Creating Fantasy Cleaver for Games

Creating Fantasy Cleaver for Games

Dominique Buttiens talked about the way he created his amazing Cleaver asset, using Quixel SUITE, 3D Max, and Zbrush.

Dominique Buttiens talked about the way he created his amazing Cleaver asset, using Quixel SUITE, 3D Max, and Zbrush. 

Cleaver by DominiqueButtiens on Sketchfab


Hi, my name is Dominique Buttiens, I’m an Environment Artist at Studio Gobo, Brighton, UK. (We just won the ‘Best Place to Work’-Award!)

I’ve been in the industry for almost 3 years. I come from Belgium where I studied Digital Arts and Entertainment at HoWest (The Rookies: Best Games Design & Development School (International 2017)).

Currently I’m working on a big Ubisoft title, but I can’t say more yet ? – I’ve also worked on some mobile and VR titles, and my first shipped AAA+ game was Disney Infinity 3.0 – Star Wars: Rise Against The Empire. 

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Cleaver Production

I got the idea for the cleaver after seeing the Warcraft movie, I had to think back of the oldschool warcraft games it was based on and felt a bit nostalgic. I also wanted to do a small new project to get back into ZBrush, it had been over a year since I used it and I felt it was important to ‘brush up’ that skillset again. Next to Zbrush I also had just bought the Quixel Suite 2.0 and I wanted to give it a try.

I made a few quick concepts one evening with a friend and later on made some more and chose one that felt like it could belong to an orc and then blocked out the shapes in 3dsMax. (It’s the 3D package I feel most comfortable in.)

Inspiration concept by one of the Art Directors on the Warcraft movie 


I split up my blockout in workable pieces. Whether it’s because you have a full-time job or other things that take up a lot of your time, it’s always better to split your project into smaller pieces you can handle with ease rather than having major chunks of work. I made each piece a separate tool in Zbrush and went to work on a different piece each evening. I first did a quick pass on each piece and then reviewed the work with all of the pieces put together.

Something I want to point out here: The blockout mesh has a really bad wireframe, luckily that’s not important during this stage. The focus lies with getting the shapes you want quickly, we’ll remake the mesh in Zbrush anyways so the wireframe becomes irrelevant.

The pipeline in short:

1. Import a piece of the blockout from 3dsMax to Zbrush

2. Dynamesh the imported piece so you can start sculpting on a clean mesh,
the blockout is just that, a blockout meant for getting the proportions and shapes right.

3. I stuck to the basics of ZBrush at first, just the claybrush, move tool and the damStandard brush.

4. Once I was happy with that I added some detail with the free Brush Pack from Michael Vicente! (

5. I then brought the sculpted parts back into 3dsMax, created a low poly and bake the normal map in xNormal.

Next to the handy Orb Brush package, my main workflow to get every detail in there was doing pass after pass, iteration after iteration.

The only ‘trick’ I know to get good quality in anything is iteration. You do a pass, you review, you get feedback, you get back to work, repeat. I think this piece had 3 to 4 iterations before I called it. Big thanks to my girlfriend Helena, and her infinite patience, she’s a concept artist and her feedback always puts me back on track.


Since I kept everything split up after the blockout and during the sculpting it was easy to created a low poly and a material ID mask. I brought the sculpted parts back into 3dsMax with my blockout and made a low poly for each part, then merged them together and optimized it a bit. I didn’t go too deep into optimizing the low poly, since that wasn’t really my focus with this project. I just wanted to have fun with the sculpt and texturing.

Next to getting back into ZBrush I wanted to explore the Quixel Suite a bit, so I bought the software and jumped in with a ID mask I made in 3dsMask and a normal bake from xNormal.

Things like the wood and cloth are easy to get started with since they are readily available in the material library. I then went through a few iterations of adding paint, dirt and blood. For the blade itself I decided to go for something that wasn’t a fine polished metal, but something that almost felt like stone, perhaps a very rough metal that was treated harshly until it could be used as a blade. The look of the sculpt and textures had to represent the brutish orc wielding the weapon. Even with a simple prop you can have fun with storytelling.


With personal projects I always find it quite challenging when you try to design something yourself rather than working with a lot of reference. I would rethink every design decision multiple times and reiterate constantly to a point where I could have made 3 different cleavers.

What helps when facing design challenges like that is taking screenshots in between iteration and saving out different files to compare designs. The other issue when doing a lot of detailing is how you can get yourself trapped with ‘tunnel vision’, where you’re so focused on the details, you forget to pay attention to the piece as a whole, the ‘big picture’. My best tool to combat this issue is the as I mentioned before: ask others for feedback, it’ll open your eyes again and give you a clear idea of what needs to happen. Eventually, I went with what made sense storywise and the options that felt like they were a cohesive whole.

It does feel great when you can finally call a project done!

Dominique Buttiens, 3D Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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    Creating Fantasy Cleaver for Games