Alexander Verik shared the process of sculpting and lighting a pretty stylized castle in ZBrush and Blender.
Hi all! My name is Alexander Verik. I'm 28 years old, from a small town in Ukraine. I work as a 2D/3D Freelance Artist and study 3D in my spare time. In the past, I worked at G5 Games and contributed to such mobile projects as “Survivors: The Quest” and “The Secret Society”.
Journey into 3D
I am a math teacher by training and I've had various jobs throughout my lifetime. At first, I started learning how to draw by watching tutorials, but it was quite difficult for me, so I switched to 3D. All the 3D software that was popular at that time didn't seem fun to me. I was looking for something intuitive, easy and with the possibility to get immediate results on the screen.
When Blender 2.80 was released and I saw what real-time rendering could do, I was positively shocked. I began to actively study Blender and use it in my work. I do know other programs like Maya and 3ds Max, but Blender has been my favorite one ever since. Blender and ZBrush - in general, sculpting is the most enjoyable process for me, I can spend days sculpting without noticing how quickly time flies! Now, Blender also has awesome tools for sculpting, and a new cloth brush totally blew my mind!
Castle in the Sky: Origin
I wanted to practice sculpting stones and wood - and not just a pile of stones and planks, but something solid, like a house or a castle. I started looking for inspiring illustrations and found a wonderful concept piece by Eduard Kolokolov.
I did not aim at repeating his concept and only wanted to practice sculpting skills, try various modifiers, and work with particles and lighting. That resulted in some castle elements and lighting changed.
In the beginning, I used fSpy to get the correct camera perspective - this is a free open-source app that works perfectly with Blender! All you need is to upload the image and correct the XYZ axes.
After that, I imported the result in Blender, turned on Eevee, adjusted the primitive material so that it was pleasant to look at it, and finally turned on Ambient Occlusion so to make the image more voluminous. After that, I started blocking deviating a little from the concept since I wanted the castle to look good from different angles, not just one.
All the holes were made with Boolean operations. I didn't worry about the topology because the Boolean feature in Blender is great.
When blocking was finished, I added small bevels to all objects in order to make it easier to work with edges and then exported everything to ZBrush.
There, I applied Dynamesh to all the individual elements to get uniform meshes without artifacts and started sculpting. In the process, I most often used these brushes:
To fill the roof with tiles, I created one tile, made an “InsertMesh Brush” based on it, and manually placed the tiles on the roof. This could be done using particles but I wanted more control.
To create the tree, I used ZSphere - a great tool for creating stylized trees and plants. I also made a separate branch with leaves and, with the help of various deformations, copied and spread it along the trunk to make the tree look more organically. With brushes, I then added circular lines and protruding bark parts.
To create the tiles on the floor, I created the tiles themselves and scattered them using a particle system in Blender. I simply created a plane matching the size of the ground and moved the sliders until I liked the result.
There are many excellent real-time engines out there that allow 3D artists to get superb results, and Blender is one of them. I decided to work solely in Eevee because I wanted to help promote Blender and show what magic results can be achieved with it.
Thanks to Blender's real-time engine, you can clearly see how the lighting changes what you make different adjustments or add new sources. This allowed me to simply work with various lights as I went along, highlighting some parts and darkening the others. Now, let me try to explain the process more clearly.
When the scene is ready, I start setting up the lighting by adding an HDR map and adjusting the position to get the desired lighting. I also turn on the Screen Space Reflections to create fake reflections on the surface. In Color Management, I chose “Filmic” and “High Contrast” to avoid overexposure and get more volume.
Now, it's time for the moon. At first, I thought of making it using a sphere but I wanted to get easy control over the glow around it. Therefore, it was decided to make the moon with a plane with texture, and with the help of two ColorRamps, I controlled the color and the glow. In the material settings, it's important to turn off the “Shadow Mode” (set it to “None”) in order to get rid of the shadows cast by the plane - otherwise, they will break the lighting.
After that, I started adding light sources. At first, I illuminated the moon with a Point light to make it volumetric. Then, I added two Sun sources to get global lighting and shadows.
The next step would be to highlight the remaining elements of the scene, but carefully so as not to overexpose the rest. It's better to create several sources of light in different places than a single global one. I adjusted the radius of each source to make some elements lighter and others more contoured. Now everything looks great, but the castle seems lonely and cold...
To revive the scene, I added some warmth to the scene. The warm light sources were added in the same way as before. The windows needed special care - I put planes there and applied “emission material” to them which helped me to fill the windows with light correctly. After that, I positioned Point lights close to the planes so that the lighting would spread onto the surrounding objects. Now, our scene looks much livelier and happier but the area around the castle still looks empty.
To add a little mystery to the scene and fill the black void around the castle, I decided to make some fog. I create a cube and applied “Principled Volume” to it. In the nodes, I added “Noise” and with the help of ColorRamp I got the fog effect. To make it refract the light and look better in general, I turned on “Volumetric Light” and “Volumetric Shadow” in the Eevee settings and add more samples.
Now, we only need to add clouds and stars - I did it the same way as with the moon. Then, I change the curves in the Color Management to add a pinkish tint. That's it! Pepper and salt to taste and send it into the oven for 20 minutes!
This project was an interesting experience for me and I'm glad to be able to share its details with you! I hope you've found something interesting and useful in this article.
For everyone who just wants to learn Blender - don't be afraid! Blender is very simple and you can find an answer to any question on YouTube. If you give it a chance, you might really like it!
Thank you for reading!