I love to explore the relationship between the fictional worlds we create for movies, books, games, etc. and the real world.
Have you ever seen a character in Skyrim and thought: "Wow, I wish I could make my character look like that!"?
If you own a PC copy of the game, this is actually pretty easy to do. All you need is a copy of the Creation Kit (Skyrim's game editor), this tutorial, and a few minutes to make a simple mod that will allow you to duplicate the appearance of almost any character in the game. (I say "almost" because some characters have unique assets like special eyes or skin textures that are not available to players. Of course, you can fix this problem with a different kind of mod, but that's beyond the scope of this tutorial.)
This tutorial was written for absolute noobs, so if you already know your way around the editor, here's the short version:
- duplicate the character you want to look like and optionally change the editor id
- drag the duplicate to the Preset NPCs tab of the Race dialog for that character's race
- select the new preset when creating a new character in the character creation screen
The Creation Kit
If you don't already have it, the first thing you need to do is download a copy of the Creation Kit, which is free if you own a copy of the game, and can be found in your Steam Library under the Tools tab.
Once you have the Creation Kit installed, I highly recommend that you go through the starter tutorial on the Creation Kit wiki. It's short, and it will cover everything you need to know about creating and using simple mods that isn't covered in this tutorial.
Once you're comfortable with the idea of making a mod, perform the following steps:
Although you can safely ignore the warnings that appear when you load the Skyrim.esm when starting a new mod, the warnings that appear here will be important later when you work on larger mods that you plan on releasing to the public. That's a rather large topic that is beyond the scope of this tutorial, but it is well worth emphasizing that you cannot completely ignore these warnings always and forever.
In my own modding, I periodically review the warnings to see if any errors have crept into my mod. I don't do it every time I load my mod into the editor, but try to do it about every dozen or so hours that I've spent working on the mod. Depending on how complicated and prone to errors the mod you're working on is, you may want to check more or less often.
1. Load the Skyrim Game Files
If you created a mod in the starter tutorial and still have it open, close it now. Otherwise, open the editor if it's not already open, select the Skyrim.esm and Update.esm in the Data browser (File, Data..., double-click Skyrim.esm, double-click Update.esm, OK) as shown in the starter tutorial on the wiki and load the game data. Depending on your machine and the alignment of the stars it may take a half a minute to a couple of minutes to load everything.
When the editor is finished loading the game data, you will likely see a warning alert box pop up informing you about a navmesh error. This is the first of several warnings that you will get every time you load the editor (they're mostly about doors). These 'default' warnings are harmless and won't affect your mod so you can safely skip past them by clicking 'Yes to All'. (If you want to take a look at them you can click 'Yes' to each of them. If you click 'No', the editor will ask you if you want to quit the application, but I don't recommend you do that unless you feel like loading everything again.)
2. Save Your Mod
Once the editor is finished loading the file, save your mod. Immediately. Don't wait until the moment is right. I usually save my character mods by name, so if you're duplicating Aela's features, call your mod 'Aela' or 'AelaTheHuntress', something that is easy to identify in the Data menu in the Skyrim launcher.
It might seem strange that I'm telling you to save your mod before you've even started working on it, but I recommend that you get in the habit of doing it. The Creation Kit is prone to crashes (get used to them) so you'll want to save early and often. Recently, I've also had a problem saving new mods with the Creation Kit. It doesn't seem to have any problem saving an existing mod that I'm working on, but about half the time that I make a new mod, if I do any work and then try to save it, it crashes. It seems to crash less often if I save immediately after opening the editor before making any changes, so if you're having this problem, try saving your mod first. (You'll know you're having this problem if Windows fails to load the Save dialogue properly and the editor hangs.)
Avoid Dirty Edits in Your Mod
When you open objects in the editor, whether it's an NPC, a quest, a world space or anything else, unless you plan on including that object in your mod, never click Okay to exit, always click Cancel or the red X button at the top of the window.
If you click Okay, for many objects, the editor will record a change to the object, even if you didn't make any changes. This can also happen if you select an object in the Render window and accidentally move it. Even if you undo the change, it gets marked as changed. These kinds of unintentional edits are known as dirty edits and are a very common source of bugs and compatibility issues.
Marking anything as changed that you didn't intend to change is bad and can lead to compatibility issues with other mods that make real changes to those objects. Even worse, if the change was unintentional, you probably won't even know why your mod suddenly has a compatibility issue! There are ways to clean these dirty edits out of your mod, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in this case.
So remember: Always Cancel after viewing an object unless you are intentionally changing it!
3. Find the Character You Want to Duplicate in the Object Window
The first thing you need to do is find the character you want to duplicate. This looks like a long section, but 90% of it is for special case scenarios, so if you find your character right away, you can skip the rest of this point and just refer back to it if you run into problems locating someone on another occasion.
The Object Window
All of the objects in the game can be found in the Object window, which is one of the standard windows that should appear when you open the editor. Objects are broken down into categories and subcategories depending on how they are used by the game engine. The very first category is Actors, which is where you can find all of the NPCs (non-player characters) and creatures. If you open up the Actors tab (click on the little '+' sign) you'll find a couple of subcategories. The first subcategory, called Actor (very original), is a list of all of the actors in the game. If you click on this heading, a list of actors will appear in the right hand side of the window.
In Skyrim, all objects have two (actually three, but the third one isn't important right now) identifiers: the proper name that appears in-game when you look at an object or character (eg. Sheogorath), and the editor id, which is the name that they go by in the editor (eg. DA15Sheogorath). The editor id is in the first column and is the identifier you will typically use to locate things in the editor.
Using the Filter
At this point, you can do one of two things: you can manually search through all of the entries by opening subcategories and scrolling around until you find the editor id belonging to the character you are looking for, or you can enter the name of the character you want to duplicate in the Filter at the top of the Object window. (See the screenshot.) Most named NPCs have editor ids that match their proper name and are organized by race and gender in the editor, so if you know the race of the character, you can often find them quickly by opening a couple of subcategories, but generally speaking it's quicker and easier to use the Filter.
The Filter (the little text input box at the top of the Object window) will search through all of the editor ids of the objects located in the subcategory you currently have selected using the string of characters that you enter. If it finds a match, it will show up in the list. You don't have to type the full name of the character you are looking for, but the more you type, the more the filter can narrow the search. If you enter a single letter, like 'e', you are likely going to get a long list of matches. That's because the filter doesn't search from the start of the word, but looks for any match within a word. That might seem like an inefficient way of doing things, but it's really the best way of searching for things in the editor because many of the editor ids have odd prefixes (like the 'DA15' before 'Sheogorath') which would make them impossible to search for if you didn't already know what they were.
In all likelihood, the character you are looking for will now appear in a shorter list in the right, but it's always possible that the character you want to duplicate has an editor id that doesn't match the name that appears in-game. In that case, you have a couple more options.
Organize by Name
The first thing you can try is organizing the actors by name. (If you have anything in the Filter, clear it before doing this.) Find the Name column in the object window and click it to reorganize the actors by the name that appears in-game rather than by editor id. Sometimes, an NPC is known by a generic faction name in the editor, but has a proper name in-game. (The housecarls, for example, like Lydia, are listed under Housecarl*, not their proper name.) If that's the case, this search should help you locate them. (It goes without saying that knowing the correct spelling will help you with all this!)
Use the *All Category and the Use Info Dialog
If that doesn't work, you can try expanding your search. Scroll down to the bottom of the list in the left pane of the Object window and select the "*All" category. The All category will search every object in the game (ie. not just actors) for any string in the filter. Sometimes, even though characters aren't identified by name in the Object window, and don't have a proper name in-game, objects that are important to them sometimes have their name as part of the object name. (It doesn't happen often for actors, but it's a useful trick to know anyway.) If you happen to find an object containing the name of the character, you can right-click and select Use Info to find a list of objects referring to that object. You can then double-click these objects to open the file in the editor. Once that file is open, you want to look for anything that looks like an editor id for an actor. Because each object type is different, I can't give you specific instructions for this, but if you examine a few different objects you'll start to get a feel for what you're looking for. If you find something that looks like an actor editor id, locate that actor in the Actor list and open them up (double-click them) to see if they are the actor you are looking for. You can check the Head preview checkbox at the bottom center of the NPC dialog to view the character's face (won't work on characters created from templates). Often, you can trace your way back to a hard to find object by finding something that they use, like an object, spell, or script and working your way back.
Use the Find Text Command
If even that doesn't work, go to Edit -> Find Text and enter the name you are looking for. If the name appears anywhere in the game (for example, in a bit of dialogue) it will appear in this list. You may have to check a couple of tabs, but you can organize the results by object type by clicking in the Type column. If you find a lead, double-click the object to open it in the editor and look for something that looks like an editor id for an actor. This is what I had to do to find Lucien Lachance, who does not go by his real name in the game, and who has an editor id that doesn't contain his name. In the screenshots, you can see the piece of dialogue that led me to a quest associated with him. From the quest conditions, I could determine the editor id that he was known by in the game. With a bit of digging, you can find pretty much anything in the game as long as you know how it's spelled.
(If you have to dig around in files like this to find the editor id of the character you want to duplicate, make sure you click Cancel to close anything you opened in your search instead of Okay. This is very important, so read the sidebar for more details.)
4. Duplicate the Character
Once you've found the character you're looking for, right-click the editor id in the Object window and select Duplicate. This will create an exact duplicate with the same editor id + "DUPLICATE001".
The reason why you want to duplicate the character instead of editing the character directly is to avoid unnecessary conflicts with other mods. If you add the original character to the list of presets, it will make a change to the character. If you then use a mod that makes a change to the same character, the changes from one of the mods won't take effect in-game (only the changes by the last loaded mod apply). If you create a duplicate, you won't run into these conflicts.
You can optionally left click on the duplicated character slowly twice to edit the editor id and change it to something else. I generally rename all of my characters to follow existing editor conventions, so if I'm making a copy of Ulfric, I rename it to NordMalePresetUlfric because all of the existing presets follow this format (NordMalePreset01, NordMalePreset02, etc.). This is just a matter of personal preference and won't affect your mod in any way though there is the remote chance of avoiding a conflict with another mod that duplicates the same character but doesn't change the name.
Whenever you change the editor id of an object, the editor will ask you if you want to make a new object. If you've edited the original character without duplicating him first, you will definitely want to say yes, but in this case, since we created a new object when we duplicated the character, we can say no. When it asks if you are sure, say yes. It's always a good idea to work from duplicates whenever possible to avoid creating conflicts with other mods.
5. Add the Character to the List of Presets
Once you've created your duplicate, you can add them to the list of presets that are available to choose from when you select their race in the character creation screen.
To do this, find the list of Races in the Object window (it's located in the Character category) and double-click the race to open the Race editing dialogue. Make sure that the 'Editing' radio button is set to the gender of the character you are duplicating. Switch to the last tab called Preset NPCs. Find your character in the Actor list in the Object window and drag it into the list of presets.
This makes a change to the original race, which can create conflicts if you use mods that make changes to the races. Unfortunately, there's no way around this. The good news is that once you've started your game and saved your character, your character's appearance is stored in your game save so you can remove this mod from your load order. You can then load the race changing mods afterwards and, assuming they don't require you to start a new game, you should be able to use them without conflicts.
6. Verify Your Changes
If you double-click on your character and look at the checkboxes in the top left, you will now notice that the Is CharGen Face Preset box is now checked, which means that you will be able to select them in-game from the list of available presets. If you just select this box, but don't add them to the list of presets in the Race dialogue, they won't actually get added. If you add them through the Race dialogue, it checks this box automatically, so it just makes more sense just to drag them and forget about it.
7. Save Your Mod
That's it! You can save your mod and you should be good to go. The only thing left to do is activate your mod in the Data menu in Skyrim's launcher (it should be activated by default) and start a new game with your awesome new character.
Note that this process only gives you the appearance of the original NPC. It doesn't give you any of his or her special abilities or gear, or allow other NPCs to recognize you as that character. It also doesn't remove the original character from the game. It's possible to do most (possibly all) of these things by making additional modifications to your plugin, but that's well beyond the scope of this tutorial.
If you want to learn more about customizing Skyrim to suit your play style, you can find more of my tutorials by clicking on my link.
© 2012 j-u-i-c-e
Fixis on May 11, 2017:
Thank you! It works like charm!
thelittlepanda on May 05, 2015:
it's an amazing tutorial for a mod-nu-bee like me.
Thank you so much
Cia on April 28, 2015:
Tried this with a mod, the chararcter won't appear ingame!
Trizo on December 21, 2014:
How do you drag the actor into the presets page? When I try the mouse has a red circle with a line through it.
Nihllus on November 02, 2014:
Thank you! Was very easy to follow, even for someone who has never used the creation kit.
KlarlDikends on August 18, 2014:
Thanks for being awesome and posting this. I've made 700 characters now... That's dead on. But, why does a character with the same settings still look like a zombie compared to it's npc doppelganger? And why do I keep getting attacked by goats? I thought it was a fluke at first, but everywhere I go, goats attack me.
Kenneth Smith from America on April 02, 2014:
Just was able to make my character look like Ulfric Stormcloak. It looks awesome. Thanks this was very helpful.
Brandon Hart from The Game on March 19, 2014:
Haha I used this with my guy and he looks great - thanks for this.
SynnJynn on January 17, 2014:
Gonna have to try this ^-^ Thanx!
skyrim player on July 19, 2012:
thanks, works great