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Making Of 'Traditional Portrait Bust'

By John William Crossland
Web: Open Site
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Date Added: 19th February 2014
Software used:
Photoshop, Maya, ZBrush

Character artist John Crossland shares his techniques and tips for creating a classically-inspired portrait bust in ZBrush and Maya.


At the moment I'm concentrating on further improving my speed, spatial awareness and workflow. The concept for this piece was to do a study of a male adult, sculpted and rendered in a classical style. Using DynaMesh is a good basis to work with digital clay, starting from a small form and developing the piece all the way through to completion. During this making of I will take you through some of the features of DynaMesh and how it helped me to get to a final rendered piece.

Visual library

I usually start my projects with a quick image search to get a feeling for what I want to do, although I have a very large and extremely useful collection of saved images that I have come across previously. I find this really handy to browse through when I'm in need of some inspiration. I never really have any clear plan with these types of studies; I find it far more interesting to go with something that fires my imagination and see where it takes me!

Visual references

Base scale object

Once I was happy with the idea, I created an asset which helped me get the correct scale, as well as letting me know which way the sculpture will be facing. Later on I would render the scene using a 'real world' physical lighting setup, so I needed this asset to be on a 'real world' scale.

I started working with a cylinder primitive, and then subsequently created a measurement tape to a scale of 1 foot, measuring the cylinder against it. This meant that when I imported the cylinder into ZBrush I knew I was the right way up and was working to the correct size needed. Sometimes with ZBrush it can be difficult for me to recognize what scale I am working to, so it is a really useful asset to have for future reference.

The scale object in Maya and ZBrush

Initial form building

From the base cylinder created in Step 2, I then selected DynaMesh mode from under the Geometry tab in the SubTool palette. I tend to start with a fairly low mesh of about 16 to 32 resolution and start roughing in the basic forms of the sculpture. As I started to stretch this mesh I re-DynaMesh using the masking function; this helped to keep a clean mesh as I continued to develop the forms of the sculpture. Then, when I began refining further, I increased the DynaMesh resolution to 128 x 256 to give me more control when sculpting the finer details. I usually stop and jump out of DynaMesh at this point.

Initial cylinder scale object to the final rough DynaMesh object (left to right)

Refining the sculpt

As I continue to develop a sculpt I generally only use a few brushes. The Clay and Move brushes are my favorite for building forms and details. I will use the Slash brush for marking in certain areas, but then always take care to smooth out the surface afterwards.

Once the secondary forms have been developed even further I will then sub-divide the mesh. I find that DynaMesh provides a pretty stable quaded mesh that divides well, giving me enough resolution for the tertiary forms. At this point I also started adding in some simple asymmetry as well.

Initial DynaMesh base to final refined sculpt (left to right)

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