Sculpt stunning Zbrush concepts
Learn new techniques and how to sculpt a project with this masterclass in Zbrush concepts from Maarten Verhoeven
Maarten Verhoeven’s pro guide
In this breakdown of this project we’ll show you how Maarten created the Queen Of The Dead. He’ll try to give an insight into how he completes these types of projects. So let’s take a look at how you can speed up your workflow, learn about what you can create in Zbrush and how you can maximise your concepts, using simple tools and primitives, and how to maximise your results using
Keyshot for rendering. We will also share some interesting tips and tricks on lighting in Keyshot that he discovered when making this piece.
Use of a base mesh You like to work fast, so what’s the best way to start quickly? Start with a base mesh. We knew what the initial final design was going to look like, so we loaded up a pre-existing mesh of a woman. We decided to cut up the torso and arms and delete them. After this was done we added a cylinder as a template for the teeth just as a placeholder. Finally they will be updated with some high-res geometry.
Block out details with Sculptris Pro So we started on the face, quickly realising that the details that needed to be added were distorting the subdivided base mesh. So for refining the cut-off nose and the earlobes, what better way to do this than by deleting the subdivisions and using the Sculptris Pro feature.
Using this setting in combination with any brush in Zbrush is awesome, you can determine the amount of details by adjusting your brush size. Small brushes add a lot of detail while a big one cuts away planes and make it more simplified. One note on using this feature, you will add triangles to your sculpt and I would recommend staying under one million polygons per Subtool, otherwise it will be lagging on your feedback while sculpting.
Make the drapery Creating the drapery on this character was very important, because this and the tiara would be focal points in the composition, so we wanted to make this as real as possible.
I save out the base mesh of the character as an OBJ and load it up in Marvelous Designer. What you need to do in MD is the most simple thing you can do. Create a plane and drape it over the character and run the cloth simulation on it. We did a few tweaks on it, adjusting some folds and exported the geometry as a single-plane object ready to be imported in Zbrush.
Sculpt the petals The roses are also an eyecatcher in this piece so let’s work out a quick way to sculpt the petals. let’s start out with a cylinder primitive and squeeze it into a thin disc with the gizmo and transpose tool. After this, distort it with the Move brush and create a simple petal shape with it.
As you can see the topology isn’t ideal to sculpt on so I would suggest running Zremesher over the Subtool again. This will give you a clean object that you can easily sculpt on and add details like the little veins and folds. The leaves were also created in this way.
Make the roses The roses are created with the petals and the leaves are made in a similar workflow. After the two separate pieces are created you can make the flower crown. The roses are created in three layers. Start building it by copying and pasting them in a cylindrical way (this was done six times on the bottom layer), and tweak them all a bit to give them a more diverse look. Merge all these together and create the middle layer with five and the top layer with four petals. The heart of the flower is four petals twisted around each other using the deformers hidden under the gizmo.
Add Polypaint The only real texturing was done in Zbrush using Polypaint.
Start looking for some examples of Day of the Dead face paints, and after studying some images we can start painting directly on to the model. Apply just a simple skin tone and apply some face-paint features, flowers around the eyes and some swirls. Most of the painted details were painted in white to achieve a special effect in Keyshot, but more on that later.
The heart of the flower is four petals twisted around each other using the deformers hidden under the gizmo
Build the tiara The tiara is a big eye-catcher in the whole design of this piece, so first we wanted to figure out the dimensions. How big is the crown going to be? let’s start with placing little sticks on the head to see what was needed to give it a halo type feeling. After this, insert a disc as a placeholder to add IMM brushes. The whole tiara looks complex but it’s so fast and easy to do with IMM brushes. How were they created? For this we went looking online for free scanned and created ornaments, crosses and skulls. Then we modified them all to suit our theme, Dynameshed, decimated it all and turned them into IMM brushes. The only thing we had to do was make a design with it that looks complex and high end. It’s not important what’s on the tiara, it’s more important that it grabs your attention visually.
The dead mask The dead mask was the very last thing that came up in the whole design. We were looking for something special because the tiara was demanding all the attention of the viewer, I needed an extra facial focal point. So we were bold and masked off a section of the face and extracted the base for the skull mask. We ran Zremesher over the whole thing to give it some nice geometry around the edges and went in there with a Standard brush, an alpha 38 and Sculptris Pro on, our favourite weapon of choice.
After all the shapes were sculpted, we quickly used a Displace brush with a scratched metal alpha on the whole thing to give it all a metal-like feeling.
Add details to the cloth We did a few test renders to see how all the shapes would interact in
Keyshot under the real-world light settings. Somehow the cloth kept feeling like a piece of plastic, so we decided to fix this by adding some sculpted texture.
Start by cutting the piece of cloth to your desired length. We knew we were going to apply the power of noisemaker on the whole piece with a UV, but the geometry I got out of Marvelous Designer was created with triangles.
Time to let Zremesher do its magic again. After some nice quads and UV master, we are ready to apply a tileable texture with noisemaker; just make sure to load up the texture and turn on UVS. You can adjust the size, strength and apply it to the piece of cloth.
The only thing we had to do was make a design with it that looks complex and high end
Use Fibermesh The little hair that you can see on the cloth were all made with Fibermesh. It’s only a very small detail, but when it catches your eye it makes a big difference. To apply the Fibermesh we didn’t go for the highest resolution of the cloth, there are six subdivisions on it and we went for four subdivisions.
We’ve noticed that it’s easier to manipulate the setting on the Fibermesh if your geometry isn’t too high, somehow the spread is easier to tweak.
Once happy with the length and density, apply it as a new Subtool ready for finalising in Keyshot.
Set up Keyshot materials The great thing about Zbrush in combination with Keyshot is that you can shoot your model from one program to the other without UVS and maps. So what you see in the final image is 40 million polys on your screen. I would suggest using skinshader04 from Zbrush while transferring your models to Keyshot, and then start tweaking your materials.
One of the nice things is that you can tweak your textures, you can adjust them with contrast and brightness or add something new. For example, on the piece of cloth I used a simple tileable texture found online.
I applied it using box projection but it could also work with the UVS that were still in the object. I adjusted the contrast and scale and it works perfectly, especially in combination with the little fibres.
Set up lights in Keyshot The general lighting setup in this scene is very straightforward, I used an HDRI map as a general fill light and added two discs with an emissive material applied. When I was setting up the light I had the feeling that the face wasn’t catching any light and I wanted to go for an ethereal look but nothing was really working. That was until a great little accident… the secret of how this was solved was by placing emissive geometry inside a model with a translucent skin shader. The thing that I noticed is that Polypaint will block the light rays shining through except on the white paint. And that’s how the blue glow on the face and torso was created, giving it all a ghostly, supernatural feel.
It’s easier to manipulate the setting on the Fibermesh if your geometry isn’t too high, somehow the spread is easier to tweak
Find your composition It all depends on the angle that you choose to highlight and present your model. In this case I went for three angles and finally chose one. But not after I went through my whole post-production process. I always like to bet on several horses and make a few renders, giving you some creative choices until the end, and to be honest you’re working in 3D so rendering another angle will only take up time and no working hours.
Refine and post-production The post-production can take up more time than what you would like to spend on it; the renders in Keyshot are very nice and clean, maybe a bit too clean. I tend to take my time on the post-processing in comparison with my sculpting, because in this stage you can add a feeling to your work with colour correcting, a vignette, soft overlay textures and so on. Many projects like these take up 15 or more adjustment layers to make it work in my eyes. let’s not talk about a paint over, try to respect the hard work that you put into your model into a new light. It’s all about presentation, so just imagine someone seeing it for the first time. Be their guide by making sure they focus on the parts that are important to you as the creator of the piece. There is nothing more distracting than seeing technically awesome work with a bad presentation.