Creating a Realistic Portrait of Jinx in ZBrush, Maya & Substance 3D

Character Artist Joshua Gouw/Wu shared a detailed breakdown of the Jinx project, explained how her face and outfit were sculpted, and discussed the texturing and lighting processes.

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Hello there! My name is Joshua Gouw or Joshua Wu which is more often used on my social media. I graduated from 3dsense Media School around 7 years ago which is located in Singapore. After I graduated, I started my career doing a few Kickstarter projects as a freelancer. I used to do modeling, sculpting, texturing, and lookdev for an indie game, then i had to quit the industry for a little while to help with my family business until i joined a local studio called Brandoville Studios as a Senior Character Modeler back in 2019.

A year later, I was given the opportunity to lead the team as an Art Director. We worked on numerous projects since such as World of Warcraft 3 Reforged, Final Fantasy 14, some unannounced Naughty Dog projects, as well as a few others.

As of now, I am working at XM Studios as a Digital Sculptor. We do a lot of quarter scale collectible statues from Marvel, DC Comics, etc.

The Jinx Project

The very main goal of making a fanart of Jinx was to set my foot in the cinematic/animation industry. My idea was to create a portfolio piece that shows both realistic and stylized character modeling, killing two birds with one stone.

Last year, Arcane was released and I was captivated by the series. Jinx was a very well-known character and a very lovable one as well. So I decided to utilize that and challenge myself to bring her into a more realistic style while also maintaining the essence of her character and personality.

Before I started the project, I did a lot of research in order to establish the art direction of this project. I studied Jinx's characteristics not only from the original Arcane show but also from some of the fan art, cosplay, and illustrations. That helped me to analyze different types of approaches people use to create this character. I believe working on a plan could streamline the art direction process significantly.

Sculpting the Face

I started using a DynaMeshed sphere in ZBrush and then slowly forming up her facial features. At that point, I was not being too accurate and faithful to her original design. The goal was to quickly generate a base in order to avoid excessive planning and overthinking.

Just like painting, a blank canvas can be pretty intimidating. In this case, a grey sphere was the scariest thing to start from. I usually begin my project using a base to speed up the whole process but sometimes, starting fresh can help me go crazy with iterations and the decision-making process.

Once I got the rough proportions done, I came back to the reference and studied the proportion further, and asked myself several questions such as how far apart are both of her eyes? What about the distance between her mouth and her nose? Then I wrote down all the notes so that I could later use this information as my starting point to alter those proportions closer to more believable ones.

From the very beginning, I already set out to replicate her calm troubled look from the show. I wanted the audience to feel what she is feeling – unsettled, confused, and angered in a weirdly subtle way. She is broken inside, and that's why so many people are able to empathize with her.

The biggest challenge was to translate her face from a very expressive stylized proportion into something more realistic and believable. One of my biggest inspirations was James Cameron's Alita from Alita: Battle Angel. Although uncanny, I personally think they did a great job translating Alita from an anime character into a more human one.

One thing that I learned while making her face was that I did not have to make her look photoreal, all I needed to do was to make her look more photographic. Her facial proportions are still so much different as opposed to a real human being. Her eyes are too big for a real human being, her head size was significantly larger compared to her body proportions as well.

That helped me to achieve her final look. 

Once I was satisfied with the primary and secondary forms, I moved on to the tertiary and the micro details. The details are the reason why she feels photographic and believable. This is the key to convincing people that my take on Jinx can also belong to the real world. Every pore, indent, scar, every crease needed to be there.

I combined several techniques and brushes to achieve the details needed. I used 175 skin alphas from TexturingXYZ, femaleFace_20s_01 to be exact. ZBrush Guides' skin brush set also helped me push the imperfections of the skin. I applied the Alpha using a Standard brush with different kinds of intensity depending on the look I need.

NOTE: When you are applying your alpha using a Standard brush for the geometry, it is important to change the mid-value of the alpha to 50, depending on the alpha used, you can also turn on the surface button to automatically pick the right mid-value. However, it is not always accurate.

NOTE: This method is not the most efficient as there are so many better ways to create a believable skin. You can purchase scan data from many websites and project the model onto your initial sculpt to get a so much better result in a much shorter period of time. At the time, I intentionally decided to do the older method because the process compelled me to study how the skin works. I was not able to get the perfect result but I learned so many things along the way.

Once I applied all the alphas to the head, I proceeded to sculpt everything by hand using the same brushes when I blocked her out. What I did back and forth was test my model in Arnold and try to provide feedback myself.

Final sculpt:

The Outfit

As for the clothes, I did a quick sketch in ZBrush by masking a part of her body and extracting it. It was dirty but very quick. Then I went to Marvelous Designer to quickly simulate Jinx's top piece. I would recommend watching a few introductions to Marvelous Designer videos on YouTube to understand the software. However, if you are really new to Marvelous, let me give you a very brief overview of the process:

  • Open or import an avatar as a collision object for the simulation (avatar has to have a real-life scale, and can be measured in your preferred 3D packages.)
  • Draw sewing patterns in the 2D window
  • Position the patterns around your avatar in the 3D window
  • Sew the patterns accordingly
  • Simulate the patterns to your liking
  • Add variations, and details, before exporting the final geometry

Once you import it back to ZBrush, there are many possible treatments you can do depending on what the final result is going to be. I would like to shout out an amazing YouTube channel Outgang by Laura Gallagher. She created an amazing cheat sheet for Marvelous Designer to ZBrush pipeline, I highly recommend checking it out.

As shown in the screenshot, I had to readjust the overall shape of the top later in ZBrush to get closer to the result I wanted.

Creating Hair

Just like the head, I wanted to stay faithful to the original while maintaining the realistic aspect. The first step I did was research, I would look into both real-life hair photography as well as CG hair from movies and games. Finding the right balance between the who would be the perfect approach for me. Then, I moved to ZBrush to quickly block out the primary form before retopo-ing it to create a strong, simple, distinct shape.

The shape of the blockout itself needed to be very readable so that when I did the quick render test in Maya, it would create the necessary shadow on the rest of the model to see how it would react to the face.

A quick tip: In the early stage, try to keep everything as simple as possible. The perfect blocking stage is when you can clearly read the overall shape from afar with very simple geometry.

Once I was happy with the blockout, I brought it to Maya to create the final strands of the hair using XGen, each using its own scalp geometry. I started my guides off at the front part of the hair and tried to get the overall shape, then started adding rows of guides under the first set with each row overlapping the next.

In Maya, I made a few separate hair descriptions. Several parts for the front bang, main hair, braids, eyebrows, eyelashes, peach fuzz, and also a baby hair, each using its own scalp geometry. Make sure to give enough space between each guide that you place on the surface.

For long headhair, I used 3 Clumping modifiers, for the first one I clump to guides, the second is for mid-range clumps and the third is for the tiny clumping that happens to a few individual strands. After this, I used a Cut modifier to soften the ends and then a Noise modifier with different values for the overall hair and the stray hairs with a small expression. The last one is Noise, Noise modifiers are often used last to blend each strand to make them look more natural.

If you want to learn more about grooming, I highly recommend checking out Jesus Fernandez’s YouTube channel, he has some free videos on the very basics of XGen. A perfect way to get started.


Substance 3D Painter and ZBrush were used to texture the whole model. I transferred scanned Albedo data to the face in ZBrush using ZWRAP. However, I did leave some errors and artifacts while projecting. I cleaned up everything in SP while also adding several layers of color corrections and hand-painted details on top. Again, I started very simply and slowly got into the finer details.

Jinx's skin is a little paler than the others as she looks unwell and tired. One particular part of her skin that was fun to texture was her eyes. I would try to find the perfect balance between her exceptionally dark-colored upper and lower eye shadow and eyebags, as well as how wet would the overall eye look due to oil, sweat, and dirt. I would try to mimic a real photo of depressed and sleep-deprived individuals and then exaggerate the intensity accordingly. 

For the final maps, I used Albedo, Specs, Roughness, and Coat.

Next were the clothes, I believe her clothes were pretty straightforward, Jinx was wearing a top made out of leather, and considering the way she was raised, I decided to make her top pretty worn out. That means battle damages, scratches, discoloration, and chipped-off edges should be fairly visible. Finding the balance is the key, I tried my best to avoid unnecessary details that would make the whole thing too noisy.

The Final Presentation

The final presentation was extremely important as it's the very first thing that people see. There are many ways to present your character, but I believe putting your character in a fully lit scene will open up so much more potential in your storytelling. In fact, earlier in the process, I wanted Jinx to be set in a greenish-colored environment which was inspired by the overall vibe of the Undercity from the original series.

However, it ended up being excessive, as it changed the look of her surface too much and killed the realism. So to make it simpler, I decided to play around with different shades of blue. 

One of the best decisions I did on this project was to ask for feedback from a friend in the middle of the project. It's good to have other people's opinions as more often than not, their opinions will help you tremendously.

Another shoutout goes to Örs Bárczy for sparing me some of his precious time to provide me with some really valuable feedback and notes on how I can improve the lighting setup. 

There was a scene earlier in the series where Jinx showed up in her grown-up state. I loved how monochromatic and gloomy the scene was as it represents Jinx very well and I decided to go with that one.

I found a backplate image from ArtStation and utilized mostly Area Lights in Maya. The scene was made out of one HDRI that serves as an overall atmospheric light, key lights, rim lights, fill lights, and several fake bounce lights.

For the rest of the scene, only a single HDRI was used for each lighting scenario.


There are billions of people alive, and each person's face has its own unique characteristics. I am not the best at anatomy and facial structure, but I learned how to strategically analyze a character. For this project, I did not use any real human face as a reference, letting me to stay close to the original character and keep improvising as I saw fit.

  • Here are some of the important points that I learned throughout this project.
  • There is no right or wrong, other artists would probably be able to make a very different Jinx yet still be faithful to the original source material.
  • The human face has a very complex structure. Therefore, it takes time, always look for constructive feedback from people around you.
  • It's a trial and error process, keep refreshing your eyes.
  • Learn to observe, e.g. eye distance, face length, chin size, next length, etc.

Thank you for reading through this interview, I am extremely thankful for the positive response, it is not the most detailed breakdown but I really do hope you were able to learn a thing or two. Thank you 80 Level for this opportunity!

Joshua Gouw/Wu, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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