Vahid Ahmadi shares the ZBrush and Photoshop workflow behind his female elf, including a video on sculpting the hair and armor...
I am freelance digital sculptor, 3D character modeler, and here's some quick tips about making Elf which was sculpted and rendered in ZBrush, with post effects done in Photoshop. This piece is based on a concept by Daeho Cha.
Step 1: Blocking big shapes and forms in ZBrush
I used a base mesh that I had posed and started sculpting, and it took me about 38 days to finish. For the armor I modeled one side then duplicated it and moved it to the other side, of course if you want to do it this way you should autogroup it in order to not add deformation. I also created a video for the real-time hair and armor workflow:
Step 2: Using free ZBrush materials
I use my own ZBrush materials created using preset ZBrush materials such as skin shade4, double shade, basic material, 4quad shader, and trishader. I have shared them with you and you can download them for free from following links on Mediafire and Dropbox.
Step 3: Painting in ZBrush
Well, I randomly hand painted using ZBrush, using different masking options which are pretty good and should never be ignored; they can always add subtle changes here and there to the model and its shown in the images. I used different masking systems and played around with the values to have more random effects.
Step 4: Making hair and wings in ZBrush
For the hair and some stylized strands on the wings I used this free hair plugin, and another one called Xmd hair that you can be found here. I modeled everything using ZBrush Zmodelr, the topology brush, Zsphere topology, as well as some curve brushes from the curve section of ZBrush. You can see my hair process in the video above. The key thing for good stylized hair is giving a good amount of variation.
Step 5: Using ZBrush HDRI and rims
When you have glossy materials you want to add some reflections to them. You can add environment reflections using the ZBrush light tab and adding HDRI pictures there, and play around with the material values as well as light values to add more subtle effects to your work.
Step 6: ZBrush render set up
I used two simple settings for the renders which you can see in the images below. You can make harsher shadows and softer shadows while adjusting the angle and blur and rays. There are two basic materials; a soft gray one give softer rim lights, and one with the spec applied gives harsher rim lights because of their variation in spec, diffuse, and so on... They can give different values to your render so be mindful of that.
Step 7: Mixing passes with the right color choices
For better color choices I use Photoshop's plugin called coolorus which is very handy for selecting different color schemes, and there are many more like this, but I like this one. Simply mix all your ZBrush passes together with patience and control everything there to make it work.