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ZBrush modeling and sculpting tips

By Milivoj Popovic, Paul Deasy, Limkuk

Web: milivojpopovic.com/ (will open in new window)
Web: https://www.artstation.com/artist/pauldeasy (will open in new window)
Web: https://www.artstation.com/artist/limkuk (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 9th February 2017

Learn ZBrush modeling and sculpting tips from industry artists – perfect for beginners getting to grips with Pixologic's amazing software...



Modeling using ZBrush Mannequin

Software: ZBrush
Mannequin is a great way to start if you're doing a human character. You can pose it really easily and use dynamesh with a low resolution value to get a great base mesh. From there you slowly add details as you increase resolution. It is important not to rush into the details – be sure to solve all the major forms before going into detail.

Using ZBrush Mannequin as a great starting point

Head modeling

Software: ZBrush
The head is the most important part of the model as it is naturally the first place viewers look. If those important facial landmarks are off, the whole character will not be believable. Most of us are not anatomy geniuses, so I take a skull I know to be anatomically correct and use it as a guide. That way I am sure everything is in its right place. The head is also one place where you really need great topology and edge flow, so I always do a retopo once i get the basic shape of the head right.

Getting the head "right"!

Final render and compositing

Software: Photoshop
I've seen so many great models rendered badly. I found that in many cases you can get amazing results with simple methods. I would highly recommend the 3-point light setup. It's a sure shot and your model will look great lit that way. Also I cannot stress enough the importance of rendering your surface in layers. Rendering specular shine separately, shadow, reflection, and so on, gives you great control over the final look of the render, and saves you all those hours of re-rendering just because you feel you need more or less of any of them. One more thing to add – Color Correction can truly transform your render. I had renders come out of the box looking really bad, but I was then amazed how much better they looked after a little bit of correcting.

Getting the most out of your render



Break up your shapes

Software: ZBrush
When working on complex shapes, keeping each section in different SubTools allows you to manage your shapes individually and without affecting the rest. When I create a basemesh I keep each part separate, the same way I'd keep the clothing separate. So for example, with the body, the head is one SubTool, the neck is another, the traps are another; also the rib cage, the pectorals and so on.

With clothing, I may also keep a jacket in a number of parts: the torso section, the sleeves, the collar and the cuffs would all be separate SubTools. If the cuffs and sleeves where one piece of geometry, I would either have to mask up to the crease, or when I make any moves, have to manoeuvre in a way as to not ruin the shape of the sleeve. This can be either difficult or impossible, and when meeting this problem across your sculpt can cause you to lose your shapes and have an unclean, finished piece.


Here I have merged all the SubTools so I can show you with the polygroups, clearly, the different pieces I have kept separate

Curves straights and hits in your sculpt

Software: ZBrush
At the root of any successful character sculpt is a good shape. A good example of this is any of the Disney Infinity line. They show how shapes get you pretty much all of the appeal for your characters. The details are more for giving context than giving actual appeal to your character.

This is usually the difference between the professional work and the beginner work, as we've all heard many times before, beginners tend to be very susceptible to getting caught up in the details and the best artists in the world have all done it at some point.

It's critical for a good looking character that the shapes work. I cannot cover how to make appealing shapes in a paragraph, so my tip here would be to do research on shapes. Look at how curves and straights complement each other; look at angles versus curves, plane changes, and pay attention to your hits (the peak of a curve). Most importantly, look at others' work. Observe how they treat the curves and think about why.

One of the most difficult things can be how to implement nice stylized shapes while still trying to be anatomically correct. The first thing you need to do is have a good knowledge of anatomy. Know the proportions and where everything is in the bone structure and the outer muscles, as this is one of those know the rules before you break them, situations.



ZSpheres to create your basemesh

Software: ZBrush
The ZSpheres are very useful to create our basemeshs, because you can visualize your model and take inspiration to begin the concept that you have in mind. Use the symmetry tool to create the same spheres in the body of your character, and play with the size of the ZSpheres to create the torso, arms, legs and head. For the hands you can create a simple structure of fingers, and the same with the feet.

The ZSpheres help us a lot to create a quick visualization of our model

Dynamesh: the magic of digital clay

Software: ZBrush
Dynamesh can be a powerful tool to create your roughness sketches. Set the dynamesh at 160 to 200 resolution, depending if your computer can support a high resolution. I recommend putting the dynamesh resolution to 50 or 60 when you create the rough sculpt or basemesh of your concept. When you have completed the full base model, you can create the props with Extract and apply dynamesh to them.

Don't forget that you can create the props with Extract and after apply Dynamesh

ZRemesher and Polypainting

Software: ZBrush
If you are creating a concept character you can use the ZRemesher tool to create a very fast and useful topology that can be rigged in Autodesk Maya. Or you can use ZBrush Transpose Master to pose your character. This is very useful because you can obtain a very clean and nice topology around your model with dynamesh. After you have the clean topology you can take it into UV Master to create the UVs, remembering that the red color is for protecting and the blue color is the seams. When the UVs are ready you can begin with the polypainting, increase the level of subdivision to create a very nice texture resolution and obtain pretty details in your model. Polypainting is a powerful tool that I use every day for my models.

Polypainting is a powerful tool to create very realistic and high resolution textures on your models

Rendering in KeyShot

Software: Keyshot
For the renders I use KeyShot. It's a very useful tool that can bring your models to life. For the set up remember that you have the materials in KeyShot that you can set up with your maps: normals, specs, roughtness, glossy, AO, SSS, and so on. I recommend you that use the Nodo Editor in the Graphic Material Editor – here you can place your maps and play with their values. Also, remember that in the HDRI Editor you can put new light and play with the contrast and brightness to obtain a very nice and photorealistic models.

Remember that you have the materials in KeyShot that you can set up with your maps

Post-production in Photoshop

Software: Photoshop
For post-production in Photoshop, I import the base render with all the render phases to create a nice look of the base render: the AO, specular, DOF, and so on. After we have all these render phases out, you can play with the Fusion Modes. For example I may put the depth map in Overlay or Multiply, but never put this on 100%: play with them and try it at 40% – 60%.

When all of these are ready, I may put some sparks, fire, or water particles to create ambience in my model. If the concept requires, I use photobashing, or I paint to create the final look of the model. I use Color Correction, Hue and Saturation, Levels and the Camera Raw Editor to have access to more color corrections in the image. If you want you can use Lightroom too, to create a nice color grading to the final composition. Study a lot of photography, composition and color theory because this can help to you to create more amazing pieces.

Post-production in Photoshop

Related links

Looking for inspiration? Or for more helpful advice? Check out our range of art books in the shop
Check out our Top 10 Plugins for ZBrush
Industry vet Vitaly Bulgarov offers advice for those looking to work in the entertainment industry

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