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Know the Basics: ZBrush – part one: Modeling

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Date Added: 19th May 2016
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Ricardo Manso teaches the must-know basics for any beginner starting ZBrush. In part one he shows you how to model...


Welcome to part one of the Know the Basics: ZBrush tutorial series. This part will take you right to the start and show you how to create an appealing character from scratch. We will look at building up a character from a primitive base using ZModeler, right through to the clothing and little details. You can buy ZBrush from the Pixologic website.

Step 01: Initialize

To begin, we need to drag any primitive - could be any tool that is available in the ZBrush palette - by using the Make PolyMesh3D button.

Select any shape to begin with

Then, you should go to the Tool > Initialize here you can choose if you want a cube or a sphere and choose the resolution of it. For this tutorial we'll start with a cube with a resolution of 2x2x2; each of the x/y/z points are set to 2.

Starting with a cube

Step 02: Concept as reference

It is important to have a concept to act as a guide for any project. I find it useful to place the concept in the background to make the work easier because it helps to keep the proportions of the model how I want them. To do this you need to make sure that the floor is on the Z axis - go to the Draw menu > Front-Back and import your concept. Once it has been imported you can scale it, move it horizontally and vertically, and even rotate it if you wish. If you want to see the image in front of your model you need to enable Front.

My character concept acts as the reference

It is easy to import your concept to the background of the work area

Step 03: ZModeler

With the primitive (cube) and the background image in the right place, you are ready to start creating the base mesh for your character. Let's start with the head; open the ZModeler panel and select the Inset Action, which generates new polygons within the selected face or group of faces, to make the Edge Loop (an Edge Loop is basically a series of edges that are connected and go completely around an object back to the start point). Then use the QMesh Action to pull out the neck (ZModeler > QMesh), the QMesh Action is very useful because it gives you the ability to extrude, remove or move blocks of polygons to name a few of it functions.

The ZModeler panel

Use this process to make the rest of the body. Make sure that you make the right Edge Loops, especially in the areas where the greatest distortion happens such as the shoulders, elbows and knees, as well as the face.

Building up the basic geometry of the character by adding new polygons and extruding new shapes

Whenever you need to add more geometry to your mesh you can insert an Edge Loop using the ZModeler panel. In the ZModeler if you want to change the parameters of the faces you can go under the face, press space and choose what you want the face parameter to be; you can do exactly the same for edges or points, depending on what you need to work with.

Some areas need extra geometry, especially if they are areas that move

Step 04: Break the hard edges

When you have a base mesh that you are happy with it is time to start breaking up the hard edges and try to get the right proportion of the model. You will mainly need to use the Move brush as well as the Standard brush a few times. Where ever you need more geometry just use the ZModeler tool to insert a new Edge Loop (see previous step), you don't need to worry too much about detail at this point. I find that this phase of the modeling takes a long time and sometimes seems like it is never finished. You need to keep experimenting to find the best proportions and shapes for your character. If the concept is very sketchy you can work out and modify the details much better in 3D.

Softening the hard edges

Getting the proportions and shapes right can be a time consuming process

Step 05: Clothes

Creating clothing is actually a relatively simple, especially as we have clean geometry. To make the clothes you need to extract the shapes you want from character's geometry. You need to make a mask of the chosen areas by selecting the mask (Tool > Masking) and holding down Ctrl while painting the area you want, in this case the leg area. Once you have made the mask you want to extract from the selection - Tool > SubTool > Extract - which creates a new SubTool. I usually like to make clothing with no thickness because it is easier to adjust. If you need thickness you can always extrude the geometry later on. Clothing sits on top of skin so to get a more realistic appearance you will need to inflate it a little, Tool > Deformation > Inflate. Repeat this process for the rest of the clothing, George is wearing a shirt and sleeveless sweater and shoes. For each of the pieces of clothing (especially the shoes) you may need to modify the geometry to get the right shapes and realism; for this use the ZModeler and Move tool.

If you have clean geometry then clothing is easy to make


The shoes will need extra modification to give them a more realistic appearance

Step 06: Hair shape

To give the character some life we can add some hair, we will replace it later on with a more detailed piece. To start you need to import a sphere (Tool panel > sphere) and use the Transpose tool to move it into the right place. The Transpose tool is a great tool that allows you to move objects with W, scale them with E and rotate with R, which are all useful for the modeling process.

Chose the move tool (W), click on the sphere and drag it up; if you want to go in a straight path press the shift key at the same time as you move the object. Once the sphere is where you want it press Q to go in to the draw mode and begin sculpting.

Use the Move, Standard, and Clay Buildup brushes to sculpt the shape you want, but remember that we will be replacing the hair later on so you don?t need to worry too much about the topology and detail. Use DynaMesh (Tool panel > Geometry > DynaMesh) to model the hair you want with out stressing about the topology and mesh. Every time you need to adjust the mesh press Ctrl and drag the canvas, ZBrush will automatically recalculate the mes for you. Use exactly the same method to create the moustache.

Modeling the hair is a simple process at this stage

Step 07: Transpose master to correct the proportion

With all the SubTools for the clothing done now is the time to add extra geometry and model some extra elements such as creasing in the clothing. Look at your own clothing to see how it falls and folds; you don't want deep or sharp creases. At this point I made a few changes to the proportions to give my character a better look. To change the proportions go to ZPlugin > Transpose Master > TPoseMesh, this temporarily merges all the SubTools so you can change them altogether as one rather than separately. When you are happy with everything go to ZPlugin > Transpose Master > TPoseSubTool, this applies the changes to each SubTool individually.

Making adjustments to the proportions using a ZPlugin

The finished character model

In part two will look at texturing and painting in ZBrush

Related links

Have a look at more of Ricardos work here
Know the basics: 3ds Max part 1: Modeling
Check out the ZBrush reference guide
If you are looking for something more advanced browse through the 3dtotal ZBrush eBooks

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
William on Fri, 11 August 2017 12:35pm
Is there a way to scale locally on one axis- X,Y or Z?
Lee Dickholtz on Tue, 07 March 2017 9:52pm
Really cool, and helpful tutorial.
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