ZBrush Document4


Buzz. WIP. Continuing a strange obsession with monkeys, and combining it with a bit of classic sci-fi aesthetic. I think he’s got some sort of ESP / telekinetic power – there will be filaments in the domes which can light up when he’s channeling energy through that glove. Left is me working out the geometry of the helmet. I can’t get into the habit of sketching with this software – I always seem to have to rely on the geometry to know where I am. I think this is because I rely on UVs quite a bit as I work – for “noise” and surface details. There are workflows (Allegorithmic) which allow you to leave a large proportion of this work for the texturing stage, but I think that, overall, ZB just seems to be faster.

References from Google images. “Bone Clones” are also a good source of reference, as they document their skeletal assemblies with some nice clear pictures. On the right is a rejected design for the regulator. Those curves didn’t seem to be going anywhere, so I went with a boxier look in the end.



DoréAn old model which I thought would be fun to run through the Keyshot mill to see what came out. The original is by Doré (below), and although this interpretation doesn’t really add much it certainly was fun to work on.Gustave Doré - Grim Reaper

Face Ballet


Okay, I’ve denied it for a long time but now I’ll come straight out and admit it: Not only is a well-designed zombie face a beautiful thing, it is a very difficult balance to achieve. Why? well, when you’re designing  and executing something from scratch you can build in some harmonies and keep these maintained as you go. With what is essentially a rotting head you’re trying to add easily-legible corruption to an object (a face) which possesses the most balanced values you could possibly think up. Its no exaggeration to say that the mind will process the faintest discernible twitch of the zygomatic minor: How, then, do you design the absence of an entire half-face to be harmonious in corruption? The aesthetics are confusing but, from Lon Chaney to Rick Baker, evidence abounds in the backlog of cinema, comics and games that such a thing is possible.

I built this fancy boy around a previously modelled skull and shrink-wrapped it (below). Only then did I decide on how to alter the form. I now have a dissectable face which could well come in handy later on.



Woody Notes

Wood demon 4

The fun involved in the eventual render more than made up for a lot of the initial hair pulling. It was more difficult than I thought to achieve the specific texture that I was after. I went through many different types of alphas and depth maps – beginning with tree bark and working my way through different types of cracking concrete and rock. The end result wasn’t the dramatic “shatter” effect I was going for, but something a little more organic. Some textures simply don’t go with certain forms, and this guy screams wood and bark. The problem with using depth maps to texture is that they will have an inherent directionality to their information – one that you might spend more time adapting to the topography of your model than if you just went in and carved it out with a brush. As usual, the key is a degree of moderation; to find a juicy alpha or depth map and then integrate it judiciously. Yes, the face is a rancor.




Wood demon Light Test

Designing The Gulper

And finally some decent renders of the Gulper. I wanted to make a gracile, panther-like form here. The tail betrays the design’s ultimate roots in the rod-puppet used by Gillis and Woodruff for the “beast” in Alien3 – one of my favourite creature designs in cinema. This beastie is, however, more of a pest than an actual menace. It walks on its knuckles like an ape, and I imagine it’s quite a scrambler.

Some of the prep sketches have a simian quality to them which faded in the eventual design, but I feel could be regained through animation. There are some bird-like feet in there, and also some proportional weirdnesses I’d like to have explored further. I’m always curious as to how certain avenues would have turned out.


When it came to secondary forms I already had a scheme in mind, but was delighted to find The Red Eyed Crocodile Skink for reference. Superficially similar to the crocodilians, this little lizard has scutes with more character to them – more of a profile. They are simple, elegant forms which lend themselves to adaptation. I had some depth maps I wanted to use for the skin texture, so I wasn’t going to I ended up only using the overall pattern of the scutes, and blunted them down to give a smoother profile.


When it was time for “tertiary forms” I used these depth maps I made from a gumroad frog scan a while back. Using depth maps for skin texture is not as simple as slapping them on a mesh, though; to use them correctly requires morph targets, layers and careful masking. Different depth map alphas will have varying contrasts and their borders will therefore have different depths. Not only do depth maps have to correspond topologically with each other; the information they contain has to seamlessly line up. Also this information must logically correspond with its placement on the mesh (finer, shallower wrinkles and scutes on thinner skin).

The colour scheme of any model will always have a malleable relationship with the sculpt, in that both carry information in different ways. A wild, detailed paint job will obliterate a detailed sculpt, for instance. Conversely, a simple diffuse texture done well can really complement a sculpt. Finally. a simple sculpt can really be enhanced by a brave, well-executed colour scheme. I chose a colour scheme that was halfway there – very subtle where the sculpt had something to say, and a little variety where the secondary forms weren’t doing much.

And that’s about it for now. I want to write about optimising a mesh like this for real time rendering, and more about design – specifically the distribution of information around the form (even composition in general), but this one seems to be an elusive subject – there isn’t really a lot that’s readily available, even beyond the paywall.


The Story Of The Eye

Returning to Physics -based rendering Having been away “real time” rendering for a little while now, I decided to use a more complicated eye than the “textured ball” method I’ve been using for some time. Eyes are clearly pretty important to a character, and the basic asset can be recycled as the need arises, so its a worthwhile endeavour to commit a few hours to coming up with something that can breathe a little more life into a face.

Cutting to the chase, Rather that straight-up sculpt an iris from scratch (which would still be relatively easy to do by sculpting with radial symmetry on), I decided to texture the model and use the colour information to deform accordingly.

Screen-Edited Eye

Having quickly UVed my model in ZB, I incorporated a web-acquired iris image in Photoshop. There is the tricky question of iris size to contend with here – there was a bit of painting involved to get the desired pupil diameter (this is not for a human character). But aside from this, after a few colour-and-level-adjustment layers and masks I exported two files: a straight-up diffuse texture and a carefully-adjusted greyscale image to be used as a deforming “mask”.

ZBrush Document

I imported this second image as an alpha and then after a “mask by alpha” I first blurred the mask and then “deformation>inflate”-ed it to get a little gentle topographical relief. I re-masked with the same alpha and deformed again to get a little more definition.


And that’s pretty much it – all you need for this is two models: a) The body of the eye with the iris and b) a “sclerotic orb” and convex cornea to give the iris that defracted look. A few tweaks of the materials in your renderer should give you some pretty powerful results.

What I like about this approach is its simplicity: You’re ultimately using an easily-acquired image file to deform a very simple shape.

Practical Skull


Here I worked back from a high resolution asset to a low resolution, practical skull model.  a lot of careful modelling and projection required, as you’re trying to capture the profile as economically as possible from a detailed, organic form.





A bit of fun blending two renders. I was testing normal mapping in KS using my sphynx model : you can see the polygons / simplicity of the geo in the model’s profile. In blending the two, the diagonal masking stripes needed to be thick enough to see enough of each image to easily recognise certain characteristics. To separate each image a little more I used a colour balance adjustment to each (cool for the chrome; warm for the glass).

Ultimately a decent poster for a club night…