The Kunoichi: Sculpting a Stylized Character in ZBrush

Sougato Majumder did a breakdown of The Kunoichi, a stylized 3D character sculpted and polypainted in ZBrush, and rendered in Arnold.


Hi, I am Sougato, I am from Calcutta, India, but currently, I am staying in Pune for my job.

I have been a 3D Artist for almost 7 years with modeling, sculpting, and texturing as my main areas of expertise. Over the years, I have worked on a few of the most awesome projects such as my first AAA title Mortal Kombat X, one of my favorite and awesome projects Injustice 2, Overkill's The Walking Dead, and Mortal Kombat XI. Now I am working on another awesome AAA title at Ubisoft, which I cannot disclose for now.

I started my career by making 3D models for IOS and Android games back in 2011, but in 2014 I got into EXIGENT Game Art Pvt. Ltd. where I had worked on multiple AAA titles and mainly where I learned all about creating high-quality game assets. Then I went to DHRUVA Interactive (which was undertaken by ROCKSTAR Games later), and then I shifted to UBISOFT India (Pune Studios).

I studied modeling and animation at Arena Animation but mainly learned from following veteran artists, the internet (online tutorials, YouTube, and 3D forums). Also would like to mention I studied character art mainly by following the masters like Scott Eaton, Alex Oliver, Rafael Grassetti, Alessandro Baldesseroni, etc. I followed their online tutorials, artworks, techniques, and breakdowns that they have provided.

Since my childhood I have been an avid gamer, I still remember when a very close friend of mine gave me a copy of Mafia I (2002) and actually made me fall in love with the world of 3D characters for games!

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The Kunoichi: Idea

Okay, let's talk about the Kunoichi! First of all, I love the Samurai culture a lot and have great respect for this warrior clan. A lot of artists create stunning 2D concepts which I dig up throughout the day in Artstation or Pinterest, and obviously Guweiz is one of the artists I follow. So I stumbled upon one of Guweiz's sketches of a Samurai Girl:

And instantly thought about creating it in 3D. The sketch was a close-up one so I decided to create the whole character based on the 2D artwork and add a bit of story to it, - the Dragon, her mask, sake, scrolls, stylized clothing, and other props.

The main goal was to achieve a well-designed character, with a bit of storytelling, and at the same time retain the feel of the concept. So I gathered a lot of references from Guweiz's art, along with a lot of other concepts by making a mood board for my character.

Sculpting in ZBrush

I use the Julie model in ZBrush as a base to start the sculpt.

First I sculpted her face, keeping the model in symmetry, and I had to do some additional tweaks by adding a few new edge loops. When I was somewhat satisfied with the expression I used Transpose to pose her and then continued sculpting. 'Posable symmetry' becomes very handy sometimes while sculpting a character after posing. As the character is female, the anatomical details and muscle information had to be subtle and soft, plus I also had followed the 'Anime' styled female anatomy since this is a stylized character.

My process of sculpting any character is very simple. If you ask me about my pipeline for modeling and sculpting, it totally depends on my mood. Sometimes, I use base mesh, and sometimes I use zspheres in ZBrush to create the base. I also might sculpt from a sphere with dynamesh. During this phase, I do not care about the topology or the proper edge flow and loops. It's raw sculpting and I exploit every freedom to get the best result and cover most of the details during this phase only. I begin from blocking the main character, forgetting about everything and just focusing on the volumes, silhouettes, and proportions of the character, because on it, the whole structure will be built like clothing, armors, gauntlets, etc.

After my blocking is done I start to slowly add detail accordingly to the subdivisions. Simultaneously, I start to create other elements like the waistband, arm attachments, body armors, pants, boots, etc. And as I use ZBrush for the high poly stage, I divide the props into many subtools which lets me handle the character with more ease. And it is easier in ZBrush, because I mainly 'Mask' an origin, then 'Extract' that part to blockout and then detail.

There are many ways in which you can detail your character. The concept art had many areas where I could use my imagination and it was really fun doing it. During this stage the main challenge is to distribute the details evenly all over the character as too much detail will distract the viewer. When working on it, I take a lot of feedback from my fellow artists and use every scope to improve my model. Constructive criticism always helps to build a good character.

There is a set of brushes that I prefer to use when I sculpt. Mainly, they are the default ones like Clay Brush, ClayBuildup Brush, Standard Brush, Move brush, DamStandard Brush. But I would like to mention a few other brushes which I use:

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Other than these brushes, I also use ClipCurve, TrimCurve, ZModeler brushes, and application to create my models.

Regarding the silhouette of the character, it is very important to achieve the right volume, proportion, and style. While creating the Kunoichi, I started with the close-up concept, so it was a bit challenging to create her fully. The main thing to keep in mind while creating any character is that the silhouette should be uneven, interesting, and with a proper balance of negative and positive space.

ZBrush gives us multiple possibilities while creating any character. There are many options and attributes present in the software which help us to create and model each part of the character.

Clothes & Props

I used Marvelous Designer for the base and primary folds of the coat and pants. After I got my primary folds and good shapes in MD, I switched back to ZBrush to further detail them.

For shoes:

For other accessories and small details, I created a set of IMM Brushes which you can get here. I used this set to detail the accessories and props of the character.

For katanas, I used a technique that I apply avidly to detail props of any character.

And here's another example of how to create easy details on any character:


I didn't retopo or created any low poly for this character. It is a high-resolution model created and rendered in ZBrush, then decimated and rendered in Arnold (Maya). Though there were a few pieces that were unwrapped first using this:


I used the Polypainting technique to texture and polypaint the character. The color palette was simple, and I also created a skin shader modifying the default Skin Shading Material in ZBrush (which is already provided for use). Here, I would like to share a few techniques I used to polypaint character, clothes, props, and other elements:

The skin was completely hand-painted. Firstly, I filled the model with solid skin color and then, I started shading accordingly. For smoother results, I used the 'Mask by Ambient Occlusion' to shade the character. Female anime characters have a soft subtle beauty, it was my main goal to achieve.

Similarly, the whole character was painted, though at some places I simply assigned a ZBrush Material, mainly for some hard surface pieces. 


This is the most vital part which actually will make your character or any model stand out. I have seen ugly models with superb lighting and rendering that made the final result look stunning and I've also seen a superb highly detailed model with poor lighting and rendering that killed the whole presentation. So this is one of the most vital parts that can do justice to all the efforts you've put into the character. I had spent a lot of time on getting the right mood, there's a lot of trial and error going in this phase, a lot of back and forth until I get the desired output I'm satisfied with. I rendered both in ZBrush and Arnold (Maya).

In ZBrush, I take out multiple passes through BPR (Best Preview Render). Then I do the composition in Photoshop. I have a large set of ZBrush Matcaps as I use ZBrush extensively, and I also like to explore various matcaps provided in the Pixologic library by other artists. The technique is very simple and quite similar to what Raf Grassetti has shown us a number of times. A large amount of time is spent in Photoshop on editing and compositing each layer.

Then, I decimated my entire model and imported it into Maya, There, I set up lighting, aiming to give a clay feel to the model when I rendered it in Arnold. I use a simple setup, a Maya Arnold Material, and a couple of lights to set the scene. Later, I make a few tweaks in Photoshop to achieve the final result.

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Sougato Majumder, Lead Character Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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Comments 2

  • Ranga Vishal

    Great job :)


    Ranga Vishal

    ·3 years ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Awesome ??


    Anonymous user

    ·3 years ago·

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