Making a 3D Anime Girl in ZBrush & Substance Painter

Antonella Amodio talked about creating an anime girl in 3D for the Art Heroes academy.


I’m Antonella Amodio from Italy. I’m studying computer engineering right now but I’ve always liked art. I started drawing traditionally, then at the age of 18, my mother gave me a graphics tablet, and then I moved to digital.

I’m involved in sculpturing too, with polymer clay because I like video games and anime and also their merchandise, but they’re too expensive; so I’ve decided to make them on my own. 3D art becoming popular was a game-changer to me, it is a better way to express all the things that I like and maybe to work with. So, I’ve decided to learn how to do that with Art Heroes stylized character program. The project I’ve made for graduation is my first 3D work ever.


I was searching for a concept that had the qualities required from the course and she caught my eyes. It is an anime girl with guns, I mean...she was perfect for me. She’s in anime style, so it was a bit hard for me to translate her into a 3D model, especially her expression. I’ve spent a lot of time on her face because I tended to be more realistic than it needed to be. Also, her body doesn’t follow the proportions of a real person. Her legs are so long and she’s so slim, so I started with normal proportions just following my eyes, and then, looking at the concept, I modified her where needed. I haven’t used other references besides the concept.


For her hair, I created all of it with the Curve Tube brush and added some adjustments with the Move brush and Dam Standard brush for giving them some texture. For the side part of the hair, I started from a sphere for the volume and on it added the tubes.

For her entire look, I just used a combination of Standard, Move, Clay, Curve Strap Snap, HPolish, and Pinch brushes. I also used one IMM brush from Art Heroes for the stitches on her clothes and the IMM zipper.

For creating her suit and boots I worked with extraction from masks on her body and for giving them some thickness I just inflated them a bit with the deformation tab and added some panel loops. For detailing all the things I worked with 5 subdivision levels. I used the DynaMesh mode only on her face with the help of the Sculptris Pro Mode.

For the retopology of that part, I used the projection with a base mesh. I used a lot of the ZRemesher helping it with the ZRemesher Guide brush to give the mesh the right shape.

Some problems started when I had to do her fishnet stockings, I asked for help from the Art Heroes community and I learned that there were at least two methods to do them; in Substance Painter or with the NanoMesh, I went for the latter.

Another problem was the hard surface part, the pistols, for example. Modeling the hard surfaces is a totally different way than the organic things so I struggled a bit. I worked with blocks of pieces and put them together. The only brush I used was the ZModeler one and the dynamic SubDiv mode. I also added some loops on the rest of her suite where needed.

The thing I struggled with the most was the pose. I tried so many things and have been stuck for days. The problem was her jacket, it’s huge and making it move with her was really hard for me. I solved the problem with rigging. I found this method searching on YouTube, so I rigged the jacket, maybe this is an unconventional way but it worked!


For the texture part, I did her face with a PolyPaint in ZBrush, and the rest in Substance Painter. I’ve done the unwrap with the UV master plugin helping the automatic process with the PolyPaint or PolyGroups. When the plugin failed to give me the result I was looking for, I worked in Blender doing the seams by hand; also for that, I’ve searched for some tutorials because I literally didn't know anything before this project. To organise the UV I worked in Blender again.

In SP I didn’t have problems with the bake. As Environment Map I chose the glazed patio one, I imported some of the textures made in ZBrush with PolyPaint and then started.

For her skin, I just used the skin smart material and added a bit of shine to the lid and her lips working with the roughness canal on a fill layer with the black mask and a blur filter.

For the clothes, I used a bunch of materials and smart materials like Plastic Matte Pure, Silicone Coat, Fabric Soft Denim, Fabric Composition that give a cool effect with damage and dirt. Same for the leather stylized smart material that has curvature. I used some generators like metal edge wear to give that rough effect on the metal parts with a combination of the Dirt1 brush only with the rough channel, or mask editor for a lighter effect on the edges. For the teddy patch detail on the jacket and the shoes, I did them in Photoshop and then used the Projection Mode in Substance Painter. A tricky thing was the transparent pieces on her head, I searched how to add transparency in SP, so I added the Opacity Channel to archive the result.


After the textures were ready I did the rendering in Blender with Cycles. I made a simple base to give her a contest, set up an outdoor HDRI, and 3 different lights pointing at her: a warm light on the front and two purplish on the side, one was colder, lower, and less bright than the other. For the background, I wanted a dark shade but with a gradient, for that, I inserted a white light in the middle. The hair and lash “texture” were done in Blender too.

I adjusted the final image with just a bit of color correction working on the curves in Photoshop.

Antonella Amodio, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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