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Designing and Animating a Demon in ZBrush, Substance & Ziva

Senior Character Artist Jack Malone talked about creating a scaly Demon using ZBrush, Substance Painter, and Arnold and talked about making anatomically correct animations with Ziva.

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Hi, my name is Jack Malone, I am a 37 years old 3D Character Artist living in Brazil and working on cinematic and gaming projects for foreign and local companies. Jack is a nickname given by my friends in 2004. It started as a prank and I decided to use it since then. In fact, it's strange when someone calls me by my real name.

My CGI story has started in 1993 watching Jurassic Park. That movie blew my mind. At that time I couldn't realize that dinosaurs were CGI, which is funny but true. Since then, I became obsessed to understand what was this "CGI".

I got a degree in Graphic Design in 2008 and a post-degree in Marketing in 2010. During the university's first semester I got the opportunity to get in touch with a 2D animation process and finally could do my first 3D workshop. So, I added my interest in traditional animation to the world of computer graphics. After that, I took a ton of workshops and courses to understand which area of CGI I would like to work on until I got my first job.

Currently, I work at Magic Media, an international media and entertainment group, home to a variety of professionals and industry-leading experts across all avenues from interactive entertainment, software, application, and game development to cybersecurity, VFX, art, and animation. Magic Media has an array of high-profile clients including Bethesda, Blowfish Studios, and Devoted Studios amongst many others.

While working, I am in constant contact with the Art Director and the Lead Character Artist. We collaborate on the style, scope, and polish of the overall work. Alongside that, we research reference material, which would be matched for the aesthetics and genre of the projects. I also work with the post-production and visual effects teams for seamless integration with the footage and production schedules, maintaining production documents, and assisting in problem-solving. As a group, we would be contributing to best practices and seeking out new software, technologies, and resources that will aid in an efficient and effective workflow.

Creating Ohrgok

This character was a challenge to me. I wanted to create a huge character, anatomically speaking, like a block with horns. Of course, LOTR and Blizzard lore guided me to figure out how to do that. Balrog, Diablo, Orcs, were the characters I know would guide this work. So, after a ton of references, I started an overall blockout, not only for the anatomy but for the assets also, which I had to understand the design only by modeling it. This stage is important because you need to hold back yourself and not overdo the modeling. You can’t put too much information on the model, the eyes need to rest.


I used only ZBrush to create the entire character in the modeling phase. References were crucial on the blocking and refining stage, they guided me to get a good silhouette and proportions. For the body my aim was a retired professional bodybuilder called Kai Greene, he is huge, anatomically speaking.

On the horns, scales, and spikes I used tons of animal references, like reptiles, gnus, deers, elks, and so on.

And never forget to revisit the greatest artists, their work is a necessary guide. You can use them and follow their results as a target for your work. On the other hand, it's important to have solid and good resources, like brushes, alphas, and texture libraries. Everything with a good resolution will help you to push up your character's quality overall.

Retopology and Unwrapping

In all my projects I don't retopology anything anymore, because I have created some time ago a good human basemesh that helps me all the time, with a good edge flow and UV space that are precious for you to get the quality you want to achieve.

For Ohrgok I have used 7 UDIMs. But when I did the retopology I used a mix between Maya and ZBrush and I have finished the UVs on Maya.


For the texturing stage, I have started the Base Color in ZBrush, only a quick painting that I improved on Substance Painter, creating all the bakes that help you in the process. Like the Ambient Occlusion that you can use to shade the dark areas. As for the eyes, I have sculpted the iris and used human eyes as references, I tested some different designs, like reptile and goat, but the human design fitted better.

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I always use Arnold for rendering, this is the best and fastest option, in my opinion, it is easy to set it up. You can only create some lights, cameras, and apply the material.

After you figure out the render and light setup, don't forget to increase the render size, try to render in 4k or higher, because you never know if your work will be chosen by a magazine or a website to be shared.

I have used only Photoshop for post-production, I combined all the render passes like Beauty, Direct Highlight, Ambient Occlusion, ZDepth, and IDs.


Ziva is an amazing tool, I am delighted to use it in my recent studies. It can be used to achieve natural muscle excitation without any additional assistance from an animator or any inorganic shot sculpting, it is very powerful.

To implement it into your pipeline you need to pass through the character modelling stage and really understand how the body works. For that, you need to create bones and muscles to apply all the Ziva's presets and see the "life" happening when you start the simulation.

I decided to study Ziva to improve my character skills and increase life-like on my CG creations. I would like to see my models deforming properly, seeing the biceps relaxing and squeezing without blendshapes for example.

So, first I have created all the bones and muscles to fit in the Ohrgok's body.

After that, I imported the bone's Alembic animation with 50 frames of Ohrgok on A-Pose to get a good starting simulation and don't have an abrupt movement.

For each stage, you need to export an Alembic animation separately and move on to the next level, so it will be: Bones animation, Muscles animation, Fascia animation, and finally Skin animation


The main challenges were to fix the models (bones and muscles) to work properly in Ziva. The software has some specific mesh setups that you can't fight against, like more than 5 vertices per face, holes, etc. Everything needs to be corrected and double-checked before you start to work on Ziva, for that it has some tools for checking possible issues. It is pretty easy, some clicks, and you know if the mesh is correct or not.

I also spent some time thinking about how I could drive the UVs after the skin simulation, and I have solved that using a blendshape. So I could have a perfect mesh with UVs and a beautiful skin deformation.

I have spent almost 3 weeks on this simulation, working in my spare time. And the most time-consuming part was the tissue setups. For you to get a result closer to the reality you need to use real parameters and scales, this is very important, trust me, you will not want a tissue reacting like a jelly.

I recommend two Ziva workshops, one in Portuguese called Brave CG School, and the second one in English – the CG Circuit workshop.

Jack Malone, Senior Character Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore Nikitin

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