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Making a Mechanical General in ZBrush & Toolbag 4

Aleksei Panov showed us how to recreate a 2D concept of a mechanical general in 3D using ZBrush, Maya, Marvelous Designer, and Marmoset Toolbag 4.

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Hi, my name is Aleksei Panov, I am a Character Artist at Ubisoft Duesseldorf. Initially, I was graduated as an Aero Cosmic Engineer but I have never worked in this profession. I was always interested in art and decided to do what I want. I worked on such projects as Star Wars: The Old Republic, Volition: Saints Raw, Effect: Andromeda, Rainbow Six Siege, and some other projects I can't name.

The General Project

I decided it was time to take part in an art contest because I hadn't any personal projects for a long time. I think it is very important to do something apart from your work, to try different styles and approaches, improve some areas you want to be better at. It helps to work differently without restrictions you may have at work. I started to look for a proper sketch on the Character Design stage in the contest because I wanted to focus on the production stage this time. I like to design characters by myself but there was not enough time. Characters of Mars Sun were very good for my purposes, they are coherent, logical, and have interesting silhouettes and proportions.


I did all hard-surface work in ZBrush and base for clothing in Marvelous Designer. I used an old subdivision workflow using ZModeler for all hard-surface parts. Then I converted all into subdivided geometry and added some extra details using alphas and masks. This approach gives a very important opportunity to work coherently, to model from basic to more complex forms, gradually adding details. The key is to try to keep it simple as long as you need to balance all parts with each other.

For multiple objects on the shoulder straps, I used Nanomesh. It is a very convenient tool, you can set the position of multiple instanced objects and edit them at the same time.

There is a simple sequence on how you can apply Nanomesh:

Before I apply details I always store morph target. It helps me to revert every time I need it. I didn't use layers this time to keep the scene lighter. Some details were added with Surface using UV. Alphas are from noisemaker or done in ZBrush.

I didn't have time for the creature, so I spent only a few hours doing it. It was done with Dynamesh and Standard clay, Move and Dam Standard brushes. I applied ZRemesh, added several subdivisions, and finished with Standard brushes.


All stitches are geometry. I did it pretty fast with an instance brush. I like to do all geometry on the high poly stage. It gives higher quality after baking maps and I can understand better how it looks during creating a high poly model, otherwise, it is harder to understand if details enough or not.

I started the outfit in MD and achieved desired folds and then improved it in ZBrush.

Retopology and UVs

I did retopology in ZBrush with a ZModeler. I tried to do it faster with auto retopology but it did not give me good quality, so I had to do the majority of the work manually. I created playgroups as unique UV shells and unwrap them in ZBrush. I finished UV and geometry in Maya. This approach is faster and I didn't need to spend time exporting geometry for reference to Maya.


I did textures in Marmoset Toolbag. It is a surprisingly good way for texturing. I like MT4 very much, it works faster and is more stable compared to the competitors. Of course, it is a little bit row regarding tools for creating textures but I believe the team will continue improving it.

Unfortunately, I had only a day for textures and I tried to do the best in such a short period of time. It is very good to texture and set the final scene in one program. Usually, I do textures in a different program and then I would transfer them to the Marmoset.

Finishing the Project

Unfortunately, I didn't have time for rendering and post-production, so I used an HDRI map and a couple of light sources and no post-production at all.

It took two months of my spare time after work and other duties. It was pretty tough for me. I'm satisfied with the high poly, low poly, and bakes but I am not really happy about textures and presentation. The contest gives motivation and helps to finish a big project, but it is not a place where I can achieve the best result. 

Aleksei Panov, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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