Professional Services
Order outsourcing

Sculpting a Dream Reader Statue Using ZBrush, Blender & Substance 3D Painter

Lazar Isailović shared the working process behind the Dream Reader project, explained how anatomy practice turned into a full-fledged statue, and showed how to bring motion into a static sculpture. 


Hey! My name is Lazar Isailović, I am a 22-year-old artist from Novi Sad, Serbia. I am about to graduate with a degree in Computer Graphics Engineering. I stumbled across Blender on YouTube about 5 years ago, and it immediately caught all my focus. I have always liked drawing, especially characters, but I never felt too serious about it, so I kept it as a casual hobby. But when I started learning 3D, I felt like I could indirectly incorporate my drawing skills. For the first few months, I did a handful of tutorials and courses (of course, Blender Guru tutorials were the main source of knowledge), and I quickly went through interior modeling, animation, rigging, and sculpting, trying to find what I enjoyed the most. Obviously, sculpting was the thing that I found the most interesting and allowed me to express myself the most, and I felt I progressed quite fast with it. I moved to ZBrush after a few months, and I have been sculpting ever since. I am currently part of the Mindwork Studio team, where I am sculpting miniatures. The project I am working on is still not released to the public (stay tuned for that!)


As soon as I fell into the 3D world, I became obsessed with it. Characters were the thing I loved the most, as I loved the challenge of bringing “life” into sculpture. I started exploring more traditional art as well as digital and I began to gravitate towards amazing artists such as Arsen Asyrankulov, Toto Dost, Rodion Vlasov, Allen Williams, Zdzisław Beksiński, Steven Zapata, Roberto Ferri, Rodin, Grzegorz Gwiazda, Shane Wolf, Ran Manolov, Gio Nakpil and many many more.

I have always liked horror and dark art, so it was natural for me to progress in that kind of style and explore it through digital sculpture. I wanted to reach a level where the sculpture would feel natural and almost alive and bring a "soul" into the characters. I find it the most interesting and frustrating part of the process, and I am still learning a lot. As you will see, most of my references are actually from drawings and sculptures, as I got quite interested in bridging the gap between traditional and digital.

The most important part of my journey was realizing the importance of learning anatomy. I remember that I avoided learning anatomy for the first year, as I was fooling myself with a belief that the knowledge of it is not necessary as long as I can learn visually from the reference. That was, of course, wrong, as a lot of the time if one doesn't know what forms they are sculpting, the sculpture just looks wrong on so many levels. I started learning from the book Anatomy for Artists by Eliot Goldfinger and going to a nearby Academy of Arts for extra drawing classes with a life model. What I can recommend is to sculpt without symmetry, directly in a pose, as that allows someone to push their sculpting limits more. Also, it takes twice as much time and is twice as much fun; I still consider myself at an intermediate stage, and I have so much more to learn. I am still studying anatomy actively and will probably continue to do so for a long time.

The Dream Reader Project

I started Dream Reader the same way I start all my personal projects, from a ZBrush mannequin. I use it because it helps me to block out a pose really fast and put basic proportions in.

I usually start with a random pose that comes to mind or from some drawing I liked. Roberto Ferri is an amazing inspiration for interesting poses. Here, I just wanted to practice anatomy with a lying female position. Initially, I had no bigger project in mind but just a simple anatomy practice. That is why I also made a lot of changes to the project; originally, I started with one hand going up but I wanted a more relaxed look so I changed it.

I always start from the ribcage, and I usually sculpt for 30 minutes to 1 hour with no references at all, just applying some basic knowledge of anatomy and experimenting I really like this part of the process. One piece of advice I think is very important is that the resolution of the sculpture should be very low for quite a long time. This prevents a person from going into detail too early, as that is one of the most common mistakes I see beginners make. It is very important to distinguish between primary, secondary, and tertiary forms.

The primary forms are the largest, like the ribcage, which is defined only by its egg shape. Keeping the resolution low prevents you from adding wrinkles and folds too early, as it can be quite tempting to do so. I experimented with a pose, eventually changing it to go for a more relaxed feel. I go to KeyShot from time to time to do quick renders with different lights. It helps me to see forms and mistakes more easily. Also, it is fun to take a break from sculpting and do a quick render.

What I tried to do is bring motion into a static sculpture. I do that with gesture lines that are used in drawings. These lines should go around the contour of the sculpture and flow through the body. They can be leading lines that help the viewer see the image the way you want it to be seen. I am not saying this is the only method, but it is a method I learned from life drawing classes and I use it all the time when sculpting.

Once I find the pose I am most satisfied with and finish the main blockout, I start increasing the resolution of the sculpture. At one point, I started creating abstract seating for her, as I started to form the idea of what the sculpture will be. That is another point I want to make: a lot of the time, I am unsure what the final sculpt will look like. I find it much more relaxing to start sketching in 3D and let the idea be formed. If not, then it is just an anatomy practice that goes to the Unfinished or Practice folder on my PC (the folder is quite full).

I got an idea of a dream reader from Haruki Murakami's book I was reading at the time, as a big motif in his books is the dreamlike state readers are in while reading them. To do this, I wanted to have a peaceful face and a somewhat simple and clean body with complex and twisted surrounding to give it a contrast in form. I will also focus on achieving the contrast through the color as well, but more on that in the texturing stage.

I started gathering references for the body, mood, gesture, etc. This is an example of my PureRef file (I made it tidier here, usually it’s a bit all over the place). I try to find body references that match the pose I imagined, and I also use myself as a model often. For anatomy, I find Glauco Longhis' anatomy breakdowns very helpful. As for the sculptures, I find them on the Florence Academy of Arts' Instagram page, where I follow quite a few sculptors I like, such as Jana Buettner and Mitch Shea. The horns were inspired by the amazing Allen Williams. I love the fluidity of his art, so I tried to emulate some of it in my design as well.

I like sculpting faces. I usually sculpt them in the middle of my process because I like to keep them in a safe space when I get into the slump phase of the sculpture, I could go start a portrait and get out of it if that makes sense. For faces, I use symmetry because I am not confident enough without it.

I started from a simple base I created some time ago with all the right proportions. Then, I started blocking out features and sculpting the face I had in mind. I really like the more traditional portraits with stronger noses, so I push those features. I wanted to keep the face simple so I could add contrast to it if I surround it with a complex headpiece. The headpiece was an experiment as well. I wanted to frame the face to give it more attention and to add even more flow to the piece. I added some closed eyes subtly in a few places to add to the concept of a person who reads dreams. The nose and lip rings are just simple rings from ZBrush. I positioned the face in ZBrush so it can keep symmetry and I could work on it directly connected to the body. I added simple cloth to the back of the headpiece to add a bit more flow to the sculpture, as clothing is quite good for that.

For the body, I continued slowly increasing the resolution and changing the concept bit by bit. I really enjoy sculpting the torso as I find it the most interesting, and also the part of the sculpture that grabs the most attention at first glance, together with the head. Some of the challenges were finding the right reference images. I did some self-posing and made reference images of myself that would help me better understand the forms. I usually separate the legs, torso, and hands if they are intersecting each other, and merge them at the end. That is what I did here as well.

I sculpted the legs separately and then the feet and hands. I usually create one finger and then duplicate it across the palm of the hand. Hands are still quite challenging for me, but I try to make them natural and I use a lot of references. Assel Kozyreva is an amazing artist who does really interesting hands, a really cool reference that I am sure every character artist already knows about.

As far as creating anatomically correct humans, I am not sure mine are really correct. If my Dream Reader was a real person and you saw them in real life, it would be a very strange person indeed, as I exaggerate all my forms to work better on the sculpture. I find that harsher shapes look better when rendered, so I try to push some forms more than they are usually meant to be.

Texturing & Rendering

I did quick remeshing and UV mapping (totally not VFX/game-ready, but for a concept and sculpture it works) and exported my model to Substance 3D Painter, where I applied a simple marble texture with some tweaking (I reduced the vain size and made dirt a bit more subtle). I read somewhere that if one wants to show off forms, the texture should be relatively simple, and I usually go by that rule. I do intend to work more on my texturing skills in the future.

I used the same texture across the headpiece and seat, just with a lower value to create even more contrast between them and the woman. I exported everything to Blender, where I used Cycles for rendering. I created a basic 3-point lighting system and tried to achieve a moody atmosphere with light coming from above, creating shadows on the face.

I used some compositional guidelines to place the head of the model where it would be optimal for the composition. I don't do too much post-processing, just a bit of color correction, adding a green tint to the renders and a bit of noise. I always imagine noise is like a layer that cements the piece at the end. And that's it. I did this model a year ago, and of course, now I see so many things that I wish I did differently. The anatomy is not ideal everywhere, but I still feel like it captures what I wanted to say, and it is something I still enjoy. It captures my progress quite nicely.


This sculpt took around one month to create, but I didn't work on it actively all the time, just from time to time. I like to switch between a few projects at a time. When I start struggling too much with one, I go to another and let the first one breathe for a few days. Then, when I go back to it, I see it with fresh eyes and mistakes are more visible. The most challenging part is always anatomy and making the model feel alive and not like a dead 3D model. That is something I don't really have a clear tip for, but practice helps a lot. I gave a few tips to beginners throughout the interview, but if I need to summarize and add a few more of them, it would be like this:

  • I think the anatomy is the most important thing for character/creature sculptors. Sculpt without symmetry for a fun challenge.
  • Keep DynaMesh resolution very low until you finish blocking out primary forms. Then start increasing resolution bit by bit, this prevents you form going into detail too early. Also, try sculpting with no references for 30 minutes, it can be good as it doesn’t constrain you to any concept and just lets you experiment with the pose.
  • Think about the gesture of the sculpture. Use gesture lines to add movement to the sculpture.
  • Use traditional references as well as digital ones. In traditional sculptures form is quite exaggerated and clear, which is helpful in understanding it.
  • Remember to have fun and enjoy the process, not just the result.
  • I think it is very important to be interested in a variety of things, apart from the CG world and be curious. I feel like it builds your character and contributes to your art in the long run. Going on a trip, reading a variety of books, and having multiple hobbies will help you relieve your mind from art for a moment and allow you to be inspired by other things as well.

Thank you for reading, I hope I gave you a few good insights, tips, or just new artists to follow and get inspired by.

You can find me on ArtStation and Instagram.

Lazar Isailović, Digital Sculptor

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

Join discussion

Comments 3

  • Jakovljević Biserka

    I love how I stumbled across this while scrolling through the main page. Congratulations, colleague💫


    Jakovljević Biserka

    ·a year ago·
  • Smith John

    One of the best articles on site.


    Smith John

    ·5 days ago·
  • Geaney Cathal

    That is a beautiful sculpture! And thanks for the tips.


    Geaney Cathal

    ·a year ago·

You might also like

We need your consent

We use cookies on this website to make your browsing experience better. By using the site you agree to our use of cookies.Learn more