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Blender

Create and upload a VRChat Avatar with blend shapes visemes

6/3/2020

VRChat uses blend shapes to detect phonemes via a microphone, and adjust your character mouth to the correct shapes, giving the impression that you character is talking. Let's learn how to do it.
Premise
Isn't it great when you talk with somebody online and you see his mouth moving while he talks? It really add ups to the experience, specially in Virtual Reality.
That's what this is about. Creating different shapes so you can see yourself talking when you look at a mirror.
It's the little touches that makes something good to something better.
Starting
Let's say you already have your model done, it's also rigged and skinned so its ready to go. But, you want to make some blend shapes because in-game they look neat and funny.
Well, let's make them!

First, we need to know how many blend shapes we need to make. VRChat uses 17 different blend shapes. These are:
  • ​Blink left
  • Blink Right
  • Lower lid left
  • Lower lid right
  • aa
  • ch
  • dd
  • ee
  • ff
  • ih
It's important to know that these shapes that we are going to make will need to have a very specific name. For example, aa is called vrc.v_aa; ch is called vrc.v_ch; etc...

The only exceptions to this rule are the first 4 of the list. Their names will be vrc.blink_left,vrc.blink_right, etc...
As you can see in the image, there is no '.' in any of the names, and that's because Maya doesn't let you write dots in the names. We will roll with it for the moment.

Duplicate your character and move it to a side. Hide what is not necessary and show what it is.
Use an image of reference to know how to shape the mouth depending on the shape you need.
This gives you a general idea of how I made the different shapes of the mouth depending on the viseme.

You can see that there is not any vrc.blink_right or vrc.lowerlid_right, but I will talk about that later.

Another thing to keep in mind is that even if vrc.v_sil doesn't change the shape whatsoever, you must change something regardless. When we use Blender later, when exporting, if Blender detects that 'sil' it's the same as the base form, it will remove 'sil' from the blend shapes. Move a vert a little bit, one that no one will see, on the back of the mouth, for example.

Now that we have every shape done, we will use the Shape Editor.
Open the Shape Editor in the sculpting tab in Maya. Or going to Deform>Blend Shape.
Now, select one shape that you created and then select the original model. Go to the Shape Editor and click on 'Create Blend Shape'. Repeat this with all the 17 shapes.
Before, I said that I didn't have any blink_right nor lowerlid_right and that's because you dont usually need them. If the character is symmetric, you can duplicate your blink_left, select the new target and in the Shape Editor go to Shapes > Flip Target.

This will create a mirror effect and making the right eye to blink. You should change the name once it's done.
Export and Import
We have every shape ready, so now we will export all the package. Select all the shapes, meshes and bones and go to export.

Be mindful of checking in the box of Animation and making sure that Blend Shapes is activated too, because if it's not, it wont export correctly.
Write the name you want and export it.
Now we will open Blender, where we will change the names of the shapes to the correct one.
Open a new scene and delete the objects that get created all the time. Camera and light too.

Then, import the file we made earlier.
Navigate through the menus to find the Shape Keys sub-menu.
Here you can change the names of all the shapes. Delete the first '_' and replace it with a '.'

The last thing you have to do is to re arrange all the shapes to be in order. The order is the same as the list that I wrote at the beginning.
Once that's done, export as fbx.
Upload
You should have your Unity latest stable version already set up. If you don't, check this guide out made by my friend Alejandro Peño where he explain how to set it up.
With the character imported, we will add a new component called VRC_Avatar Descriptor.
We will draw the mesh into the 'Face Mesh' section. All the visemes should appear below there.
Now just click on each section and select the corresponded viseme.
Like this.
Once it's finished, you can upload the character like you usually do. Again, if you don't know how, you can check this guide:
Conclusion
Blend shapes visemes are a great way to give life to your avatars in VRChat.
​I would 100% recommend using them in your future avatars.
Depending on the model it takes around 30 min to an hour to create all the shapes needed, and they look great.

It's a lot of fun making these, so give them a try!
​Junior 3D Animator improving every day possible. Videogame and cat enthusiast.

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If I've helped and you'd like to support me, you can donate here: https://streamlabs.com/primpri
Note: There are a few things I did not explain in this video which are somewhat important.
Eg. If you are replacing your model's head, you should not position the new head in edit mode as you'll break shapekeys. Instead position it in object mode, you can get rotation axis similar to edit mode by going Object - Transform - Origin to Geometry (or Center of Mass (Volume)).
If you need help with anything, leave a comment or contact me on the vrchat discord server in the #avatar-rigging channel (@Primu).
This tutorial will show you how to merge parts of one model to another while preserving bone weights. I'm adding stockings/shoes from one character to the other. Both characters are MMD models that I imported to their own blend projects using Cat's plugin though you can do this with any models.
This tutorial assumes the parts of a model you are merging are weighted to bones that also exist in the model you're merging them to. Eg. Replacing an outfit or legs/arms/head etc..
If both models do share same bones but are named differently, go to the vertex group list of the mesh you are merging and rename the vertex groups of the bones that influence it to whatever the bones are named for the model you imported to.
Parts of a model being merged that have unique bones (like hair, tail or such) follow the same process, but there are a few differences.
Please follow this other video for that process:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ss0y93oaIvg