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Recreating Nightwing as a Collectible Sculpture in Blender & ZBrush

Raphael Albero shared a short breakdown of the Nightwing project, detailing how the character was sculpted and discussing his texturing and rendering workflows.


My name is Raphael Albero, and I'm a freelance 3D sculptor.

Growing up I’ve always had contact with art, I started drawing as a little kid and dreamed of becoming an illustrator. So as soon as I got the opportunity I started digital painting, but I felt that I couldn't reach the level I aspired. In 2018, I discovered ZBrush through some YouTube tutorials, and from that on fully focused on studying 3D. I started with some beginners level classes that helped me understand the character creation process.

My portfolio is based on sculptures for collectibles, and I love sculpting comic book superheroes and villains. These characters have contributed a lot to creating Nightwing.

The Nightwing Project

This project started without much pretension, just a study between work projects. I was inspired by the comic book artist Jorge Jimenez and his unique style, the way he portrays characters, and his exceptional anatomy work while working on this project.

As per my workflow, I like to separate references of 2D concepts, sculptures from other artists, and some real-life references that delivers the feeling and vibes I'm looking for.

The Face and the Head

The face is usually the part that I have the most fun doing, this one was a little tricky as I wanted to convey a youthful look so I shouldn't force the expressions too much.

The brushes I used the most throughout the entire project were the Clay Buildup, Standard brush, and Trim Dynamic. I feel like these brushes are versatile enough to handle almost anything. 

For the skin detailing, I used different types of pore alphas, which made the process relatively simple.

As for the mouth area, I first sculpted it expressionless and then worked on the half smile. The mask was made with a painting on the face and after that, I selected the painted area and gave an extract, so I could work in a separate sub-tool.

I made a simple sketch of the hair and refined the strands, the most important thing was to let the ends hang in the wind, to compose the silhouette well. When I got that I refined it strand by strand with the Standard brush.

The Body and the Weapons

The sculpting of the body began with a base mesh that I had created for my superhero projects. Throughout the process, I made several improvements until I selected the final pose. 

The weapons are basically stacked in different sizes of cylinders. I tested different sizes for each part and molded the idea of the weapon I was looking for.

The process of creating the blades was straightforward. Once I was satisfied with the overall shape and composition of the sculpture, I selected a plane surface, created a mask to draw the shape, extracted it, and applied ZRemesher to work on the polygons. Using the ZModeler tool, I thickened it and used the Bevel tool on the edges to give it a sharper look. 

The biggest challenge was without a doubt conveying an imposing vibe through the character's pose, mainly because it is a museum and a less dynamic pose.


As this project was designed for a collectible sculpture, I didn't work much on the retopology part. For this project, I used ZRemesher, then opened the UV, and redirected the texture sense. All this was 100% done in ZBrush.


Personally, I consider texturing to be a very important part of the whole project. I always leave the pieces with a high number of polygons to ensure they'll have a good texture.

For this project, the uniform parts of Nightwing were done using a sewing brush on the edges to give the fabric a finishing look. I also applied a leather texture using the Surface/Noise tool.

As the weapons are hard surfaces, I didn't use a lot of textures to make them appear smoother. Instead, I added small details such as screws and lights on the handle to enhance their appearance.


I always opt to use Blender for my projects. I used the Cycles mode to quickly have some more realistic lights. As I was going for a cinematic look, I positioned the lights to highlight the character, giving it shadows that value the anatomy work.

My post-production was done using Photoshop where I edited color, contrast, and saturation.

Advice for Artists

This was a very quick project – in fact, my record time on a complete project – it only took me two weeks to finish. 

Without a doubt the biggest challenge was finding the correct pose and anatomy, I changed the whole pose idea a few times, as he had to convey the idea of being an athletic and agile character, even in a neutral pose.

The advice I would give to artists is to not get too attached to what you've already done in the project. Sometimes, we need to change a lot from what we initially intended or even start over to achieve great results. Your first idea is unlikely the last one. I also often look for feedback from artists and non-artists – those different opinions can help fix errors and highlight what is already good about your project.

Raphael Albero, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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