “Visual Designer”, “Mission Designer”, and “Space Station Designer”.
  • Limited numbers: In total, 44 packages contain the personalized avatar reward.
  • Be Unique: In addition to the individual package rewards, you will get a unique avatar in the game that only you can use.
  • Photo: Your avatar will be designed based on a photograph of you. We won’t make avatars based on other people, such as celebrities.
  • Special Wishes: You can discuss adding a few accessories with our artist, for example if you want to have ear rings, piercings or tattoos on your character.
  • Delivery: We’ll create personalized avatars in the order we receive photos. We’ll keep you up to date with our latest estimates while we work.

How do we create avatars?

Our artist, Erik, explains:

The process is pretty simple, but it can still be challenging. Our goal is to create an avatar based on a picture, and to do that, you need to abstract general features, shapes, and forms from the photo. Everybody has a unique face (except twins and doppelgangers 🙂) so finding those unique features and applying them with the right amount of fidelity is the key.

A collage of an avatar of a black male, showing 3 stages of picture creation: the left part shows the grid model with polygons, the middle part has a surface, the right part shows the avatar including textures

It all starts in Zbrush…

Generally my process starts in Zbrush. I start sculpting basic shapes, trying to find the structure of the face, and the frame of the body. I always work from bigger shapes to smaller ones, then add details, always keeping the pose and the textures in mind.

screenshot of the zbrush software, showing the 3D sculpted model, but without textures

Trick your brain

One tricky part of creating a likeness is that sometimes you need to spend time away from the model and photo that you are recreating, as you can get lost in it. Flipping a model upside down or horizontally can trick your brain into seeing it in a new light. If you see a face upside down in the real world it’s still a face – if something is off with the model, you will notice it right away.

The avatar of a black male flipped upside down

Adding textures

In order to create textures, the model requires UV-s*. To have more control over the details, I usually create the UV-s in Zbrush or other external software like Blender or Maya.

screenshot of the substance painter software where painting the textures happens. The 2D textures projected onto the 3D model in here.

For texturing I use Substance Painter, a 3D painting software whose constant updates make the workflow quite simple. At this stage the models reach 90% of their final look, the only thing left is rendering. Using different render engines such as Marmoset, Cycles or Keyshot will give you slightly different results, but once you set up a scene in your preferred software, with the required lighting and cameras, you only have to import and render them. Sometimes they require a final touch up in Photoshop, but that’s not always the case.

Playing with polygons

Due to the nature of the avatars (not being 3D animated or requiring real time rendering) the poly count is not really a concern. I can push them as high as the style and the details require.

screenshot of polygon stats, shaowing data like TotalPolys = 20336920, TotalPoints = 20337273

Photo quality matters!

The challenging part of creating an avatar based on a photograph lies in the reference. The more references you have, the easier it will be, and the more accurate the result. The same is true for the quality of the picture, the amount of details visible, the lighting, and the resolution. You don’t need a studio photo shoot in order to make a model, but generally the better the photo, the easier it is to make a good copy.

I hope you enjoyed these insights into our avatar creation in general, and the individual avatars based on your photo in particular.

Cya in space, Citizens!

*U and V refer to the axes of a 2D texture – it’s a coordinate system. UV mapping allows you to accurately project a 2D texture onto a 3D object.