What Is Adobe Fuse?
Adobe Fuse an impressive little program that provides a fun way to develop unique human characters to add to your designs in Photoshop.
Fuse is an available app for current members of Adobe Creative Cloud. It is listed as a limited-time "preview" application. The software provides the means to easily create and import actual 3D characters into Photoshop. The characters can then interact with the other 3D elements in Photoshop and have poses or pre-recorded animations applied to them.
The fine folks at Mixamo are responsible for the creation of Fuse, and their other product line hosts several other applications designed for more intensive work in 3D character development.
An agreement between Mixamo and Adobe is what brought about the inclusion of Fuse in the Creative Cloud lineup. Characters that are created with Fuse can be brought into Photoshop CC, or they can be uploaded to Mixamo's 3D character library.
Fuse is not a robust 3D content creator like Maya or 3D Studio Max. But it doesn't have the learning curve those programs require either. While Fuse is somewhat limited in what it can create, it is a fun application that is highly intuitive, surprisingly powerful, and very easy to use.
How Does It Work?
The workflow of Fuse is wonderfully straightforward and, even with a wide array of options, the process is never confusing. The interface is neatly laid out so that it is always quite obvious what the current step is doing and where to go next. Let's take a closer look.
The first step upon launching Fuse is to select the head of the character. There's a host of available cranium types to choose from. If you don't see one that perfectly matches your character, just choose the one that fits the closest. Most of the head and facial features are adjustable later on.
After you've chosen a head, the program will automatically offer up a library of torsos to mount the head on. Again, seek out a good starting point as the details are fully adjustable later on.
The arms and legs are added in the same way. Select one from the library and the program automatically adds the limb to the model and blends the skin and muscles in perfectly. The model is fully 3D, and the toolbar on the left contains tools to move and spin the model so you can examine your creation from any angle.
After the model is fully assembled, switch to the Customize tab. The properties panel reveals several folders, one for each body region and several settings for that specific body part.
While the folders are laid out in a very logical fashion, a faster way to select the exact body part to edit is to use the Select Tool—it's the white arrow in the toolbar on the left. Then click and drag on a body part to adjust the size and/or relative location of that part. The option menus automatically update as a result.
Once the character's body is built and adjusted, the next major element is clothing. The wardrobe options are even more varied than the body parts!
The outfits tend to revolve around the selection of the top. It's the first element Fuse prompts for a selection. Most of the options tend to be built with either a male or female frame in mind. But there are also a handful of unisex clothes available too. In any case, whichever article of clothing is selected, it automatically sizes itself to fit the frame of your character.
If you thought putting an outfit together in real life was a challenge, wait until you start trying to pair a set of bottoms and footwear with the top of your character. Fortunately, trying on a pair of skinny jeans just involves the click of a button here! Likewise, all the footwear comes in matching pairs, and you don't ever need to search for that one missing shoe.
There's a good variety of hairstyles to choose form—don't get distracted by the hair color, because that can be changed later on. Be more concerned with the style and length as these are fairly rigid settings.
The Hats accessory is particularly impressive because there's built-in collision detection with the hairstyle. This ensures that there are no locks of hair poking through the surface of the hat. (Plus your digital character will never get hat hair!)
Expert Tip: There's no obvious interface option to remove a hat once it has been added. To do this, simply select it in the preview window and press the Delete key!
The available accessories extend to eyewear, beards, gloves, masks, and moustaches! Obviously you don't need to include all of these with every character, but it's nice to know that the options are there.
How Much Customization Is There?
At this point, Fuse looks little more than a very sophisticated dress-up program. Some video games even offer this level of control to players to create characters for their game.
Is this all there is? Certainly not! Fuse has much more to offer. Let's take a look at some of the deeper customization options that are available.
One of the most common critiques of CG characters is their lack of facial expressions. To be honest, the resting dead-eyed pose of a new character can be a bit creepy. But once a bit of personality is added to the facial expression, it goes a long way to making the character more likeable.
When you switch back to the Customize tab, the Face folder contains several sliders to adjust the mood of the character. These adjustments alter certain facial regions to form that expression. They can even be blended together.
While the expressions sliders are excellent, there might be times that you want finer control over certain features, like mouth position. In that case, there's an Extras folder within the Face folder that contains even more adjustments for finer control.
Head over to the Texture tab and then select one of the articles of clothing to behold the plethora of options for customizing the textures! Not only is there a library of different materials and textures available at the bottom of the screen, but each surface has its own set of properties that can be adjusted as well.
For example, the t-shirt's color can be set to white, but you also have control over the number and frequency of creases, and even the predominant direction of the creases.
Select an area of the model where skin is showing to see the dizzying number of attributes available to customize the skin and face. Skin Color is so much more than just a color picker—there are controls for Age, Hue Variation, Beauty Marks and more! Dig further and you will find specific controls for makeup, facial hair, and even the length of eyelashes.
But it doesn't stop there. If you want to really go deeper, browse through the controls for the eyes. If you so desire, the pupil can be set to Feline shape! Or you can even adjust the size and color of the Veins seen in the whites of the eyes.
The customization options we've gone over so far will probably cover 99% of any custom character needs you might have. But there's one more customization function to take a look at. This one is only for the truly brave and should be used sparingly!
Fuse actually includes a sculpt-like ability for the base character form. The tool at the bottom of the toolbar is the Modify Geometry Directly tool. This tool allows you to change the actual polygons of the model by pushing and pulling at them with a brush that tracks along the surface. While this option can be helpful, it is difficult to master and can easily ruin a good model.
So, Now What?
At this point you may have spent more time studying the specific attributes of your character's face than you have your own reflection. Your custom character is done!
So now what? How do we get this character into Photoshop? Well, the standard means of saving the file in Fuse and then importing or opening it in Photoshop won't work. You have to do something else instead.
Hit the big Save to CC Libraries button at the top right of the interface. Fuse prompts for a filename and selection of a folder within your CC Library.
Launch Photoshop and create a new document. Then open the Libraries panel with Windows > Libraries. Point the library to the folder containing your Fuse character. Right-click on the character and choose Use in Document. Photoshop adds the character to the scene as a 3D element.
Switch to the 3D workspace and use the 3D panel to manipulate the 3D properties of the scene. The character is truly a 3D element so you can adjust the camera view, lighting, shadows and even the properties of the materials like Shine, Reflectivity, etc.
In the 3D panel, select the skeleton (it has a small bone icon next to it) and the Properties panel updates with a long list (123 available pages!) of available poses and animations that can be applied to the skeleton. Simply click on one and Photoshop applies it to your character.
In order to see the animation, open the Timeline panel through Windows > Timeline. Then press the Play button to see your character come to life!
Seeing your custom character in action is truly a sight to behold! Welcome to your new digital addiction!
So How Useful Is It?
If you are anything like me, your creative wheels are already spinning with ideas for how to incorporate custom characters into your new designs. And the possibilities really are limited only by your imagination.
Simply having a 3D character available in Photoshop is a huge resource. The first thing I did was to work one into a photo composite with some fun visual effects. Having the character as a 3D object meant that setting up some interesting lighting was remarkably easy.
But even if you don't care for using a character in a composite, another option is to use them as a visual reference for creating digital characters in interesting positions and poses.
As impressive as Adobe Fuse is, there are a few features I found myself wishing for. At the time of this article, the application is in its first release, so it's possible that these items have been implemented after the fact. (At least I really hope so!)
- Custom Poses. This is the biggest drawback of the current software. There is no way to create a custom pose for your character. The choices are restricted to choosing from preset poses or scrubbing through countless character animations in hopes of finding a movement that strikes just the right position. There are creative workarounds to this issue (like compositing various poses together to get the one you want) but that shouldn't be necessary.
- Custom Decals/Textures. The texture variations are excellent. Yet there's no way to apply a custom file to a texture. Applications for this would be things like adding a graphic to a shirt, or a custom tattoo to the skin of the character. Through certain tricks, these are possible to apply with the 3D tools in Photoshop, but these are options that should be available during the character creation stage.
- Render Quality. This is a tough one. It is very difficult to get a character out of the uncanny valley and away from that "video game" appearance. The characters created by Fuse don't come close to looking realistic. I admit it is likely impossible to achieve CG character realism in a consumer-grade graphics package. So the offense is forgivable, but that doesn't make it go away.
- Compatibility With Mixamo Characters. The other option for saving a character is to Save to Mixamo. This uploads the character to the online database of 3D characters available on Mixamo's site. The interesting thing about this workflow is that the characters on Mixamo's site cannot then be downloaded into Fuse. The workflow is only one-way.
Adobe Fuse is taking Photoshop into places it has never ventured before. That's a very good thing! While the software has room to grow, there's a lot of very impressive capabilities that should whet the creative appetite of any digital artist. The fact that it is a "preview" feature means that it might go away at any time, so now is the time to grab it while it is still available!