Marcelo Pinheiro shares his ZBrush workflow for creating fantasy characters...
For this project I knew I wanted to do a fantasy character inspired by the Blur game cinematic style. When I found Yin Yuming's concept art online I saw a great potential for a cool 3D character. And off we go to the land of little sleep, caffeine and podcasts. The hardest part on this project was quitting playing my guitar for the duration of it. Just joking, the hardest part comes later, wait for it! First tip of the day: don't use coffee, green tea is much more effective and healthy! For this making of I'll try to go fast through the clichés and focus on the stuff I found really hard to learn by searching online.
Yin Yuming's orginal concept
Step 1: Annihilating the blank paper
If Deadpool wrote a tutorial on how to kill a guy do you think he would start by researching for references? Well, he is not a 3D artist, so we won't listen to him. I like to start looking at pictures to visualize how the different parts on the concept look like in real life. Looking at the amazing work of masters like Alessandro Baldasseroni
, Mathieu Aerni
and Rafael Grassetti
for inspiration during the process doesn't hurt me either. For this, I organize the pictures on reference boards at a high resolution so I can look at them all at once and zoom in on some specific area at any time. Take a look at my cool skull board. Did you guys know that quadrupeds don't have a closed bone loop around the eye socket? I didn't; you live and learn!
Cool skull reference board
Step 2: The naked guy
I began by trying to figure out how on earth Hossein Diba
is producing so many great sculptures in such a short amount of time; I failed miserably and had to find my own way. What helps when sculpting anything is understanding the subject inside out, and that includes anatomy. Scott Eaton told me that knowing the names helps you to become familiar with body structures, and understanding the mechanical functions eliminates a lot of the guess work.
is customized to fit my personal brush preferences; all my main keys are mapped to hotkeys. Rafael Grassetti has a nice free tutorial on how to do that on his Gumroad
. I started with a very basic stick figure base mesh, subdivided to level 7 (maximum on my machine) and created a layer. With that little setup taken care of I started blocking in the primary shapes and proportions using the Move brush, then sculpted some of the main bony landmarks and added the muscles using the Clay brush set to a low intensity (10) and a Square alpha. I like to leave the brush marks at the end of this stage because they provide something cool to look at before adding real details to the model.
Step 3: Digital blacksmith from the future
Sculpting armor in ZBrush is always fun. The most fun way to do it for me is to paint a mask over the model and use Extract to create a new SubTool from it. The extracted mesh always comes with strange jagged edges so I used ZRemesh to smooth it a little before starting to shape it.
For the armor pieces I sculpt in a completed different manner. I try to keep the model in a low subdivision state so that it is easier to smooth and shape it as much as possible before going to higher on divisions. This stops me from becoming too attached to the form in case I need to perform radical changes that require remeshing. Sometimes I convert the model to DynaMesh after the first remesh to help me define the overall shape, but I always do a ZRemesh before adding detail.
Properly dressed strong dude
Step 4: Retopology madness
is my mother ship so I went back to it for retopology and modeling the additional things like the sword and belt detail. The all quads topology puzzles are one of my favorite pastimes, it's almost an obsession of mine searching for better topology solutions. As I planned to give the body a 32 bits displacement map I didn't try to reproduce all of the anatomical detail in the animation mesh, but instead I went for a mesh that would deform nicely once rigged.
For the face I like to use HippyDrome
topology - this guy developed Pixar's topology and facial rigging pipeline. His theory on the subject is the best formulated I've seen and his facial topology deforms nicely.
Step 5: Navigating uncharted waters
In every project we hit a point when we don't know how to do something; this is all part of the fun and it stops our work from becoming routine and stale. In this project, I had no clue how to model braided hair and braided leather. For the hair I used a cool trick with a spline and two ripple modifiers with gizmos rotated 90 degrees from each other; then I copied it three times and bang, I had a braid. In the end I decided to save on some polys by giving them some thickness, putting a hair texture and a bump instead of using the splines to grow real hair. By placing a spline deformer modifier on the finished braid I was able to position and to replicate it.
For the suspenders I did a quick version of the shape using a plane, unwrapped it and used a nice script called "UV to mesh" to flatten the model based on its UVs. The next step was to model tile-like interlaced leather and fill my flattened model with it. To finish up I used a skin-wrap modifier to glue the pattern in the flat model, and then morphed it back into position.
Step 6: The key to extreme detail
Time to have some fun with UVs! Who am I kidding, UVs are boring, but if you did your homework and have good topology it is over with quickly. I unwrapped every single object and used the auto packing; unfortunately I still needed to improve the computers work by doing a better layout and avoiding wasted spaces.
As I knew I wanted an obscene amount of detail on this guy, and ZBrush only exports a maximum file size of 8K, I divided the model in to several UVs in order to export multiple maps later. The armor was easy; I divided it into upper metal, lower metal, upper leather, lower leather, cloth and brass. The body was another story. As a single 8k map isn't nearly enough to hold the pore detail for the whole body the solution was multi tiling UVs. To do this I laid out a part of the model using the entire UV space, selected it all, and moved it numerically up one unit and repeat. The result is a model that can have multiple 8k maps.
Multi tiling UVs for the body