Guide to Creating Stylized Characters by Using Zbrush

Dear Friends,

This tutorial by Michael Ingrassia, a character artist, lets you know the methods for growing your skills of sculpting, besides finding an artistic direction for yourself. Being a outstanding designer of 3D games, he preferred stylized art projects over realistic ones. His belief is that stylizing is a medium offering creative freedom, while accepting the dominance of subject matter on realism.

Stylized sculpting effect can be achieved by using different tools offered in Zbrush, which include an remarkable range of techniques and brushes for sculpting. However, for beginners many of these methods and tools can seem like more intimidating.The proven and easy methods mentioned here will help in streamlining and simplifying stylizing and sculpting while enabling you to establish good command over them.

Massing of base mesh

One of the simple techniques is to make an easy base mesh, do basic massing or sculpting on mesh and re-import at levels which are higher one or two divisions. If you are finding for quick method for modeling your character efficiently then this is the one. Also you will not be required to re top the overall character as only a little re-topping is enough. Although it is quite similar to the new tool of Zbrush, DynaMesh, but it offers better control over topology. Any edge loops and required topology can be easily added in 3D program and then mesh can be imported back to the Zbrush.

This process will prove to be really helpful for game articles due to the ease offered by new base mesh. It can easily manage final decimated mesh while ambient occlusion and normals are backed out in programs such as TopoGun.

Chiselling and edge polishing

Primarily brushes such as Standard, MAHcutMech A, Polish B, Rake, Clay Tubes and Orb Cracks are demonstrated in given tutorial. Once the form of the character is massed out, you can start working with various sculpting brushes, such as MAHcutMech A and Polish B to chisel, carve and refine the edges for giving a polished and clean look to the character.

Techniques of Hair Sculpting

For creating a beard which looks well-manicured, you can start by masking out some section of the character’s chin for sculpting added mass, while defining the beard shape further with Move brushes and Clay Tubes. Before you start to sculpt a head full of beautiful flowing hear, you need to mask out character’s head for uniformly inflating the mesh.

Sculpting can be done by making a selection of Clay Tubes brush. However, keep the square alpha map disabled for achieving smooth and thick strokes. Low lying hairs should be sculpted first and then swipe upper hair with C and S shaped strokes. Strokes can be repeated with a reduced size of brush. Final strokes on the top layer should be made where the hair peaks should be.

Strokes can smoothen by using Smooth brush. Next brush to be selected is the MAHcutMech A. Each hair tuft shape can be outlined by holding down the Alt key, for establishing prime individual shapes. Then go through the center of each strand on second pass for enhancing primary curvature.

Brush stitching tips

It is better to prepare various brush strokes, as well as intensity setting, before you start adding stitches. No matter if the custom alpha maps are being used or the default stitch brushes by Zbrush, it is recommended to practice every stroke on curved shape, like a sphere.If you want to achieve a unique feel and look on a particular part of character, then consider using stitches directly, instead of using alpha map or stitch brush.

Sculpting character’s cap

First of all we need to create basic folds of the cloth, as these will considerably help in making the cap appear less rigid and more organic. Then for adding some noise texture you can use Spray setting along with Cracked Rock alpha. Through this you can achieve the look of felt cloth. All these steps should be done prior to adding other details, like stitches.

For achieving a smooth stitching pattern along with contour of the model you might require some practice, particularly when it comes to placing seam around the mesh where you are required to add a turn for finishing the stroke. A good method to do this is to smoothen the last stitch of stroke, so the stitches can be pulled to the end. It will be helpful if you slow down a bit while the stroke ends as it will give you better control.

Folds of cloth

Weight and gravity are prime factors required to be considered when you model a fabric. Gravity has an impact on the drape of the fabric, as well as how it flows down. If you sweep alternating curves then it will give an appearance of the fabric weight affected by gravity.

Stress is another factor which will show in tightness which is created when the fabric pulls at certain areas, like crotch and armpits. These kinds of folds generally fan outward right from the point where primary tension is. You should also analyze the variation in distance and width from each other, besides the varying length and thickness, to achieve a more realistic feel.

Also consider the creases caused in areas like back of the knees and inner elbows. Cloth generally folds in accordion or criss-cross shape, which can be created by alternating outward and inward strokes.

In the end, you should also consider the anatomy of the body which is wearing the fabric. In some areas, like elbows, kneecaps and shoulders, stress is caused which clearly displays the bone or muscle under the cloth. Careful attention should be paid while creating such subtle folds as these are quire small stress pulls.

Polypainting techniques

Polypainting is not easy, especially while you are still in the learning stage. You can use an old and tested method here, which involves going from dark to light while painting stylized characters. Although this method was highly preferred by experts while making oil paintings, it can be easily applied to texturing as well. It gives better results without requiring you to set the adjustments every time.

While creating skin textures, like for face, you can use a technique called heat intensity. In this spray alpha and color spray pattern are used for the application of cool blues to areas like neck and head, while shades like orange and red are used for areas which are warmer, like mouth, nose and eyes.

Now use the tints for highlighting, such as pale yellow,lighter flesh, besides an off-white. For achieving a burnished surface as well as skin reflection, you can use scratched texture instead of alpha pattern.

Polypainting the character’s sword

Here you can use a lot of the polypaint techniques mentioned above, however the difference will be in color shifts being stronger, and prominent highlight effects. You can start by adding black color to the object and then use dark olive green spray pattern. Olive is a better option as it is a neutral shade of earth tone, which goes well with several material, be it shiny brass or worn out leather.

While coloring layers, you can use a hint of similar shade in various materials, as it will help to maintain uniformity. Next you need to fine tuning every material, by adding highlights along with burnishing effects.

Another useful tip is to add a gentle touch of complimentary color. Such as, for an object of green color, adding a hint of deep reddish brown color will tone the green color down, while giving a realistic and natural feel. Similarly for materials like shiny gold or brass, you can use subtle blue or purple shades for achieving a more pleasant effect.

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