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Making Of 'Bird of Prey'

By Joe Lee

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Date Added: 9th December 2009
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Before getting started on this project, I tried to surround myself with as much reference and inspiration as I could before taking the plunge on the Zbrush canvas. I have great admiration for master bird carvers such as Floyd Scholz and I have always wondered if such wood carving techniques could be transfered over to the digital sculpting world. Some of the new features in the Zbrush 3.0 have convinced me that this is as good a time as any to try.

Basic Form

So the first thing I wanted to do was to go to the Tool palette and select a zsphere and begin blocking out the form.

Once you establish the direction of the head, I usually check it in the Preview window to make sure the front of the head is facing out the z axis and right side up. If it isn't, reposition and press, Store.

Next I want to place the eyes, which will help establish a constant reference when I later sculpt around the eyes. Checking reference for eye spacing and size is encouraged. On this occassion, I loaded up a polysphere which is now part of the selection choices in the library of tools. Reselect the zsphere head tool, then go to Tool:Subtool and Append the polysphere. Select the polysphere subtool and scale and position to the proper size and location using the Transpose feature.

523_tid_300px-Bop_base_mesh_eye1.jpg 523_tid_300px-Bop_base_mesh_eye1.jpg

Once the polysphere eye is in place and selected, we can press Tool:Clone. Select the zsphere head subtool and Append the clone of the polysphere. Select the polysphere copy subtool and press Tool:Geometry: Del Lower to clear away lower subdivisions of the polysphere. This is essential to be able to mirror the polysphere copy on the x axis, which can be pressed under Tool:Deformation:Mirror x. You should now have a pair of eyes. This would be a good time to label your subtools if you like. I will refer to the main tool as 'birdhead', and the subtool eyes will be distinguished as simply 'left eye' and 'right eye'.

The next part is just shaping the bird's form and just kind of sketching out the qualities of a raptor. It wasn't long while I was blocking out the form, that I noticed the nape of the neck was showing more rectangular spacing in the geometry than square. Also the spacing toward the bottom of the bird's bust was by far wider than that of the head area. This will have an effect on my ability to try get consistent fine detail with the feathers even once the subdivisions are as high as I can go. The more equidistant the spacing through the body, the more consistent the detail sculpting will be across the bird.


I am definitely going to need to create new topology.

To prepare for the retopologization, I simply select the bird tool and ensure that only the birdhead subtool is active (and not the eyes).

  • Select Tool:Zsphere and draw on canvas.
  • Ensure Transform:Edit mode is on, and then press Tool:Rigging:Select and select the bird tool.
  • Press Tool:Topology:Edit Topology and you are ready to begin creating new topology.

Because the topology in the beak area is significantly denser than the rest of the body and the physiology of the actual bird beak is different from the feathered part, it seemed like an ideal place to break the two apart by creating separate topology.


Note: Before building new topology, be sure x axis symmetry is on for both meshes (press ' x' to toggle). This definitely helps speed things up.

As you may have noticed, I overlapped some beak geometry onto the head. This was to make sure I had plenty of leftover geometry to secure into the head mesh when it's built. When you're finished, press Tool:Adaptive Skin:Make Adaptive Skin.
Select the bird tool with the subtool eyes and Append the new skin you just made and rename accordingly.

Next we'll create new topology for the head of the bird. When it came to the opening in the mesh up by the bird beak, I needed to delete the rigging selection to gain access for closing the gap.

To do this:
  • UnpressTool:Topology:Edit Topology.
  • PressTool:Rigging:Delete.
  • PressTool:Topology:Edit Topology and you can now reach geometry that was previously occluded by the rigging mesh.

Closing this off gives me extra geometry to work with for making modifications between the beak and forehead if needed. By no means is the new topology the best solution for the form, but it is certainly better than before. Make an adaptive skin and Append it to bird tool.

I then deleted the zsphere bird head tool from the subtool list and focused on trying to bring together the remaining subtools together to become more raptor-like.


continued on next page >

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