Reallusion TV

Featured Developer - Sterling Youngman

Sterling Youngman

Sterling Youngman is an award-winning Film and TV producer, living in Los Angeles, CA. Over his career, he has produced music videos, commercials, live events, documentaries, television and feature-films

Since the late 80’s, he has been intermittently involved with computer animation. He has worked on many platforms, including the development of 3D Studio Max.

Award-winning Producer & Animator

Q: Hello Sterling, and welcome to our Reallusion Feature Stories. Kindly introduce yourself and your background.

Over the years, I have primarily worked in the film and television industry. From music videos to feature-length films, my roles have run the gamut from writing, directing to producing, and as far back as the late 1980s, I have periodically dabbled with computer animation. I have always had a love for animation, and I have been eagerly and patiently watching technology become more accessible and capable without requiring massive teams of people and money to pump out long-form projects

Q: You mention that you have been working on the development of an animated TV Show. Can you tell us a bit about the show and how some of the newer technology has helped you?

Last summer I was toying with an idea for an animated series that had a theme geared toward a mature audience. On a whim, I bought iClone and started playing with various ideas. I made some tests as I developed the concept further. In the middle of this process, Character Creator came out, and I felt like a kid in a toy store. At about this time, I was made aware of Unreal Engine, and having married the iClone suite with Unreal Engine, everything was falling into place. Next I learned that the Perception Neuron motion capture rigs from Noitom were going to have direct support within iClone. For the first time ever, I felt that I had everything I needed to have a complete, mini animation studio.

Now I had all these tools at my disposal and just by chance, "Stuttering"John Melendez, notably from the Howard Stern show among other things, was over and asked what I was working on. He was extremely impressed. He shared a concept for a show he had a while ago but hadn't pursued. I loved the idea. We threw some ideas around, filling in some holes and ended up of a very robust overview of the show, the characters and the conflicts.

During the ongoing development of the show, I also needed to continue figuring out the production pipeline; what was going to happen smoothly and what was going to need massaging? What can I do to make the pipeline more efficient? I asked "Stuttering" John to come in for a mocap session. At this point, I had two Perception Neuron rigs and almost no experience with them.

We set up an improv situation and captured a test, which I proceeded to work with until I decided time would be better spent on the next phase of the TV production, which we are in now. The resulting video has had interesting responses, but for industry people, they are blown away by the quality, considering the cost, and unanimously, feel the technology is capable of producing final content for the show.

Q: iClone has been an integral part of your pipeline now. In your opinion, are there any advantages of using iClone?

In today's world, for complex projects, it doesn't really make sense to stay in one ecosystem. That's fine if the shoe always fits, but it rarely does. Personal preference and comfort level are obviously very important for any software that fosters your creativity and efficiency. In the case of iClone and its Character Creator sibling, it does a task that no other software I have used does as well, at any price.

Character Creator is by far the main selling point. I have tried several other avatar creation programs, and they all fall short compared to the iClone Pipeline. Character Creator offers more versatility than anything I have used and the number of options to tweak a character's mesh and skin feels endless.

Once in iClone, being able to literally drag and drop motions onto my characters in seconds is better than anything I have experienced. For game developers, the Motion Puppet feature, which allows you to create loopable animations is effortless and exceptionally valuable. What's really important is that it is fun to work with. The near limitless options on character creation and the ease of use is something I look forward to when in development and production and that inspires me...

Q: You have also worked on a project with Unreal Engine 4, where you used Character Creator to crank out a basic game in under 30 days. We would love to hear all about this!

This is a bit of a funny story, because it probably exemplifies how my head works and what motivates me. Completely random and out of nowhere, a friend texted a link to Unreal Engine 4, and all he wrote was, "You're welcome." To this day, I'm not sure if I had heard of UE4 or not. I play games to see where the graphics technology has progressed to, but usually after an hour or two, I'm bored and never play again. Needless to say, I certainly wasn't clued into the gaming dev world.

I clicked the provided link, saw the demo, "A Boy and His Kite," which Epic is well known for, and thought, "Wow real-time rendering on an epic scale," (no pun intended) and I soon found myself installing the engine. I honestly had no idea which side was up. I went through a few tutorials and had a blast. After learning the basics of navigation and simple lighting, and a tiny bit of the UE4 Blueprint coding language, I wondered how far I could get in 30 days. I saw it as a fun, giant puzzle and a personal challenge, two things that inspire me. It would also give me insight as to whether or not the game engine could be used to render out my TV show, in real time no less!

To be honest, my 30 days weren't typical. I basically lived at the computer, sleeping only a few hours a night. With Unreal Engine, there was the initial learning curve to get over, and I wasn't left with much time for character creation, but having played very briefly with Character Creator, I was confident I was going to be okay. Character Creator allowed me to make three widely different characters that were fitting to my game's story. They were completely rigged and most the animations I needed were standard assets from iClone. Other animations, I either made in iClone or used easily imported mocap. Thanks to Reallusion's excellent tutorials, I had my characters in Unreal in minutes. Years ago, this pipeline would have only been a dream, at best.

I remember counting my days as they went by and the deadline approached. I was adamant with myself, that when 30 days passed, I was finished no matter what. I kept a well organized checklist on Trello. There was a lot to cover, including AI, physics simulation, modelling of assets, particle systems, just creating concepts for puzzles. The list goes on. Most things were checked off the list when they were only moderately functional. Experienced Unreal developers thought it was a great first effort with the engine, but universally, most people want to know about the characters and where they came from.

In the end, I look at the 30 day project and laugh at its crudeness. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I am unsatisfied with many of the details, but the truth is I covered a lot territory, learned a lot and it helped me feel confident that everything was moving in the right direction to pursue the animated series I had initially set out to produce.

Q: Are there any upcoming projects that our community can expect and look forward to from Sterling Youngman?

The majority of my work is development. Development comes at the confluence of various ideas, and exploration. Sometimes you set out with a specific goal, but often things take an unexpected turn and you end up somewhere you didn't expect but far more interesting and intriguing.

Currently, what I had never expected was to be developing games. In fact, when I finished my 30 Day Project, I never really intended to dust it off to work on again. While my main focus is the animated show, when I ended up with a Vive VR headset, I was simply curious what it would be like to stand in the world I had created. Standing next to characters I had created, not as small flat images on a screen, but actual life-sized renditions of them. A friend, and Unreal VR expert, made that happen overnight. Technology doesn't usually make my head explode but it happened in that moment. Standing in the dungeon, eerily lit by torches and having the creepy imp characters walk up to me made everything literally come to life.

A few other people who have stepped into the game have confirmed that it is a compelling VR experience. As a result, we are cleaning up the game. Fixing the errors, adding puzzles, and a storyline with more characters, which are being created in iClone. There is also a game mechanic we have not seen in VR, which we are very excited about. We intend to make this freely available for people to experience. If the feedback is positive, we hope to expand it into a complete game.

On a small scale, I have been working with others on a few mini game jams. The first of which received an honorable mention from Epic. Our entries have been in VR and have included Character Creator assets.

To see more of their work, visit >>
YouTube channel:
Twitter: @sterlingy

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