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Sculpting a Kaiju-Themed Creature in ZBrush

Zhouli Tan shared an extensive breakdown of the sculpting workflow, recommended useful brushes that you can use in ZBrush, and talked about studying at Gnomon.


Hello, my name is Zhouli. I'm from San Diego, California, currently, a BFA games track student at Gnomon. Before I attended Gnomon, I was Studying 2D Concept Art at an entertainment design school in China for about a year.

Gashsaurus was created in Jared Krichevesky’s Creature Sculpting and Modeling class at Gnomon. During the first few weeks of the class, we were given multiple creature themes to conceptualize and picked one of our favorites at the end to finish up. In this case, Gashsaurus was from the theme Kaiju. I'm a big fan of the Monster Hunter Universe Art so after I heard we have to create a Kaiju-themed creature, Monster Hunter immediately came to my mind.

In the Monster Hunter world almost every creature they got a based animal type before adding any fancy design elements on top. In this case, I choose a T-Rex as my main base form. In my first step, my main goal was trying to capture the big shape of a T-Rex first before adding the fantasy elements.


To start off I used the Mask Balloon brush to quickly draw out some shapes. I want to have it DynaMeshed on a very low resolution, usually nothing more than 100 at the beginning. I like to use Move, Clay Build Up, and Smooth brushes to get the overall shape I wanted. Next, I want to take advantage of the polygroup option in DynaMesh so I split the head, arms, legs, and different joints into their own polygroups. This allows me to quickly isolate parts to sculpt, scale or use either masking or the move topological brush to transform the body parts around without worrying about affecting the entire model. At this stage, I'm trying not to worry about what is on the body. I just focused on what the big silhouette is like and kept asking myself can I still recognize a T-Rex even while I'm trying to extravagant some of the body shape to the limit.

After I'm happy with what the overall shape looks like I begin to sketch some ideas on the body using the Dam Standard brush and do some refinements on the head. Now so far, the model might look horrible and that is completely fine. The main goal of this process is to define the landmarks of the creature knowing where the main scales are going to go and the shape that flows throughout the body.

Before I move on doing more refinements, I know I wanted to add spikes that will impact the silhouette more, so I go ahead and roughly sculpt a piece of spikes and make an insert mesh to lay it across the body.

As for the body scales, I could do the same thing as what I did for the spikes, but I decided to go more of a sculptured way doing it. I painted a mask with a little bit of gradient on the sketch then inverted it. Then I used the deformation tool mainly using the inflate and offset settings switch between the Y and Z-axis to get the scales pulled back and upward where I wanted, I did the same process on the scales underneath the creature also. After finishing adjusting the scales I turned up the resolution of the DynaMesh a little bit more so the gap between the scales won't stick together during the DynaMesh process. The edge might be a little round, I usually use the Flatten brush to go over the scales to crisp the edges up.

As for the rest of the body, I'm using alphas to finish. For the back, I'm using Vladimir Silkin's Dragon Scales VDM brush to fill the space between the spikes.

And for the leg, I'm still using Nicolas Swijngedau's dragon VDM brush. When applying pattern alphas like these sometimes it can look a little bit off and boring because it is not following the flow of the muscles. Before using the alphas I go ahead and define the muscular structure throughout the body and then mask the shape of the muscle to get more interesting and realistic effects. I'm using this technique throughout the process dealing with alphas from big to micro skin details. For the micro skin alphas, I'm using CG Sphere's animal skin and the spikes are included in Nicolas Swijngedau dragon VDM. 

After I finish up the design of the body I step back and look at the creature. Overall I felt the head doesn't really fit in the body so I went ahead and used the Sculptris Pro mode. This allows me to quickly spit out ideas without encountering any restrictions. The original idea of the head felt a little bit weak compared to what was going on with the rest of the body so I changed the shape to more of a square shape. This will make the creature look denser with the huge body and add the spike pointing outward to make a more aggressive look and break up the silhouette more. I was testing a bunch of brushes that come with the different brush packs to give me ideas and there was some little spike VDM from Nicolas Swijngedau brush so I go ahead drag it around the body aggressively. I really like the overall feel to it so this is when the theme element comes in Gash anyone who comes close to the spike around will definitely create wounds and cuts. 

The last stage is the detailing phase. So far right now we are still in DynaMesh. At this point, there shouldn't be any big changes to the silhouette. I go-ahead to merge the body with the arms and legs. In my subtool, I only have the head, tongue, body, large spikes, and the teeth with the claws organized on their own subtools. Duplicate each one of them with a ZRemesh and do a project so I will have SubDiv level on them with a much more clean mesh to work with.

To start off I like to have a base noise on top of the surface to bring everything together first. I use the NoiseMaker to adjust the noise scale and strength to give me a very simple noise. This is a very effective way to bring the texture immediately to the next level but don't overdo just make it barely enough to get the feel of the rough skin. 

Next, I want to add some damage and scratch to the surface. I like to use the Displacement brush and use the default ZBrush alpha 60, switching from different brush sizes and intensities to create various effects for pretty much the entire model. During this process, I would also switch up different detail frequencies alphas like dots or some wood texture to give the surface more variety. This is a very tedious step but well worth the result!

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One more step I like to do is I would like to get more breakups between the scales. I found some alphas with some patterns that have some good breakups. You can use either the deformation technique or use the Move brush pushing some area on the scales to gain more interesting breakups.

One last thing, some of the details we put in the beginning during DynaMesh might get a little bit washed out because of the DynaMesh and projections. I can either have to reapply some alphas back or there's a very handy brush called Contrast Felta and Contrast Target. These two brushes allow us to get the details back in an instant in fact it might look better than before. Also, you can take advantage of this brush adding more details to other places that are lacking details. 


The main tip that Jared gave us since the beginning of the class is to use a lot of references, especially from real life. When looking between the reference board and the model they should be connected with a lot of similarities. This project took me about 3 weeks to finish, the main challenge I had was the beginning phase. I spent my first week just to get the silhouette and the proportion correct. The advice I would give to beginners is to be bold with the sculpt and don't be afraid to extravagant the sculpt pushing it to the limit. What the one thing artists were most scared of was an empty canvas, ZBrush is a very adaptable program. We can always reduce things when needed but definitely don't want to be in a spot where there is a lack of things to add. Lastly, I would like to thank Arti Sergeev for giving me the chance to share my process with you all, and happy sculpting!

Zhouli Tan, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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