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Creative ZBrush sketching

By 3dtotal staff

Web: http://www.federicoscarbini.com/ (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 8th June 2017

MPC's master modeler and texture artist, Federico Scarbini opens the pages of his 3D sketchbook to share his creative concepts...



Starting a new ‘hero' personal project can sometimes take up months of your free time. That's why having a sketchbook is a great idea: it is a place where you can explore concepts freely without any time limits and have fun at the same time! No one needs to see what you come up with (unless you want to) and in the worst case scenario you spend one hour of your life producing something you don't like (but still end up practicing anyway).

Not all sculpts are worth showing, and this is completely normal. In my case, I would say that 40-percent of them are interesting, 20-percent nice, and very few catch my attention. But simply because you are not spending a lot of time producing them, it is always worth it to give you the chance to produce those very few ones that may then become one of your ‘hero' projects.

Sketching in 3D gives you the advantage of exploring your concept in 360-degrees. When you sketch on paper, you can only see one view of the idea, but you may end up with a lot of unresolved issues that could later become very time-consuming to overcome.

Besides this, the other big advantages is that, with tools like ZBrush, you can quickly export the sculpt and throw it into a pre-built scene to create a very realistic turntable as if it was done in real clay or any other material.

The second cyclops study. Brute force and stupidity combined – he's lethal!

The first cyclops. This monk-creature's eye is a symbol of the ‘spiritual eye' and was sealed as part of a ceremony

Inspiration and ideas

The most successful sketches come from a story rather than an idea – this way you know a lot more about what you are going to create and everything feels a lot more grounded. Stories and ideas come from all sort of things; sometimes it's a book, or a movie, a comic, a dream...

Other times the ideas start with raw shapes and forms instead, and develop visually into something that inspires a story.

I think that the rule is to try to connect ideas that apparently have nothing in common to come up with something interesting.

The very first vampire, or simply put, the first human that got bitten by an unknown creature and started the rough mutation to vampire

A king – his look reminds me of a ‘tower': safe and sturdy


Some of the sketches start as very simple traditional drawings with pencil and paper – sometimes I need this step to explore ideas before jumping into ZBrush because it is much quicker to change things with 2D lines rather than sculpting in 3D.

Other times I start directly in ZBrush, usually when I already have a clear idea or I feel confident about where I want to go. ZBrush has very powerful tools for quick sketching and for creating new geos on the fly.

A demon from another dimension. His head is a mix of dead animal parts and other living parasites

This creature reminds me of the Hellraiser's ‘cenobites', but this one definitely has nothing that is reminiscent of a human...

Sketching workflow

Once in ZBrush, I usually start from a DynaMesh or from a ZSpheres armature. The brushes I use the most are Move, Clay Tubes, Clay Buildup, Standard and DamStandard. I tend to not subdivide my mesh unless I really need to step up with the resolution to define finer details.

To me, the ultimate goal of sketching is to express an idea that could be about a character or an environment or anything really – when you reach the point where it could be a starting point for a discussion with clients, colleagues or friends, then your sketch served the purpose.

A very ancient creature living in the caves. His diet is composed of fish, small birds and seaweed

Another in a series of cyclops studies – he has one big eye and the nostrils shifted to the side. He is intended to be the smart one

Related links

Head over to Federico Scarbini's website
Grab a copy of ZBrush Characters & Creatures


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