Mastering Foliage Creation in ZBrush, Marmoset & Substance Painter

Jeffrey Garcia talks about how the juicy foliage piece was created in 3D, explains why it is crucial to find reliable, high-quality references for environment art, and discusses the importance of constantly learning something new and expanding your skills as an artist.


My name is Jeffrey Garcia and I am an Environment Artist from Los Angeles, CA. I graduated from the Art Institute of California – Hollywood. My past work experience has been as a 3D artist for a range of projects from interactive applications to forensics animations to now as a freelance artist working on marketplace assets. I am always looking for new and challenging opportunities to help me expand my skills. 

Working on the Foliage Study Project

At the beginning of the year, I had set a goal for myself to try and gain a better understanding of creating foliage for games. Especially after seeing a video from Dan Sonley explaining the process in a video for Stylized Station. My aim was to sign up for the CGMA class on Vegetation for Games, but I, unfortunately, was not able to do so. Fortunately, Gnomon had released a new course with Peyton Varney going over the pipeline for creating game-ready foliage. This course was an excellent way for me to understand some of the basic concepts and it was a terrific way to get started. 

As I began the project I chose to stick to a similar plant as Peyton had as I wanted to stick as close as possible to the tutorial itself. So, I created a PureRef file and gathered not only reference images for the plant itself but also gathered some foliage from some games that stood out to me and set that as my benchmark and goal of what I hoped to achieve. 

Sculpting the Plants

Once I had my blockout ready, I took the base mesh into ZBrush and began sculpting the main shapes of the plants. Mostly using Inflate, Move Elastic, and Clay Tube brushes. With it being my first time sculpting foliage in ZBrush it was a challenge to get the large shapes to read correctly. Also, a good reminder to always turn on backface masking when sculpting. Overall, the sculpting for the foliage only took me 5 hours to create in total, I spent the most time on the fan palm as that was the one I chose to do that was not part of the tutorial as a challenge to myself to implement what I had learned thus far. 


I baked all the maps within Marmoset Toolbag 4. I tend to do all my baking inside of Toolbag as it is so easy to see the results and its features make it so intuitive. For texturing, I did some experimenting with polypainting within ZBrush, but in the end, chose to go with Substance Painter. I laid down some base colors and added color variation to closely match the reference I had. Then I used generators to mask out the edges and give them more dead areas in some parts of the foliage. I did not want to overdo it since the goal was to make them look as alive and vibrant as possible.

Assembling the Assets

Once finished with the texturing, I assembled the foliage in Maya, I chose this method to have more control over the overall look and feel of each induvial plant. I know that SpeedTree does an excellent job at this, but with a small amount of foliage, I could afford to spend a little more time on each. I began by trying to match my blockout. I found that how I had it originally did not feel natural enough for me and some of the formations made no sense. Luckily, I had taken a trip to my local zoo recently where I noticed some of the foliage I had been working on and took pictures to study back at home. This dramatically changed the feel from the original arrangement and felt more natural once I brought everything inside Unreal. 


Once I wrapped up the project, I was happy as I had done what my primary focus was, and it was to create my own set of foliage. And in doing so I gained some much-needed knowledge in the process. Even though I did learn a lot through this process I have a lot more to learn in ways to help make the foliage look as natural as possible. Studying the way foliage grows and how it forms itself around its environment is always helpful. Iterations and feedback are always a huge help. And if you are new to this process do not be afraid of making mistakes, there are a lot of resources out there for you.

Lastly, I want to genuinely thank 80 Level for this opportunity as well as Peyton Varney and Dan Sonley for the great content they created. 

Jeffrey Garcia, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore Nikitin

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Comments 1

  • Anonymous user

    Very nice... watched the video too... in depth indeed! Cheers.


    Anonymous user

    ·3 months ago·

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