Refining the forms
Once I was happy with the basic shape, I then started refining the forms more until it got to a stage where I was happy with it, and I wasn't really going to change the silhouette that much anymore.
One technique I used in my process was applying the sketch shader that I created to see how my model looked if it were a 2D drawing. This really removed my focus on the details and forms for a while, so I could solely evaluate just the rhythms and silhouette of my sculpt from all angles.
Download the sketch shader asset
Afterwards I decided it was time for a cleaner mesh, for sculpting the last pass of details and form refinement onto. I must also mention I wasn't concerned too much about the topology being animatable ? it just needed to be good enough to sculpt clean forms out of. For this task I used the powerful built-in ZRemesher. It popped out the kind of mesh topology I needed in less than a minute.
Refining the sculpt and using the sketch shader to assess the fluidity of the piece
The next stage was the detail tertiary pass. I decided the top half of the toad would look completed and be refined to have sculptural texture detail like a real toad would, while the bottom half would be in the middle of refinement, purposely left incomplete with strips of clay and tool imprints still showing through like a real life clay sculpture would. To get this look right, I gathered some references of actual clay models in production by traditional sculptors. I look up to artists like Aris Kolokontes and Simon Lee.
In the image, you'll see all the brushes I used to help me get this look right, and the Alphas I used on the more refined upper part of the toad. For the Crease brush, you can download it for free here
Diagram showing all the brushes I used in creating the detail on the toad
The armature was simply modeled from a reference image I grabbed off Google, though I decided to imprint my own name on its grip as sort of an artist's signature!
For this hard-surface model, I simply did it in my preferred modeling application XSI using curve modeling tools. For the coil around the armature, I used the topology curve in ZBrush and then inserted a curvetube along that curve.
The armature and coils around it in XSI
Polygrouping and exporting
Once everything was completed, I began polygrouping my models where each polygroup ID meant a specific material was going to be used just for it. I then exported the entire model scene, and imported the file into KeyShot with the Group setting on in the import settings.
Exporting from ZBrush into KeyShot
I then applied a different material for each PolyGroup ID. Take note that I did not UV any of the models except for the board, but did use box mapping inside of KeyShot to procedurally texture my non-UV-ed models.
Some of my texture settings for my model
"I used a sepia photo filter to harmonize the colors of the scene and then used a lens correction filter to quickly add Vignetting and chromatic aberration"
I then rendered multiple passes for my toad (Translucency, Glossy Specular, AO) and composited it all in Photoshop playing around with layer modes and masking off where I wanted the pass applied.
Once I was happy with the result, I used a sepia photo filter to harmonize the colors of the scene and then used a lens correction filter to quickly add Vignetting and chromatic aberration to my final image, which added the icing to the cake.
The various passes rendered from my model
Top tip 1: Gather plenty of references
Make sure to gather a lot of references early on. This is to ensure you understand what you are modeling in a three-dimensional view and prevents you guessing the forms and anatomy of your subject. You will also use those same references to tweak your shaders so they come out as realistically correct as possible.
Top tip 2: Start with the basic form first
Always start off by working with primary forms first, then make your way to secondary forms and then tertiary details while increasing the resolution of your model as you go along.
Top tip 3: Keep an eye on the silhouette
Pay just as much attention to the rhythms, flow and silhouette of your model as you would with the forms, anatomy and detail. Remember a nicely-shaped model with a strong silhouette is better than a poor ambiguously-shaped but elaborately detailed one.
Top tip 4: Good lighting is key
For rendering, make sure to nail your lighting down first, so your model already looks good in the shaded view. Afterwards you can work on your shaders, testing them out on simple objects first rather than spending a great deal of time experimenting with them on your final model.
Check out Jin Hao Villa's website
For the Crease brush, and other useful info, click here
Don't just rely on Google for references, check out these:
BBC nature collection