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Recreating The Walking Dead's Rick Grimes in ZBrush & Substance 3D Painter

Rosanna Perrucci shared the workflow behind the 3D model of Rick Grimes, explained how the hair and clothes were made, and showed how the lighting was set up to capture the mood of the picture.


Hello, my name is Rosanna Perrucci, I'm a 3D Character Artist specializing under the guidance of Georgian Avasilcutei. I started my mentorship in 2019 with just a basic grasp of Maya and ZBrush and zero knowledge about anatomy or any other skill I actually needed. This character has been made two times, one by myself and another one under guidance. Here I'm going to talk a bit more about the process of creating this game-ready likeness starting from scratch. Here you can find more pictures.

References and Goals

When you start with this journey, it is very important to choose a concept you really like and can really stick to until it's properly done. That's why I picked the character I really love and started by collecting a lot of pictures for the likeness, using Getty Images as the main source. I was trying to collect pics from the same photoshoot in order to have shots taken with the same camera and focal length, and so that they depicted specific age, since faces tend to change quite a bit due to aging and weight fluctuation. I started with literally thousands of pictures but ended up using just a few of them.


I started from the likeness, the most energy-consuming part of the process. At some point, I added a couple of life-cast masks from random actors to my PureRef just to see how a facial plane really changes with soft transitions, and this gave me the idea of how the plane should change without being too exaggerated. It was a back-and-forth for an entire year because I had no clue about what anatomy was, so I had to learn the hard way to read shapes while learning to make a likeness. Luckily, I had guidance during the whole time and finally managed to get it done.

After I'm done with the sculpting, the fun part came: making the hair and beard. I created multiple strands with Ornatrix and rendered the albedo in Maya, creating hair cards and combining them into the main clumps that built the volumes for the hair, moving and twisting the strands with a great Maya plug-in called GS Curve Tools made by George Sladkovsky.

For the beard, the process was similar but I moved the hair cards by hand, I had to be very careful about the placement, building up of volumes, and the variation. At this point, it is really important to keep everything organized, every hair clump needs to be in a separate group, which makes it easier to retouch your work in a non-destructive way.

Marvelous Designer

After I decided on the clothing style, I was going to make a bunch of sewing patterns for the jeans, the shirt, and the boots. I imported my male base mesh into Marvelous Designer and started to work on it, making sure to sculpt on my base mesh when required and keeping a close eye on the silhouette.

And as powerful as Marvelous Designer can be, the mesh I exported from there was reworked in ZBrush, keeping the main folds and sculpting memory folds and small wrinkles, taking care of proportions and silhouette by moving the big shapes around to better fit the likeness.

Everything else was modeled in Maya and then reworked in ZBrush, this gave me a good base for the retopo, especially for the belt and the watch, having already a decent low poly that I had to just rework for some parts.

The details on the belt were created as geometry in Maya, then converted into a tileable pattern, and then used as a displacement in ZBrush after opening the UV on the low poly mesh. The watch was modeled and assembled in Maya and then bent around the wrist in ZBrush.

For the gun, the process was similar. I created the blockout ready to be used in Maya, with the live Booleans tool in ZBrush, adding or subtracting shapes until I could get a really clean high poly to work with, adding details the second time.

Retopo, Baking, and Texturing

After the high poly was done, I decimated the whole body, assigning to every object a different color to create an ID map ready to be used in Substance 3D Painter a second time. I then prepared the files to be exported in 3 separate parts, splitting the character's body into TX_01, TX_02, and TX_03. I took care of the name of each object, using precise names and adding the tag “highpoly” at the end of each.

For the retopology, I used Topogun 3, it's just so easy to use and it can handle heavy files without lagging. Once I was done with it, I exported 3 different files, naming every single object with the same names I used with high poly, but this time adding the tag “lowpoly” in order to make my life easier during the baking process.

For the UVs, I used RizomUV, a software dedicated to unwrapping and working with the UVs. I tried to be consistent with the texel density and use all the space I could for each piece.

The bake was done in Marmoset Toolbag, using the Quick Loader that reads the names and the tags of every object keeping the groups and creating cages for every mesh that I can scale and paint on in order to get the best result possible.

Once the bake was done, I imported everything into Substance 3D Painter, starting from the head with a raw albedo that I got from 3D Scan Store.

I cleaned the albedo, changing the skin tone and adding the color variation I got from the references, trying to pay attention to get the specular level and the roughness right.

For the body, I started from the free material I found in the Substance Store, building up the layers of color variation, roughness variation, dirt and wear, and various discoloration that you get from sun exposure, keeping the names for every layer as simple as possible.

Posing, Lightning, and Scene Setup

I imported the character into ZBrush, posing the low poly in two different ways using Transpose Master, and then set up the scene in Marmoset Toolbag. I ended up creating three different scenes: one for the presentation with a flatter/studio lightning and two for a more cinematic effect. You don't usually need a lot of lights, usually, 2 or 3 will do the trick. My suggestion is to take your time and choose the main reference for your shots, trying to catch the mood of the picture.


This project was my first, and it was a big deal for me. I had to study anatomy, and as
a 2D artist I had quite a hard time reading the shapes in 3D, I had to go over Scott Eaton's course multiple times before starting to grasp the basic knowledge of human anatomy. I didn't have a deadline for Rick, everything was done with the purpose of learning the whole process and getting a decent quality, getting my hands on the toolchain, and getting used to each software's workflow. I streamed almost the whole process on my Twitch channel and I always push the artists that I met to do so, normalizing the struggles and the trial and error that everyone has to go through every time. 

I'm really thankful to 80 Level for this space, I'm happy to share my journey with you and I hope you found something helpful here. There is no trick, there's no magic, you just have to sit, focus and try until you make it look as good as you can. Feel free to drop by and say hi to this blue tucan. Have a wonderful day.

Rosanna Perrucci, Character Artist

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