Practicing Character Art in ZBrush: Sculpt & Quick Presentation

Leslie Van den Broeck shared some of the production details behind his recent stylized characters Vixy, Tan Zhi Hui Chun-Li, and others.

Foreword

I've recently changed the job and now, I'm working at Riot Games. Speaking of personal projects, I've been trying to keep the workflow a bit looser and faster. I tend to avoid too much technical work for personal projects like clean topology and UVs so that I can focus more on artistic things.

During every project I realize there's still much knowledge I'm lacking, so incorporating some fundamentals I can practice into my personal work seems a beneficial time investment. Another thing I start noticing is that in sculpturing, it's also good to have a few focal points on which you spend more time, while other parts can be a bit looser and "suggestive" so that the viewer's mind fills in the blanks.

Personal Art

Reference

I like to use a lot of references, both if I'm working from a concept or trying to do my own design. They help me to get inspired, find new ideas, and check on the anatomical foundations of the character I'm sculpting. For this, I use both other people's art and photo references or 3D scans. Combined with personal "mental library", the right amount of reference usually gets the job done.

Sculpting

I started working on Vixy when I was in Montreal for Christmas. I worked on an old laptop, so I knew I couldn't afford something too taxing for my machine. Everything started with very loose sketching in Photoshop. At a certain point, I felt like it was something I'd want to take into ZBrush for further exploration in terms of design since I'm more comfortable there.

In ZBrush, the process mostly involved a lot of DynaMesh, ZRemesher, SnakeHook with AccuCurve and Insert Curve Tubes for the rims. I really like designs with organic flowing, and those tools help me with this. I try different things quickly without committing to anything until I like what I have. Polypaint and sketching on the model play a big part, too. I block out the big silhouette shapes and then draw on the model to find the internal design.

In projects like Tan Zhi Hui Chun-Li and D4, I treat the surfaces as if I was going to sculpt a rock cliff rather than an organic shape. Again, Orb has some amazing brushes to help in cutting those shapes out. I mostly used Orb Cracks for carving the general shapes, Orb Polish for flattening bigger surfaces and then HPolish for more subtle cleanup. The biggest challenge with these sculpts was to make sure the underlying structure of the planes still had some anatomical reference points. I got lucky because the concepts did most of that heavy lifting for me but that's what I kept in the back of my mind while sculpting.

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Hair

When it came to hair, I knew I wanted something big though, in the beginning, I planned to do something more vertical. At one point, I added two big spheres in the back of the head and the result sparked my imagination. I mostly used DynaMesh for the big shapes and Dam Standard or Orb Cracks to draw the segments/strands.

Later, I added two smaller flyaway hairs to convey the sense that the buns are made of strands but preserve the read of the big volumes in the focus.

Polypainting

The Vixy model doesn't have any textures or UVs, everything was polypainted in ZBrush. I used a lot of big gradients to guide the eye and give some warmth to the color transitions.

You can decimate models and retain the polypaint using Decimation Master. Then, if you export the mesh as FBX or OBJ, the polypaint will be exported as vertex colors. By keeping objects separated per material, I can then easily apply different materials with various properties to them.

For the presentation, I used Marmoset Toolbag. Even though my 10-year-old laptop was struggling towards the end, I'd say you can decimate the model to a point where you can do real-time renders without having to sacrifice the quality.

Lighting

Keep it simple. If a 3-point lighting setup works, don't add 10 more lights. Start with 1 key light, then add another one if needed, and so on. Remember that lights are used to accentuate the parts you want to show off. Let's say you're working on a sculpt with one focal point: probably, you want to accentuate that point with a light and fade it out in the areas that are less polished.

Also, if I'm working on a PBR render, I tend to pull the environment light back and use it to add subtle ambiance in the end.

Leslie Van den Broeck, Senior 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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    Practicing Character Art in ZBrush: Sculpt & Quick Presentation