Character Art: Comparing Different Workflows

Character Art: Comparing Different Workflows

Mohammad Reza Pardakhti talked about the way he approaches stylized character sculpting, texturing, shading, and rendering, and compared different workflows.

Mohammad Reza Pardakhti talked about the way he approaches stylized character sculpting, texturing, shading, and rendering, and compared different workflows.


Hi, there my name is Mohammad Reza Pardakhti, also known as MIMDIAmond. I am a CG artist from Iran.

I remember I was watching Sherk 1 and somehow I lost my mind – I wondered how they draw something so real. Those days, I really didn’t even know what the CG was. As I loved painting I started gathering info about Sherk and how it was made. When I could understand CG and 3D I told myself “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life” and from that moment I began learning about 3D modeling from everywhere. I started 3ds Max and learned box modeling. After a couple of years when I saw ZBrush for the first time, I was completely lost, like a child in the middle of the desert. Believe me or not, I was afraid of ZBrush.

Later on, for a couple of years, I worked as an environment artist at several architecture companies but I always had some passion for character modeling. Box modeling for a character was like a self-torture with my own hands. I could model everything in 3ds Max but organic shapes until I saw some awesome work in ZBrush. Someone told me, ZBrush was too easy to learn, and I gave it a shot. I started learning ZBrush from ZClassroom, and until now my most reliable source for learning is still Pixologic and ZBC.

Now, I mostly work as a freelancer for Toys Company and 3D print.

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First Approach to the Sculpt

First of all, I gather reference as much as I could – similar pose or cloth or face or anything I could find on the web. After that, I start with simple shapes like a box, sphere or cone, I don’t like to move to the final step and find out that I have a mistake in the very start. I set everything in the correct place and then start to clean up my mesh step-by-step from the bottom to the top layers. Maybe this method is slow but when you want to clean your mesh this time is worth it, at least for me.

The original concept belongs to Jessica Madorran:

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Role of Anatomy & Working in ZBrush

ZBrush has everything you need for modeling but in order to create something cool and amazing, first, you have to learn anatomy and then start modeling. For me, sculpting a character has two parts. The first part is the main body and the pose (if it has a pose). The second part is cloth and accessories. So, basically if I have the wrong anatomy I can’t have correct cloth and other stuff and somehow, in the end, I get some weird muscles or strange bones.

Some people think anatomy for stylized characters is not important but after working in this kind of style I found that even here the most important part is the anatomy, plus, of course, knowing the rules of stylization.

I love stylized modeling with not too much realistic or cartoony elements, but something in-between.

For my personal workflow, I start with the simple shapes and adding muscles on the shapes. Here, I can practice anatomy too but for my client’s work, I start with base meshes.

For understanding the pose and action line, I use the mannequin as a reference. I pose my model base on it because I don’t have another view of my reference most of the time. It’s a little problematic for me to understand the body’s weight in a pose, and this issue sometimes makes everything a little complicated after posing the models.


Each part can be created in its own way, but I try to find the fastest and cleanest way to finish them. For most of my project, I use ZBrush to add the details. For example, for cloth, I use mask lasso and transpose line (not gizmo 3d) for main folds. In each step, I use Zremesher and polish by feature not subdivide. For the hard-surface and solid elements like guns or armors I use Zmodeler (box modeling) and in some case, shadow box or other sculpting technics like Extract, Dynamesh or live Boolean.

Texturing Workflows

For the texturing, I mostly use Substance and ZBrush. It depends on how I want to render the model – either in ZBrush or Toolbag. For ZBrush, I use solid color because ZBrush doesn’t have specular and gloss parameters like other software solutions. I have to paint some shadow and highlight on the poly painting too.  In some cases, just for fun, I use Substance or Quixel for texturing.

These things depend on how much time I want to spend on the project. If I have to choose the tools based on the speed, it would look like this:

  • ZBrush + Toolbag  =  the fastest
  • ZBrush + Photoshop  = normal
  • ZBrush + 3ds Max + Substance + Toolbag = slow
  • ZBrush + 3ds Max + Substance + V-Ray = the slowest

This is my personal method. None of them are bad. Sometimes I just need to showcase my work as soon as I could for my client or art director, and here the two first methods become handy. In general, everyone in the game or film industry must use texturing software and create effective models with texture maps.

Shaders in ZBrush

ZBrush has different shaders called BPR or Best Preview Render. This engine hasn’t great shaders like V-Ray or Arnold but has a great speed which, I think, makes it even better than other engines. Time is really important for us as CG artists.

Based on what I said before, I try to render my work in ZBrush to reduce the time. Since there are some issues in shaders in ZBrush, especially in highlights and reflections, we still have to help ZBrush in some area.

For every single subtool, I have the same process.


Basically, we have two types for presentation

  • Pre-render
  • Real-time render

For the first type, I set my camera and work on it. I would have problems if I change my view after placing the lights, especially if the render is done in ZBrush.

For the second type, I don’t really have any problem with changing my camera angles. Even if I completely change the angles I can easily alter my lighting and render the final work.

ZBrush and V-Ray belong to the first type and Toolbag is in type two. So if I go with the first type, I get very obsessed with lighting and shading because it would take time to change stuff, render everything again, test it, again render and test and so on until I lose my patience. To avoid this, I check my model several times.

In ZBrush, render time is very fast and I love it but compositing a model with some issues in poly painting or modeling is a real pain. I have to be careful about any issue on my model: no overlapping, missing poly painting or anything else.

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In general, I use one type of lighting and that’s the three points light.

One tip for lighting: use it to show your work as much as possible and avoid pure white or pure black. I always add fill light in my work with no shadow to reduce the amount of black in my model.

I add light and shadow to separate objects from each other and show the change of the normal’s transitions on the surface. These lights might just get me some small highlights but they will make my model sell itself. Plus, I add lights wherever I need to brighten something.

In V-Ray, we have more control over the lighting and with the Toolbag we have more speed but ZBrush is easier than these two for lighting and rendering.

I always watch other artists’ works and speed paintings to see how they approached the lighting. I could say that fundamental art is the main part of everything, from the start until the finish we have to obey those rules: color harmony, composition, lighting, shading, and value. Eventually, we are all painters.

Mohammad Reza Pardakhti, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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