The perfect simple character modeling & animation workflow

Hi everyone. I wasn’t sure where to post this, I hope it fits in this category. I fear this post will turn out a bit long, opaque and convoluted but I will do my best to make it as clear as possible.

To put it in a nutshell, I have been trying to find the holy grail of a quick and simple workflow to create and animate characters. But while I made a lot of progress, I feel like I get tripped up by constant little workflow inefficiencies.

I would love to discuss how others would approach or do approach this and, perhaps, where I just do it wrong.

A little context: I’ve been dabbling in CGI for over 20 years and have been a Blender user for about 10. I’m interested in many many things, including the technical side of CGI (and many other things) but at heart, I’m an artist and just want to create without any hurdles in my way. My biggest love is film and I love creating stories, from personal to escapist action/sci-fi stuff.
TL;DR: I’m still a kid at heart and want to play with my digital action figures. (make short films)

To this end, what I really want is to easily and quickly create scenes, put some characters in them, animate them and churn out a cool little short film in a month or a feature film in a year or so. I’ve gotten quite fast at creating scenes with ready-made assets, but characters (to the surprise of noone) are still really hard.

This is the sort of stuff (and quality) that I’m making currently:

Not super realistic, older game-engine kind of aesthetics are really enough for telling stories, the way I want to tell them.

Okay, now to the hurdles: Lately, I have gotten a good workflow going. I create characters in MakeHuman, import them with the (older) MakeHuman plugin and the MHX2 rig, which gives me phonemes (making lip sync pretty easy). I animate by hand or use tools called Glycon VR or APS Luxor to get motion tracking from my VR headset. Then I use Auto Rig Pro Remap to apply the motion capture to the MHX2 rig. Voila! Pretty fast and efficient.
BUT: In actual production I find switching between all these tools a nightmare:

  • If I need to make a change to a character I often need to make it in MakeHuman, re-export it, then re-apply changes I made in Blender.

  • For every remap I need to fix the rest pose. ARP makes that really quick, but it becomes a pain to do it every time. At this point, I just want to drag&drop Mixamo-style

  • To make new clothes, I need to use yet another tool, which also has its own very precise workflow I need to keep in mind (previously I even needed to use Blender 2.79 for that, but now it’s 2.8/9 compatible)

  • The MHX2 weight painting isn’t perfect and sometimes I need to fix things.

  • Etc. etc.

Of course, I have looked at Character Creator 3. I do not mind the cost, if it delivered all that I need. But it seems to me, rigging and animating a CC3 character still needs a ton of manual work to make it usable. Alternatively I could use iClone to prep the animation and export to Blender for every scene, yet another software. Getting other clothes and models is expensive, making them yourself is (once again) cumbersome. To me, a lot of this just seems completely unnecessary. I feel like I got some good ideas and solutions here to get really fast at creating, rigging and animating characters at a whim. But I die the death of a thousand papercuts.

If anyone is still here after my rambling:
What kind of workflow do you use?
What kind of suggestion do you have to my workflow (as far as I was able to explain it here)?
What other solutions could you think of?
Do you use Unreal for this kind of quick production? How is it?

I would love to read some of your thoughts on the topic!