Stylized Character Sculpting in ZBrush

Stylized Character Sculpting in ZBrush

Oswaldo Salazar did a breakdown of his recent sculpt of Garrison made in ZBrush & Photoshop and talked about stylized character sculpting in general.

Oswaldo Salazar did a breakdown of his fanart sculpt of Garrison from Battle Chasers made in ZBrush and Photoshop and talked about stylized character sculpting in general.


My name is Oswaldo Salazar, I’m a 3D artist based in Puebla, México. I started my career 10 years ago working on a local TV channel and animation studios. I’ve participated in spots for TV, Youtube, short films, campaigns for children’s rights and some content for an animated movie called El ángel en el Relój.

I also teach 3D modeling and concept art at ITESM, it keeps me sharp and learning and I enjoy sharing knowledge and tips with talented students.

I got into 3D art at university: they taught Maya and 3ds Max but it was mostly for an engineering career. I loved working with 3D software so I looked online for tutorials and tips and bought some from Digital Tutors and Gnomon Workshop. That’s where I discovered ZBrush and fell in love with it.

Something that helped me a lot was going to anatomy drawing lessons. It boosted my character sculpting skills and the way I approach my work.

First Approach to Character Sculpting

When I start a character, the first thing I want to get right is silhouettes. Sometimes I start from a base mesh or zspheres, and for Garrison project, I used zspheres since this particular character has already a strong standing pose. Then I block out some anatomy, nothing too complex, and split geometry for clothing.

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I believe that making 3D from a comic style character is always challenging, especially doing the face. What I did was gather as many references as I could, from concept images to screen captures from the game.

I blocked a standard face first and started experimenting with the details deciding which I should add or ignore to get the style right. I used Flatten, Pinch and Polish brushes to add hard edges on the nose, lips, and cheekbones. The process included a lot of tweaking proportions of the head simultaneously with detailing. (Dynamesh and Sculptris Pro were really helpful).

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Sculpting Clothes

For the clothing, I used Damstandard and Pinch brushes (both with low intensity), did some wrinkle blockout with Claybuildup and smooth based on the concept and the real clothes references. I’m a big fan of collectible figures especially the Dragon Ball Z characters. Their clothing is similar so I used my own figures to see how their stylized clothing was made. It’s really helpful to have a physical reference and watching it from every angle.

It was important in the process to keep the intensity of the brushes low to have better control of the hard edges in the cloth. If the brushes are too strong, the mesh breaks and deforms a lot. It was slower but I made fewer mistakes that way.

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Armor Plates & Working on Details

The shoulder plates also came from experimenting a little. First, I wanted to use shadowbox but that didn’t work so I used spheres to paint masks and extract.

The leg plates came from extracting them from the body.

Making the details was fun. I used Flatten to bevel the edges to give them a worn out sense. The scratches were made using a pack of brushes I purchased on Gumroad from Michael Vicente – they’re amazing and really speed up the process.

Something else that made my process quick was having the base body proportions well-defined because I was able to paint masks fast and extract the leg plates. Searching for brushes or alphas for scratches and cuts saved me a lot of time, too. Crafting your own (brushes and alphas) is also a great way to do it, and is perfect to start your own library.

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Painting & Effects

I did some render passes and used blend modes to give the effects of shadows and reflections. I barely did a paintover, and most of the effects and details came from the render passes. For the base colors, I used ZBrush and Photoshop for the details.


I played a lot with the materials, partly for reflections or cavity effects.

I usually render small images and play with the blend modes in Photoshop to see which effect and blend mode combination looks better.

I used the materials that ZBrush already has, plus downloaded a few from the Pixologic Matcap Library. The thing I look for in the process of painting is different levels of roughness and reflections. I use different matcaps for that and if I need some scratched metal or something similar I apply alphas and masks in Photoshop.

The final image was made with 8 render passes, some of the lighting sources were simulated with matcaps effects. For example, for the rim lights I used an outline matcap and applied a screen blend mode to make it look like light coming from behind, then removed the lights in the center of the character with masks.

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The render settings were really simple: first, I just made a black and white render pass without shadows, then a flat color render and another render with shadows, ambient occlusion, and depth. ZBrush separates some passes automatically, creates masks and depth of field. Its engine is more powerful than I imagined and I still have a lot to learn about it.

Pieces of Advice on Stylized Character Art

  • It’s important to study the style, learn to make exaggerated shapes and sharp edges but not overdo because too much can look bad. You need to find a balance.
  • Even if the character is cartoonish or stylized, anatomy and proportions are super important. It’s especially important to know where you can break some rules and still achieve a good-looking result.
  • Dedicating enough time for reference research is always a good thing. Also, study how other artists work as looking at the way they solved some issues makes your job a lot easier.
  • Always look for feedback. I like to post my progress on social media, and sometimes other artists give me a piece of advice or highlight a mistake that I didn’t see. I always appreciate that.

If you found this article interesting, below we are listing a couple of related Unity Store Assets that may be useful for you.

Oswaldo Salazar, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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    Stylized Character Sculpting in ZBrush