Taming Zbrush Beasts
Tony Camehl gives us the lowdown of his journey and provides his expert tips for creating your own menagerie
Tony Camehl gives us his top tips for creating fantastic creatures
Winged monkeys, griffin hybrids and an anatomically accurate pose of a jumping fox – Tony Camehl has sculpted them all. You wouldn’t expect it from someone who initially studied business law but Camehl is actually one of the most inspiring artists to break into the world of creature concepts today. “I have always been interested in 3D since I was a kid and it felt natural to me to learn 3D and Zbrush even before I picked up a pencil and learned how to sketch animals and creatures,” he says.
Camehl’s love for creatures began at home as his parents have always had pets. “They had the usual ones like dogs and cats, my grandparents had ducks and geese as well so I kind of grew up surrounded by animals. Even to this day, my parents have got two wonderful and cute British shorthair cats called Fips and Mickey. I learned so much just by being around them and seeing how they behave with each other – how they play and sleep together.”
Camehl says that there is something that draws him more to the study of animals than most. “To be honest, I feel much more comfortable when surrounded by animals than being with humans. You never have that pressure on you if you are alone in a room with
your dog or cat. Your pets don’t expect you to do small talk. They don’t judge you like humans do. They deal with you the way you are and they aren’t trying to change you into someone else. So to make a long story short, I never considered doing characters, robots or environments. My true passions are only animals and creatures.”
At Massive Entertainment (a Ubisoft studio) in Malmö, Sweden, Camehl is currently a creature concept designer, working in 2D, sketching and then moving onto 3D with Zbrush and Keyshot. He got his start in the industry by being a freelancer, initially working on smaller gigs like book covers and on independent film projects.
“After I started creating my own creatures based on existing IPS, the technical art director at Massive Entertainment, Sebastian Lindoff, saw my work on Artstation and one thing led to another,” he says.
This creature work included his variations on Buckbeak, the fictional hippogriff from the Harry Potter series, which Camehl completed a full body pose of as well as three beautiful different profiles of head concepts. One version features stunning shimmering grey-blue feathers with bright topaz eyes. Another is a more stoic eagle-like concept with sleeker plumage.
On the other hand, Camehl has also studied the realistic forms of mammals like African wild dogs, lions, deer and more. Some of these have taken the form of écorchés, which observe the minute details of the animal’s musculature with carefully and correctly placed annotations of every single muscle name. Knowing animal anatomy, he says, should definitely be a requirement in his field.
“It is essential for any creature designer to know the anatomy of existing, real animals. That means for every artist who wants to work professionally as a creature designer, 90 per cent of your work will be researching existing animals, their behavior and anatomy, and how to draw or sculpt them to a realistic level. The missing ten per cent is using your knowledge to create believable creatures. So do your homework – it will pay off and is worth it!”
One of the most notable things he’s learned about sculpting animals is the similarity to human anatomy, “If you compare the anatomy of a human with that of a lion, both have the same muscles and bones. Even the names are the same. After I learned that there is no real difference when it comes to the anatomy between different animals – that only the shapes look dissimilar – it became much easier to sculpt and draw them.”
Making the Menagerie
But Camehl doesn’t make a distinction between modelling real animals or fantasy ones. “To be honest I prefer sculpting or modelling both. Being able to create real animals in 3D helps you
design fictional creatures and push them to an almost real and believable level.”
And no matter the creature, Camehl will start the same way, looking through his Pinterest for references and browsing his animal boards. It’s not just a few images saved, though. To date, Camehl has 65 boards with over 78,000 pins, meaning that he has a huge back catalogue to utilise, “Mostly I am looking for interesting behaviour or poses. I am not only looking for just one photo but a lot of them from different angles to get a feeling for the body in 3D space. During the research step, I also watch a lot of Youtube videos to help me get a feeling on how the animal is moving, how it interacts with its environment and so on.”
As soon as he is finished with his research, he is either doing some quick pose studies in 2D or jumping into 3D right away for sculpting. “I think as an artist you should be able to do 2D as well as 3D these days. Being able to quickly sketch ideas using Photoshop or pen and paper is as important as transferring these sketches into a 3D space using Zbrush or any other 3D sculpting software,” he says.
Camehl mostly uses Zbrush, Keyshot, Photoshop and pen and paper for his art. Recently, though, he got his hands on Oculus
Rift and Medium, and saw some great potential in creating great work quickly in the virtual reality space. “It is just mind-blowing and it definitely helped me [with my sketching] because in Oculus Medium you literally are able to ‘sketch’ in 3D space, which makes everything so easy. It is a real time-saver to quickly sketch a creature or animal and import it into Zbrush to push it to a finished level.”
never stop Learning
As for the future, Camehl is already looking forward to what he can work on next. “There are so many animals and creatures I would love to work on. For example, I want to sculpt and learn more about birds. I also really want to get into dinosaurs and discover more about those wonderful and sadly extinct creatures. My plan is to sculpt and draw as much as I can during my free time. The why is easy to answer – but my time management is super bad!”
And finally, he has one piece of advice for artists looking to improve their creature portfolio: “It is as simple as it sounds – do your homework. It is essential that you put the time and effort into learning real animal anatomy, behaviours, movements and so on. Be like a sponge and absorb as much knowledge as you can.
“If you have difficulty going to the zoo, then use photos and videos. Preferably try to find places where you can interact with animals of all kinds. Even with your pets. You will learn way faster and a lot more that way than by just studying photos.”
an anatomically correct langur monkey
a render profile of one of Camehl’s projects