Imagining an Unusual 3D Take on Joker With Blender & ZBrush

Character Artist Daniel Sanches shared a quick breakdown of his unique 3D Joker sculpt, talked about the inspiration behind it, and revealed the hair sculpting technique.

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Nice to meet you, I'm Daniel ''Daniboy'' Sanches. I'm 23 years old and I've been involved in the 3D and ZBrush universe for almost 10 years.

I loved drawing ever since I was young, and in my early teens, I was introduced to ZBrush by my father, who loved researching and getting to know the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking and game development. We saved some money and he bought me an introduction course to ZBrush, and since then I have dedicated myself to improving my art daily.

I have worked on games for some time and even worked for Returnal, a PS5 game. Nowadays, I am focused on the collectibles and miniatures market, seeking to improve more and more in this segment that I love so much, working with big companies like Loot Studios, Iron Studios, Legendary Beasts, Wizards of the Coast, and many others.

Getting Into Sculping

As already mentioned, it all started with the introductory ZBrush course, where in this software I was able to find myself expressing and creating things I previously did in drawing. I've always really enjoyed creating characters and stories, trying to copy and develop designs that I found interesting. Before discovering the 3D universe, I wanted to work for comics, so when I learned ZBrush it was natural to transfer all those character ideas I had into the three-dimensional world.

I have always been inspired by great artists, whether in drawing or 3D, such as Jim Lee, Joe Madureira, Raf Grassetti, Daniel Bel, and many others. Having these inspirations taught me a lot about different skills that I learned to develop over time to apply in my work.


The Joker project was something very interesting and I didn't expect it to have as much reach and repercussions as it received.

I found the comic book cover that Ryan Brown drew on Facebook. The different approach with lighting, pose and the like inspired me a lot, filling me with the desire to try to reproduce that in my style.

I saved the drawing, looked for more ideas and references, and immediately tried to start sketching the ideas, but at first, things didn't seem to flow so well. I was having some difficulty conveying the type of feeling and intention I felt when looking at the concept. I ended up getting discouraged, putting the project aside for a few months until I could better understand what I wanted to convey.

After about 3 months, the opportunity arose to participate in mentoring with Rafa Souza, a teacher I have always followed and already participated in several courses before. Under this mentorship, I saw the possibility of returning to the Joker project, having a more mature perspective and more time to dedicate and explore the idea I wanted.

Within the course I made around 20 variations based on the same reference pose from the concept, trying to exhaust all the possibilities of ideas to find the one that had all the intention and expression I was looking for. When I found the one I liked the most, the project flowed naturally, growing and achieving the madness and drama that I imagined for the Joker combined with the incredible idea that existed in Ryan's concept.

Regarding references, I tried not to be too influenced by other incredible models already made, so that I could look for "my version" of the Joker without necessarily copying or relying too much on something that already exists. So I tried my best to follow the idea of what I interpreted from the original concept and sometimes tried to capture things that I found interesting in other collectible models or comic book designs already made.

What I wanted to convey was the maximum insanity that I imagined for this Joker through his expression, having his exaggeration, but in a targeted way that is combined with the general idea of the piece. I even considered doing some variations of heads with other expressions, but only this one fulfilled what I was looking for and it was where I dedicated most of my time, giving my attention to every detail and element that I needed.

Process & Refinement

Regarding the process of creating the Joker, it all started with a lot of exploration, trying to find the best interpretation and naturalness for the pose and general expression of the piece.

Having this initial idea defined, I did a very basic blocking of the general elements of the clothing, Batman, accessories, and base design, trying to create an interesting composition for the whole piece.

After leaving this entire initial sketch stage, I began to refine each piece individually. I generally like to start refining with what seems "easiest", what I can already perfectly imagine how to solve. And in this way, starting with the "easiest", I will gradually move on to the more laborious and difficult pieces. This way, I feel like I can better understand the type of refinement I want to bring to the project if I get the hang of doing each thing, and then when I get to what is more difficult, I will already be adapted to what the project requires and things will flow easily.

As the course time was short, only 4 weekends, having this fluid and direct workflow helped me a lot, because I was able to complete practically the entire model within the stipulated time. Of course, after the course I refined it a little more, reviewing and adjusting each part for rendering, totaling around 1 month and a half for the project.

Hair Workflow

Many people asked me about the hair sculpting process, which was a very interesting part that I enjoyed doing.

My hair workflow that I use for most projects basically consists of creating an initial base in ZBrush's DynaMesh with the loosest and most spontaneous shapes, trying to find the "expression" and flow that the hair has.

Having defined this, I started to suggest some ideas for moving with ClayBuildup and Move, finding the internal movements of the hair and then refining it using a specific brush from Dylan Ekren, making each strand and adjusting it individually.

Once I had the entire hair complete, I finally added some CurveTubes to bring a little more "chaos and mess", making the hair look more natural and organic.

Base Details

Regarding the general elements of the piece, it was very simple. Since they are inorganic pieces, it is easier to reproduce and create without having to be exactly "creative". So, having defined the blocking of the base, I just made each of these assets by forming basic geometrics and then fitting and positioning them to replace the blocking that was previously there.

Things like gas cylinders, dynamite, and chairs were made from basic geometry, such as cylinders, cubes, and the like, just deforming and altering using ZModeler, Move, and ClayBuildup when necessary.

For Batman, I used the same workflow as the Joker. I created a general block of pose and clothing ideas, and from there I separated each piece and refined it individually.

A curious thing about the project is that the first thing I started to refine was precisely Batman, making his body, folds, accessories, and the like. I only started working on refining the Joker after I had already done everything I needed to on Batman. Having made the base of Batman's head, I just duplicated it and adapted it to the other heads that exist on the floor, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Robin.


As for the rendering part, I used Blender, which is cool and easy. I'm no expert on it, this Joker project was only the 7th one I've done using this software, so each new attempt is a learning experience full of tests and different explorations.

For the lighting part, I tried to use as a reference the presentation images of statues from big companies, such as Sideshow Collectibles, XM Studios, and Tweeterhead, seeking to capture the same type of colors, shadows, and effects they have, whether more dramatic or more neutral. I created around 4-5 different light setups to try to explore all the different possibilities until I finally decided to stick with two, one more dramatic and intense, to convey the feeling of the piece, and a more neutral and cold one to show the turntable and other details.

Having made all the images, close-ups, turns, etc., I threw everything into Photoshop and started editing there, trying to reinforce the intense aspects I wanted for the lighting and bringing more vivacity to the scene, the colors, and the like.

For me, this post-production part is very important, as it is where I really feel that the render comes to life. The images, as cool as they look in Blender, are still "neutral", colder, and without so much exaggeration. It's in post-production where I can have control over this. Duplicating the original image and playing with the different blending modes, filters, brightness and saturation aspects, and everything else.


I started this project during the course on November 25th and finished the entire high-poly part in ZBrush on January 1st. After that, I did the entire rendering and post-production stage, gave an extra week to "cool down" my eyes to be able to correct anything, and then posted it on January 10th.

Regarding the main difficulties, I believe that the biggest challenge was being able to take this project to a new level, reaching a level beyond my current skill and being even better than my last project, which had been Hellboy. Looking back now, I think I managed to do that. From the beginning, I paid attention to all parts of the piece, refining and looking for the best version of everything, giving as much as I could to make it as detailed and expressive as I wanted. After all this, I think my advice for sculptors and beginning artists is to be patient, do your best, and believe in the process.

As I said, it took months to figure out this piece because for a series of reasons it wasn't the right time and I couldn't get what I was looking for. I gave time to mature the idea and looked for new inspirations and when I started working on it again, things flowed much better and I managed to figure it out, giving my best in every aspect and believing that all this dedication would result in something amazing in the end.

Sometimes the creative process can be frustrating, but it is important to understand that this is a part of it and look for ways to unblock and improve so that we can move forward and achieve what we want.

I would like to say a huge thank you to 80 Level and Theodore for the opportunity to share a little about the process of this piece and my thoughts. I'm very happy to see people's interest in my work. I hope that all of this can help you to keep improving your work as well.

I also invite you to follow my social networks, on Instagram and ArtStation, and also follow me on Twitch and YouTube, where I do weekly live sculpting and share some of my processes in real time.

Daniel ''Daniboy'' Sanches, Character Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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