Sculpting and Texturing a Stylized Fire Demon

Valerio Carbone did a breakdown of his Art War 4 entry Fire Demon sculpted in ZBrush and textured in Substance Painter.

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Hello, readers, my name is Valerio Carbone and I'm a passionate sculptor and video game player.

After graduating from Accademia Italiana Videogiochiy (AIV), I have participated in every workshop and competition on international computer graphics sites and forums I could, specializing increasingly in digital sculpture and the use of 3D in various areas of artistic work.

I worked on big and small projects, had a lot of fun working on some of the dragons for Spyro Reignited Trilogy and, despite the diversity of the subjects, I love working on great creatures for tabletop games like Cthulhu Wars.

I'm currently working as a freelance Character Artist in the video game field and 3D printing, and as a ZBrush teacher for several Italian academies.

Why Creature Art?

I've always been fascinated by creatures, so it came naturally to me. I think the best thing about creatures is that each time it is a completely different subject, unlike the humanoids stuff, so it's always a new challenge. And yes, as mentioned above, I have an academic background. I think it is very important to have specific training, but it's even more important to continue your path on your own.

Fire Demon: Goals

My main goal was very simple: portfolio. It had been a long time since I made a personal work and I was looking for an excuse to do a new portfolio piece. Something that would represent my actual skill level and what I really love to do. Also, I'm sure it is always good to participate in this type of challenge and prove to yourself you can deliver your best work in an established amount of time. It's a great experience and every time you learn something new, sometimes how to go faster, sometimes how to improve the final result of your models.

Art Style

The idea from the beginning was to do something heavily inspired by the world of Darksiders, - stylized, strong, dark, and massive! I'm a big fan of Joe Madureira's work and every time I look through his art books I think "I want to do this! and then this! and maybe this one...". So I have a strong visual background for this type of stuff, and I think when you make a portfolio piece, you should choose the direction that interests you professionally (it would be great to work on one of the future Darksiders!).

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When starting a new piece, I think about the story before all the technical things, - you have to think about the character's attitude, what he does, what he is strong at (in this case, he is surely not a thinker). And how does the viewer understand it? Simple, my character has big shoulders and huge arms because they are his strong point, while the head is small just because he doesn't need it that much.

Sculpting in ZBrush


I always divide the sculpt into three different steps:

1. Blockout: usually full dynamesh, quick and rough, something like a concept in 3D. For stylized models, this is the most important step, take your time and don't rush here because you create your silhouette and planes. Details don't matter if you don't have a good blockout.

2. Refine: in this step, I retopologize (by hand or with ZRemesher) hard surface stuff, and ZRemesh organic stuff, so I can use good topology to create edge loops, bevels, creases, etc. This is a good moment to increase the efficacy of your forms, - make the shapes more angular, flatten the planes, create contrasts.

3. Detail: here, I play with alpha and micro detail. For the stylized stuff, the best way is to create some cracks on metal, some scars, always big and clearly visible!


For the armor and props, the workflow is quite the same, but I think a picture will speak a thousand words, so here's an image about the workflow I used for the shield (basically, everything follows the same steps):

Texturing in Substance Painter

For stylized stuff, I always try to be methodical. It's important to start with a good chromatic variation, some hand-paint is required in this step.

Then the shading pass, where I just using the AO to create generic dark spots and some dirt generator (with cavity+ao+scattered dirt).

Highlights help to make the top corners and details of the sculpt more visible, use the mask editor to isolate your cavity and clean the mask with a paint where the parts are hiding. Usually, I add a pure hand-paint layer just for the finishing touches with more light.


I must be honest... I posed the low-poly in ZBrush, don't do it at home! When you try to push other steps as much as possible and you also work as a full-time freelancer, usually at this moment you have something like zero time to finish the artwork, so you have to make tough decisions. Making a proper rig is too long, so I just jump in ZBrush, pose the character with Transpose Master/masks, then move to Marmoset to see if everything is ok, and eventually make some changes.

In terms of lighting in Marmoset, I tried to keep it simple: a few lights to create the mood, the main light with a very light warm color, a two-rim setup (the main rim is cold and the opposite is warm), and a soft fill light to fill areas that are too black.

I personally don't like too complex renders or too strong lights, - we want to see the model and the textures without compromising. Basically, leave space for the model to speak for itself.

As for animation, this is another good reason to participate in contests, - you can meet people and those people can fall in love with your model and ask if they can rig and animate it. It happens, trust me!

Will Technologies Change Character Production Pipeline?

To be honest. I'm not sure if for those who make characters (in general) the production pipeline will change a lot. Think for a moment about the impressive trailer of UE5: what is the thing that has changed the least? Yes, the character. There are many things that technology, however advanced, cannot do, like giving emotions to the character, creating the right mood and feel, a story, a background...  We'll always need those who model, those who animate, those who tell stories, - people who put their "humanity " into every different character they make.


I have to admit that I'm not good at making concepts and designing characters myself; at work, I usually receive some concepts and turn them into 3D (and I like what I do!). So I find myself very uncomfortable when I have to do something from scratch. In this case, I tried to get out of my comfort zone by making something from a concept but giving it a personal touch (this always scares me).

Now, I'm waiting for the next big challenge (maybe one from Artstation?). I learned a LOT from this experience and I'm always at the frontline of challenges. It's always a good opportunity to push yourself and give it your best!

Valerio Carbone, 3D Artist & Digital Sculptor

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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