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Recreating Girl with a Pearl Earring With ZBrush & Mari

Karim Hassanein has talked to us about his unusual take on Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring featuring Egyptian actress Menna sculpted with ZBrush, explained the texturing workflow in Foundry's Mari and rendering setup in Arnold, and shared valuable advice for beginner character artists.


I'm Karim Hassanein, a Lead Texturing & LookDev Artist at Monkeys.tv based in Egypt. I've always been into art since I was a little kid. I was a 2D artist until 18 when I created a mixed media project that combined 2D and 3D art, which made me switch completely to 3D. I got into the industry when I was 22 thanks to the CEO of Monkeys.tv, who was the one to discover me on ArtStation.

I've contributed to many projects with the team such as Doritos Egypt, STC Saudi Arabia, Orange Egypt, LEAP Saudi Arabia, and many others, but the one I'm really proud of is Doritos, for which we created a baby dragon. I was responsible for all the texturing and shading in that advertisement and that experience made me realize how much I love what I'm doing.

I'm a self-taught artist who never joined any art school as I think anybody can gain knowledge just through observation and practice. What taught me a lot was gathering information about whatever I was trying to learn from documents and articles on the internet and figuring out the basic concepts and then complicated and more advanced things step by step. It's just accumulated knowledge in the end!

Menna with a Pearl Earring

Back in 2022, I was just learning the female head anatomy as I'd never created a female model and throughout the journey, I thought about starting a project featuring Menna Shalaby because I'm a fan of hers. I wanted the project to be unique, not just an international celebrity as I was really bored of seeing the same faces sculpted by different artists all the time, so I decided to take a different path as a challenge and kept learning and sculpting her face at the same time.

The inspiration came from a 3D character artist that I know and talked with before named Vahid Ahmadi, who is famous for sculpting old paintings and turning them into 3D characters, So I thought about doing the same with Menna as It would make it more challenging.

I chose that painting specifically because it's the only painting that came to my mind when I imagined Menna in an old painting, both of their vibes felt the same to me actually, I stuck to that concept and went along with it. The actress references were such a pain to collect as I didn't find that many clean and sharp pictures on Google, so I decided to open every interview, movie, and series she participated in throughout her entire career and took as many snapshots as I could.

Modeling & Topology

I started sculpting the head in ZBrush from scratch with DynaMesh on. It wasn't perfect, but it was ready for wrapping a VFace head geometry around it using R3DS Wrap, and then I started sculpting on the VFace base mesh.

I approached likeness through observation, also taking breaks from looking at the model helped me a lot to know what was wrong with it. Skin details were made by combining hand-sculpted details and the TexturingXYZ VFace pack. I layered the 2 passes in Arnold renderer.

The eye and all of its components were made from scratch in Maya. Hair was created using XGen.

Teeth base mesh is an old asset that I had for years, downloaded for free from 3DGladiator, but I reworked it and its textures to match the level of detail that I was going for as it was made for games.

Some of the clothes were originally created in Marvelous Designer, but I didn't commit to using them as they were all static meshes, simple and I wanted to have full freedom to make them match with the painting. So I took the base meshes to ZBrush and all the heavy lifting was done there using the cloth brushes.

The head DynaMesh was wrapped with a clean mesh from VFace, eye, and all of its components were created in a clean way from the beginning, some of the clothes were created with simple squares and rectangles in Marvelous Designer so I didn't have to retopologize them except for the brown coat. There was some retopologizing done in Marvelous Designer, and some modifications were done later in ZBrush to add thickness.

UV unwrapping for all objects was done in Maya.


All the texturing was done in Mari using its Node Graph. Skin textures were from VFace, I only tweaked the skin color map to match the references by color grading and painting some imperfections, and I also made an RGB mask for the makeup to be able to color it directly in Arnold without going back to Mari.

Specular roughness, coat, and subsurface scattering were all driven by VFace ID masks.

Here's a look at the skin shader Node Graph:

The eye includes the sclera, iris, caruncle, and tear line, and all of their textures were created in Mari. Iris displacement texture was from TexturingXYZ, but coloring was done with a simple Ramp Node in Arnold to match the reference as her eye colors were pretty simple.

Sclera masks were created in Maya with Ramp Nodes:

The tear line got only a single mask for opacity to make it blend more with the eye. Caruncle got a mask to make it blend too.

As for teeth texturing, I only exported displacement maps from ZBrush and painted the textures in Mari.

I also created a utility map to be able to control roughness, colors, and SSS efficiently in Arnold directly.

For clothes it was all about displacement and shading, coloring was so basic that I didn't even need to color them with texturing software. For the brown coat, I used a velvet displacement texture that I created in Substance 3D Designer a long time ago.

White fabric:

Blue satin, specular anisotropy, and metalness with flakes helped me to capture the satin feeling.

Yellow fabric, I used the diffusion subsurface scattering model to get a single color when the light passes through the fabric and it really helped to make that piece look better. 

They all have subsurface scattering for a better and more realistic look. I also added layers of fuzz with XGen to achieve even more realism.


I used Maya and Arnold for rendering. Here's the light rig, it's pretty simple:

Post-production was done in Nuke to add depth of field, color grading, vignette, and chromatic aberration to enhance the final image. Here's before and after with the Node Graph:


It took me almost 2 years to learn to sculpt female characters, understand all the concepts I explained above, and finish this project. The only challenge was sculpting actually, most of the stuff I was already familiar with.

My advice would be to never stop learning and exploring new stuff, understand the basic concept, then go crazy with it and experiment with new techniques. Don't keep focusing on a single aspect such as sculpting because as a beginning character artist, you need to be aware of other aspects such as texturing, shading, and lookdev. Then you can choose a specialization and master sculpting or whatever you're passionate about.

Karim Hassanein, Lead Texturing & LookDev Artist

Interview conducted by Gloria Levine

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Comments 1

  • Alwani Rafed

    Proud to be a friend of Kareem. His work is exceptional like him.


    Alwani Rafed

    ·a month ago·

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