Workflow: Game Prop Sculpting in ZBrush

Dmitry Parkin shared a few details of his workflow in ZBrush for sculpting a complex glove and gave several tips for beginners.

Introduction

Hey everyone! My name is Dmitry Parkin and I’m a 3D Artist working in the video games industry. The range of my specialization includes concept/design and full production of characters and creatures. Since I started working as a freelancer, there were many companies and a lot of projects I contributed to. Here are some of them: Metro Exodus, Quake Champions, World War Z, The Order 1886, HALO, Killzone 3, and Fallout 3. Since March 2019, I've been working as Senior Character Artist at Sucker Punch (SONY) and we are pretty close to releasing Ghost of Tsushima. 

Learning 3D

When I was about 15 years old, my friends and I decided that we wanted to make a game. We learned 3D modeling step by step using a guide book for 3ds Max and had fun playing with different settings, shaders, and renders. So 3ds Max and Photoshop were my basic tools and I spent a few years playing video games and exploring software - it was my lifestyle which eventually led me to the game industry right after school. You grow fast when you are among experienced people, and I was lucky to get all the knowledge about game development right at the studios. 

As for ZBrush, I started using it around 2006 at work when it became a standard tool in the studio pipeline but I’m still learning it. There are so many functions that I am constantly finding something new, let alone the updates that come with every new version of the software.

Speaking of what inspired me to get into 3D, I would say video games did, plus the opportunity to realize my abilities in a cooler way than just drawing with a pencil. In its turn, things that inspired me to do art itself are probably the same as for the majority of artists - works of other artists, music, movies, and again games. In my case, those were H.R. Giger's art, dark metal music, movies like Alien and Terminator, and a bunch of games from Quake to StarCraft. I can say they still keep me motivated.

HUD Glove: Goals

My goal was to make a pair of gloves for VR. It was done for a project by 4A Games studio, the guys who made an amazing series of METRO games. So I had to make a pair of gloves in a post-apocalyptic style that the player could see pretty close. I wanted to create something functional, hand-made and cool-looking. The design idea was to take a motorcycle glove with fist protection, cut the fingers and pull another one over it - both parts old and battered. To make it look functional, I added cables with two inputs for headphone jacks and fixed all this stuff with metal brackets. Also, the left glove has a USB port. 

There wasn’t too much reference for this asset, just some motorcycle gloves and a few photos of old leather which I found on Pinterest. 

Sculpting

Usually, my sculpting workflow begins with a quick draft. At this stage, I focus on the primary and secondary shapes, trying to find a balance and proportions to get a good base for the future model. I use DynaMesh and sometimes mix it with Sculptris Pro which is an insanely powerful combination. I always start with it when working on a concept and design. Build a base mesh in another software and putting it in ZBrush for subdivision is not the best approach for me because it limits the freedom of expression. I think It’s better to make a clean base mesh after you get a good rough dynamesh and then project all the details. But I have a lot of high-poly sculpts that were made even without this stage because it doesn’t matter in case you need the model only for baking the maps. 

Only when I plan to do some render with textures, animation setup or different poses, I do a new topology with UVs. This is exactly how I made this glove because I wanted to render it with textures. 

So after the dynamesh base is done and the details are determined it’s time to split it into subtools to get more control over each important item. When I have all parts separated the retopology and UVs become easier. I prefer 3D Coat for that. Then, I drop it back in ZBrush, divide a few times, project all details if necessary and it's time for final sculpt.

For any kind of sculpt I use my favorite set of brushes: clay tube with maximum blurred squad alpha, standard brush, dam standard, pinch and inflate. Also, I have some insert mesh brushes for stitches. For clothes and leather, I use alpha brushes as a base and sculpt on top of that to get more natural and less uniform feeling. All the cables, small straps, and buckles were done in Softimage XSI with a pass in ZBrush. 

To show the process, I recorded a couple of short videos - you can see there all the brushes I use:

Geometry

For this glove, I didn't make the low poly myself but I managed the process. Regarding retopology, it was a classic approach - the decimated mesh from ZBrush was imported in 3D Coat. The retopology process there is very simple and comfortable, especially for such an easy model like this glove. UVs were made in Maya's UV Editor.

We kept in mind that this asset would be close to the player, so the polycount needed to be pretty high to keep all the small details in the mesh. I prefer to keep it as one solid piece without any geometry intersection to avoid seams (I mean all those small brackets, screw-nuts, buttons, and the glove itself are one mesh). Another important thing is to keep enough loops in the joint areas. The rest of the process is common - just build it as cool as you can!

Tips for Artists Learning ZBrush

Here are some tips for beginners based on my own experience:

Do not try to find magic brushes or alphas. In the beginning, just a few basic brushes are enough: clay tube, move brush, standard brush, pinch and inflate, and maybe a couple of special that you really want to use. Try to work with this small set and some default alphas. It's like traditional clay sculpting - the most important thing is your creativity and vision. Learn the basics of sculpting and drawing and try to enjoy the process.

ZBrush has a wide range of tools, alphas, and combinations of different tricks but it doesn’t mean that you necessarily should use them all. Such an amount of tools and abilities is just difficult to swallow for beginners. It’s like going to the gym - if you’re a beginner you should do a few basic exercises first and after some time add new ones gradually.

If I need to find some answers or additional knowledge, I usually go to Pixologic ZBrush YouTube channel - there’s a lot of useful videos for artists. I often watch #AskZbrush series when I'm looking for something special. 

Sometimes, I also find something new and interesting when watching ZBrush summits. There's so much information, everyone has their own techniques and tools, and you can learn a lot from their experience.

To sum it up, I would say just go with it gradually - develop your current skills and build your own toolset that will be comfortable and enjoyable for you personally. 

Dmitry Parkin, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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    Workflow: Game Prop Sculpting in ZBrush