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Creating Unusual-Looking Characters in ZBrush & Blender

Entei Ryu has talked about the Lovers project, explained how the bizarre art style was achieved, and shared the ZBrush/Blender workflow that was used for the project.


My name is Entei Ryu, a Concept Artist and Digital Sculptor currently working in the entertainment industry based in Tokyo. I graduated from the University of Tokyo with a degree in architecture and art has been my passion from the beginning to my current career, the skills mainly derived from self-learning.

I have worked for Cydesignation on Cygames' unreleased PS4 games, and as a freelance artist, I work for the Final Fantasy series and Assassin Creed series, etc. Other projects include film, animation, art sculpture, and jewelry design.

The Lovers Project

I started The Lovers project about two months ago, I am a fan of making fantasy and sci-fi world. I prefer to focus on the perspective of ordinary individuals and realistic details to show the worldview I have established. This is the story about two girls on a journey in a time and place of the future, each with their own incomplete and powerful parts, but their link to each other makes them unbreakable in such a harsh environment.

What's interesting is that this concept didn't exist at the beginning. it started out as just two of my head sculpting practices. Then using after-work time, I unconsciously finished the whole body, outfit, and props. I like these two faces very much, and I will make new attempts in each practice. The facial traits that have not been tried before will serve as a starting point that would always spark my interest in the sculpt. It makes me imagine what kind of personalities they are, what fashion tastes they have, how they met and help each other in the journey, and do they also fight over their favorite food and TV shows? In these considerations, many design details could be naturally added: the oiled jacket may be inherited from passed dad, the messy and fine sideburn hair, delicate makeup and manicure; the tight frown, upturned mouth, dark circles under the eyes, small freckles, and the hands trying to hold.

They are a pair of designs, many features are contrasted to exist, such as posture, height, and expression. These are also interesting in the development of the design. The inspiration is from the characters themselves which gradually build up as the sculpt progresses.

Another thing that inspired me was probably The Last of Us 2 that I played last year, I really liked the female characters in there, Ellie and Abby. I have always been interested in strong female characters. Maybe they are not perfect, but they are very attractive.


I usually start sculpting from the face, and the face is sculpted from the eyes because the face can mobilize my passion when sculpting. Since there are two characters this time, the order is about A (knit cap girl) head → B (sunglasses girl) head → two bodies. The design of the outfits and body features of the characters were designed to serve their personalities.

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For example, A is battle-hardened, has some decadent and lazy temperament, and does not look very good to get along with. But through the subtle process of expressions. I want to imply the childlike and straightforward side of her character. Compared with B she has more muscle mass and a larger physique, convenient undershirt jeans and military boots, fashion on the practical side.

B's outfit would be a little more refined, girly side is stronger. The larger worldview dictates that the stains on their bodies will reveal the hardships of the journey, but underneath that the pattern of the shirt, earrings, chocker, and pants in order to show her delicate side. Although smaller in size, but the physique and facial expressions are calm and peaceful, these details also shaped a contrast between the two characters.

In fact, many details on the character can convey emotions and show the character's personality, and I think that's what makes designing characters interesting.

For the mech part of this work, I pay more attention to the impression of a silhouette than functionality. Comparing sketchy and organic, I will mainly consider what kind of prosthetic form will link more naturally and smoother to the female body, making the female body and the charm of the mechanical part complement each other. But to be honest, there is still a lot of room for in-depth design in the mechanical part of this work, maybe I will remake some mechanical details afterward.

Painting the Characters

I painted in Substance 3D Painter. The workflow is to expand UV map in ZBrush, and then through the Goz plug-in bridge between ZBrush and Blender, import the model into Blender with one click, and adjust the maps of some parts in Blender. Then import the model into the SP through the connection plug-in Xolotl between Blender and SP (the rendering after paint is also imported from the SP back to Blender through this plug-in).

As with sculpting, I'm used to keep the painting process handcrafted. I want not to imitate reality but to paint colors based on subjective feelings and retain rough brush strokes, so although I use PBR shaders, there will be a realistic yet unrealistic style.

Rendering in Blender

HDR IBL is the main light that determines scene tones. And I added sub-lights for faces, so HDR becomes the backdrop. I use only DOF for post-production to bring out the subject in the shot.

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Finishing Touches

My usual post-process in Photoshop generally includes adjusting the overall composition, saturation, and contrast, emphasizing glowing, adding effects and textures, etc. The paint over on the character is often more on the face, especially the eyes, the texture on the model may be enough in the dynamic, but in the still frame often can not be perfect at every angle, I will adjust the pupils by painting the sense of transparency so that they look more vivid. And Hair, 2D strokes make it easier to draw fine hair and reflections easily. Others include adding more design details to parts of the model that are not defined enough, such as mechanical parts.

In addition, there is a very important function in post that is overlooked by many people, which is to do subtraction. There are many renders, and I don't want all of them to reflect all the details, but each one to have a focus, to show the work from different perspectives. So when a part of the composition becomes a background I not only do not add details but also use the brush to summarize, reduce, or blur details to emphasize the subject.


I spent about a month making it after work, the most time-consuming part of it is the sculpting, I put a lot of details in the sculpting stage that are usually added in the painting stage.

If there's any advice worth sharing, I think it's to be bolder and more confident in expressing yourself and enjoying it, even if you're just starting out and not yet proficient with the tools. I'm a 2D concept artist, I don't have more skills in character making than 3D Artist, and my models are not perfect, but I can have fun with my limited knowledge and use my drawing strengths to make up for my shortcomings, and eventually become my personal style.

Many thanks to 80 Level for inviting me to share my character production process, even though I talked more about design thinking rather than techniques, I hope it can be inspiring and helpful to others.

Entei Ryu, Concept Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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