LMAC School - How to pose and render 3D characters for using in collages

LMAC School - How to pose and render 3D characters for using in collages

When creating collages, we often have a long and sometimes unsuccessful search for pictures of characters in specific poses.
THIS photo of a person in a specific pose probably just doesn't exist because your concept may be too creative.
Sometimes we can help ourself by modifying a photo of a person using photo montage techniques. But this is very difficult and often leads to inaccurate results.

No need to get desperate... There is a savior! Well, there are actually two saviors perfectly working together. :-)

In this tutorial, I like to show you how to import MakeHuman characters into Blender and then change the character's pose. Finally, I want to show you how to render it with a transparent background so that it can easily be used as part of your collage.

Then you will never have to look for suitable pictures of people in public sources again and going to have a lot more control about how your collage should look like.

Cover image

1. Basics

1.1 What is Blender?

Blender is a open source 3D modelling software (and a lot more). It is absolutely free of any cost.
In this tutorial we mainly need Blender to change poses of characters made in the MakeHuman software.

Blender after you started it

1.2 What is MakeHuman?

MakeHuman is also open source and enables you to configure any type of human character. Specifically it creates a 3D character model you have configured by setting simple attributes like muscle sizes, sizes of body parts, hair, gender, race, age, and many more.
This software too, is free of any cost.

The MakeHuman community version comes with a plugin which you can install in Blender to import models from MakeHuman by simply clicking on a button.

Screenshot of MakeHuman

1.3 Gizmos in Blender

If you already familiar with Blender, you can skip this section.

A Gizmo is a tool that allows mouse controlled translation, rotation and scaling in the 3D Viewport. It is displayed directly in the viewport on activated objects.
Every tool for manipulating object coordinates or rotation has its own gizmo with which the manipulation can be done directly with help of the mouse.
In this tutorial we only use the Rotate tool and the Move tool or its Gizmos.

Rotate Gizmo

This Gizmo of the Rotate tool consists of several rings in different colors, each of this rings stands for a direction of rotation. Just grab such a ring with the mouse (hold the left button down and drag) to change the rotation in the corresponding axis.

Move Gizmo

The Gizmo of the Move tool has three arrows. Each of this arrows stands for a specific move axis.
You can crab this arrows to move the currently active object around by using the mouse (hold the left button down and drag). The white inner ring is for moving the object freely around (same as pressing G on your keyboard).

1.4 Global transformation and local transformation in Blender

If you already familiar with Blender, you can skip this section.

The transformations are set to "Global" by default. This means that the transformation axes used by tools align with the world coordinate space.
In this tutorial, however, we have to switch the transformations to "Local" to pose the character successfuly. This means that the transformation axes then align to the coordinate space of the selected bone.


1.5 Project outline in Blender

If you already familiar with Blender, you can skip this section.

The project outline is a list of objects in your 3D scene. You can manage the listed objects in the outline (select, delete, ...).
We're going to use it in the "Posing" chapter to select an object.

Project outline

2. Preparing

Before we can start, there are still a few small preparations to be made. In the following enumeration I am listing all the necessary preparations that have to be done at first.

  1. Download the Make Human Community software.
  2. Download Blender 2.9x.
  3. Install both tools on your hard drive. Keep the MakeHuman ZIP file on your hard disk.
  4. Open the MakeHuman ZIP file and extract the ZIP file named like "addons_for_blender_28x\makehuman-plugin-for-blender.zip" to a temporary location on your hard disk.
  5. Open Blender.
  6. Open the preferences dialog window by clicking the menu item "Edit/Preferences".
  7. In the preferences dialog window switch to the "Add-ons" tab.
  8. Click on the "Install..." button (upper right). Another dialog window opens. There, select the "addons_for_blender_28x\makehuman-plugin-for-blender.zip" ZIP file and hit the "Install add-on" button.
  9. Save the changes you have made to the preferences by clicking the "Save preferences" button in the preferences menu (lower left).


3. Importing

Before importing an object from MakeHuman into Blender, you should add a skeleton to it in MakeHuman.
You could also create a skeleton to a 3D model in Blender. But it is easier to give the 3D model a premade skeleton in MakeHuman, which then can simply be used in Blender.
In MakeHuman just click on the "Pose/Animate" tab and choose the "Default" Rig Preset, before importing it into Blender.
In the next chapter I'm going to tell you what the skeleton is used for.

When that's done, keep the MakeHuman program running and switch to the Blender window. Open the 3D View Properties (see example) by pulling it out of the right side of the Layout View. There is a small arrow icon there that you have to pull. Drag it a bit into the Layout View.
You will find several tabs on it. One of these tabs is labeled "MakeHuman". Click on it to activate the tab.
In the panel of this tab you will find a large button that says "Import human". Click on it to import the character from the running MakeHuman program. Blender now gets the character directly from MakeHuman.


4. Posing

In this chapter we are going to use the skeleton that we have imported from MakeHuman together with the character model.
As with a real person, the model has a skeleton made of individual bones. In Blender we can make use of any of these bones to orientate single body parts.

To do that we first have to switch to the "pose" mode. If your Blender is already in layout mode, click on the character model in the project outline (to the right) to activate it. You can recognize the object you need by the human icon to the left of the label in the outline (see example).

In Pose Mode you can see lines that seem to run through the character. On closer inspection, these lines are not continuous. In truth, they are made up of different segments. Each of these segments represents a single bone.
If you click on such a segment / bone, you activate it.
Then you can manipulate it with the Rotate Tool to change the orientation of the body part in the appropriate place.

That way, and with a little effort, you can configure the entire character's pose bone by bone.
Grab the bone of the shoulder and use it to rotate the entire arm in the desired direction. The same principle works with all the other bones, too. As soon as you move a bone, the bones attached to it move synchronously with it, as if it were a real human skeleton.

Example - Posing

5. Rendering

5.1 Camera

At first, you need to configure the camera object of the scene. Whenever you create a new 3D modelling project, Blender also adds a camera by-default.
The camera is needed by the renderer to depict your scene.
Exactly as a real camera, a camera in Blender has a focal length (but this is adjustable). You can change the focal length in the Camera property pane, which you can find in the property tab with this icon image.png.
Move and rotate the camera as you would like to take a photo of you 3D character.

5.2 Light

In Blender you have full control over the light sources. Light is just an object in Blender that can be moved and rotated like any other object.
By default, Blender will add a light object to your scene. You can configure the light properties of this object on the "Light properties" tab.


Light objects in Blender are very powerful and there are many setting options.
Learn more about lights in Blender: Blender manual: Light objects

5.3 Transparent background

It is very useful to render a 3D character with a transparent background. Because you can easily integrate the render result into a collage. No need of cutting out!
You can find the corresponding setting option in the Render tab of the property pane. The Render tab can be recognized by this icon image.png.
Look for the "Film" section in the Render tab and check the box next to "Transparent". That's it!

Example - Transparent background

5.4 Finally rendering

To render the image, you just have to press F12 on your keyboard in Blender (Windows) or click on "Render image" in the "Render" menu. Then a new window will open in which the image will be rendered. Please be patient, the rendering process may take a while.
You will be able to see in this window that the picture is slowly being built up.
After the rendering is complete, you can save the image by clicking on the menu item "Save as ..." in the "Image" menu or by pressing Shift + Alt + S on your keyboard.
Save it as a PNG file so that the transparency is preserved. In example, JPG or BMP files cannot contain any information about transparency.

Example - Save image

I strongly recommend switching the renderer to Cycles in the Render tab. Because with Cycles you can get much better and more realistic render results.

Renderer - Cycles

Example rendering

Please do not hesitate to ask a question in the comment area if there is any need for clarification.

Best regards

PS: 33% of the rewards for this post go to LMAC as beneficiary (#supportlmac).

You will have noticed that I am not a native English speaker. :-)
Therefore, there are probably a few linguistic bumps in my texts. If there are any passages that could trigger accidently a world war or something similar, please let me know so I can change it.
Of course, I am also interested in making the text easier to understand if it is partially necessary.

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