Tips of Quick 3D Sculpts

Tips of Quick 3D Sculpts

Maria Panfilova shared some nice tips on the production of quick and high-quality character sculpts. Beautiful work from a very talented artist.

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Maria Panfilova shared some nice tips on the production of quick and high-quality character sculpts. Beautiful work from a very talented artist.


My name is Maria and I’m from Moscow. I’ve been doing 3D since 2010. I’ve worked at various Moscow studios on cartoons and games. I’ve gradually specialized in character art. I have been working as a freelance artist for more than a year with various companies around the world such as Axis Animation, Goodgame studios, Oursource2us. I study a lot and work on personal projects to improve my art and technical skills.


It was one of the small projects for a weekend to rest and sculpt for fun. It was also a chance to experiment with style and presentation.

The more complex my freelance tasks are, the simpler aims I choose for personal projects, and vice versa.

Sometimes I don’t finish such work, stopping at sculpting and not posting on the Internet. But if I like the result and I have a vision of the final look, I spend many nights trying to finish it.

I like doing fan art. A character has a story, which makes studying and choosing references an exciting process. In addition, it seems to me that such artworks are more interesting to people (unless you have your own breakthrough ideas)


My free time is limited, so I try to set reasonable tasks or I’d work on it for six months and lose interest in the end.

Here are some examples of how you can simplify your work:

  • Do a model without textures, topology and UV;
  • Do only a character’s bust;
  • Render the work in Zbrush or Keyshot;
  • Work on a ready-made concept;
  • Sculpt considering a particular camera angle (don’t work on something not visible);
  • Adequately assess how complex the character is, and avoid some elements you’re not perfect at (for example, hair, clothing, anatomy, hard surface).

Of course, when optimizing the work, quality and level of the final result should not suffer. Optimization should be done to improve the level of the final look by freeing time.

For example, when working on my work ‘cyberpunk fashion’ project, I wanted to study Marvelous Designer and free more time for this. So I used a ready-made human body and did not create textures.

If there is a possibility not to do retopology and mapping, I don’t do it. Instead, I use dynamesh and zremesher for retopology, UV master and simple mapping in ZBrush (GUVTiles). The second kind of mapping is even better – faster results and an ability to work with complex meshes.

I use Keyshot if the model’s textures are simple. In addition, the existing bridge between zbrush and keyshot makes the process of exporting models easier. With Trico I spent most of the time sculpting.

Working in Zbrush

I really like the traditional sculptures of animals – clay and wooden. I’m not an expert in traditional art, but I think it’s about laconism and expressiveness. Pliability is transferred with the help of careless strokes that make the sculpture look more alive.

One of my favorite artists is Beth Cavener. I have already made a copy of one of her sculptures, and I continue to borrow her style.

In general, the main trick is to try to repeat the nature of the volume that can found in traditional sculptures – smears from the stack, grooves, etc.

You can use brushes like clay buildup, damian standard, trim dynamic, orb crack. A good premise is to mask the part of the mesh and control it with the move brush. This is especially good with feathers.

You can use more alphas imitating material to recreate the texture.


I created an IMM brush made of three feathers and used it cover the body. Next, I took a larger piece and duplicated it.

Elements such as feathers are easier to control when they are separated from each other, but later, I used dynamesh to merge them into one piece.

I got a very fractional result, so I flattened part of the feathers.


I really like it when the color is not equable, when it contrasts with a lot of shadows. This adds some contours. Especially the shadows from sharp elements, such as feathers, that give a strong contrast.

I direct the light from top to bottom, or from the side, and use sources of small size, with a strong falloff.

This is how the setting of my HDR card in Keyshot looked. I used another setup for other angle, but the it is still approximately the same.

In most cases, you art wins if it contrasts with the background.

You also need to pay attention to how the silhouette of the model looks and how it reacts to lighting. It should be as informative as possible. It’s good when you can judge a character by its silhouette.


Since the character of Trico from the game has a characteristic face color, it needed a texture.

I know that Keyshot can render vertex color, but I did not get adequate colors with it, so I converted polypaint into textures and rendered them.

There are not so many painting tools in ZBrush. The most basic is Mask by Cavity and by AO, with the help of which I added some volume.

But basically, the texture consists of gradient transitions.

I also tried to adopt the colors of classical sculptures (so it is orange). It is important to find a harmonious transition of colors from light to dark, so that the colors do not turn dirty. I experimented several times to find what I needed.

If you describe it with a gradient map, it will be something like this: light color — orange, dark — purple (with a shift in color)

It’s also very interesting to experiment with the color of lighting, it adds interest to the work, and also compensates the lack of textures.

For example, there is a classic cinematic warm and cold scheme — blue and orange. But this is only one of the options. You can color a model with one color, the background with another, lighting using the third one, and achieve a very attractive combination.

One of my favorite examples of using colors in lighting and materials is the work of Julien Desroy.

An essential part of my work is post-processing in Photoshop. There, colors are brought to the final form.

A common mistake made by beginners is setting up the lighting of the character that does not match the background color. You can easily fix it in Photoshop, adding some filter or color correction.

It took me 3 days off work and one more evening to finish the work.

Maria Panfilova, a Character Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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Comments 1

  • Subhash

    Amazing Stuff Maria, Thanks for sharing the process



    ·3 years ago·

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