Setting the scene: VRoid + Unity for animated cartoons

“I wonder how hard it would be to use VRoid Studio and Unity to create an animated movie?” I am starting this series of blog posts in my quest to answer this question. (Spoiler alert, it’s not as easy as I would like!!)

[Psst! Did you subscribe to this blog because I have other posts on Adobe Character Animator? VRoid Studio and Unity are unrelated to Adobe Character Animator, which is 2D rather than 3D animation software.]

Why VRoid Studio and Unity? Because they are free! (Well, free was at least part of it.)

VRoid Studio is free software that allows creation of 3D anime like characters. There are applications like VRChat you can join with your own 3D avatar. There are lots of tutorials on VRoid Studio if you go looking. Argama Witch I find a very useful YouTube channel. There are lots of others out there too from basics to advanced (for example deatrathias.net talks about how to create a tail using VRoid + Unity.)

Unity is a game engine which can render the 3D characters and has a free license for individual non-commercial use. (VRoid Studio was written in Unity.) There are lots of tutorials for Unity (e.g. A practical primer to using Unity) and some good quality official training material. There are also tools such as UniVRM for importing VRM files exported by VRoid Studio.

There are other tools as well. Unreal Engine is an alternative to Unity, but I had some assets from the Unity store already purchased and some prior experience, so I decided to continue with Unity. There is also another free package called Blender which is also very useful for editing 3D characters, but VRoid Studio is much easier to create characters, although Blender can be useful alongside VRoid Studio to fine tune the characters for more advanced cases. There are other packages on the market, like Maya and Mixamo, but these tend to be paid packages. The cost may be worth the price if you are serious about 3D modeling and animation, but this is just a hobby for myself so I stick to free tools.

Another free tool to consider is MikuMikuDance (MMD). It is designed to create animated videos. If you search for MMD on YouTube, you will find lots of music videos with dancing and singing avatars, and there is a tool to convert VRM into the format MMD can load. It works by you keyframing the movements of all the joints, so it takes a lot of effort to do. But it has fewer concepts to learn, so might be a better path to take. I am starting this blog after using Unity for a few weeks now, and I will say it is not easy to learn all the concepts. MMD might be a lot less work.

I have seen some high quality animations created with Unity, but there is a difference between possible and easy. My personal project (which I may never finish, but I expect to learn a fair bit trying) is to create a series of short animated episodes. Creating short videos on a more regular basis is easier than finishing a single long project. I am planning to make these silent episodes with subtitles or speech bubbles to reduce effort. (I tried a previous series with 2D animation software and organizing voice actors and audio editing became a significant amount of time.)

Because I plan to make a series, it means I am willing to invest a bit more into the characters and tools with to make each episode easier to create, within reason.

In the next post I start to introduce the basics of Unity, then will move on to a summary of Unity terminology, before moving on to providing concrete examples of creating an animated cartoon using Unity.

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