The Making Of Nessa- A Mini 3D Tutorial in Zbrush For Total Beginners
Despite what the General public knows and understands about the topic, 3D modeling is not the “Auto-piloted”, easy, and streamlined process that the general public makes it out to be. 3D modeling is clunky, unsophisticated, and in the infant stages of it’s life.
For those looking into modeling, it takes very powerful and exclusive software, and a lot of time to learn said software. It takes patients and basic troubleshooting skills to work through the many flaws and glitches of these programs, as they are far from perfect and are constantly being updated and patched to cover their horrible flaws… But most of all, 3D modeling takes Traditional Art skill. More than anything, 3D modeling is way more of an art than anything else. To create a model from scratch as I have, one must be familiar with human anatomy, and have the traditional sculpting prowess to be able to reproduce human anatomy in 3D.
No matter how good or how good you THINK you are, take the time to practice. And when I say practice, I mean raw bare bones basics. Practice gesture drawing! Get on google and go find a local figure drawing Cafe, they do exist! If that doesn’t exist near you, go outside and draw people. And be sure to supplement this…
This site was created by a bunch of Japanese artist who wanted to help their peers gain more traditional practice. Use this site lightly for pose reference. What I truly recommend is to use their 30 second drawing feature as well as their silhouette drawing feature. However! Do keep in mind that these apps are no replacement for a real human figure and should not replace lifedrawing. Also, don’t draw in an anime style or comic book style or cartoony style when practicing. Practice is for gaining a mastery over the human form, which then is converted later on and applied to whatever style you may choose.
A few books I reccomend on the topic of art for ANYONE total newbs and MASTARS alike.
Drawing on the right side of the brain
by: Betty Edwards
vilppu drawing manual
by: Glenn Vilppu
These two books literally changed the way I looked at art forever, as well as helped me improve at a rapid pace. I am no where near master level, but these books helped me so much. Either one would be a great start for any artist.
One final note… Please know that just because Modeling is hard, doesn’t mean you need to pay tons of money and go to an expensive school to learn it. You can do ANYTHING! And you don’t need to pay someone to tell you how. There are tons of great resources out there that are just as good or better than what people pay money for. Use the internet to your advantage! You can do it if you really try, and you will not be at a disadvantage to those who pay lots of money.
So lets get started!
There are two approaches to starting off a model in Zbrush.
The first approach is to use their Zsphere system to create a mannequin that will eventually get sculpted into a full figure.
The second approach is to start off by drawing a sphere, then to activate the new Dynamesh feature and and rough out the basic body proportions by pulling limbs out of the sphere.
Both of these approaches are totally valid, as you can see I went with the first approach. Mainly because dynamesh didn’t exist when I first started this project. It came out right in the middle of production.
***IMPORTANT! A word of caution! Choose only ONE of these methods and forget about the other. If you choose method one, then forget about dynamesh. It is dead to you. Dynamesh is a really glitchy system right now and is definitely in it’s infant stages. It is made for starting off and getting the basic rough proportions down. Nothing more. I personally made the mistake of using it late in the creation of Nessa, and ended up really screwing up. Dynamesh prevents Polygon stretching by dividing stretched polygons into smaller polygons. Well, if not used carefully and if used in the later stages of the model, or for the wrong purpose, Dynamesh poorly divide your stretched polygons… This can leave stretchmarks and uneven bumps on what is supposed to be smooth and soft looking skin.***
(If this happens to you! Use the “Spolish” and “Polish” tools to manually work out the stretch marks and bumps the best you can.)
At this stage the most important thing is reference. Use a dual screen setup if possible. Work on one screen and on the other have all your reference images open. Personally, I like to use a program called Picassa to create image collages of all my reference images. Anything and anything I want to reference I throw into a collage and then keep open on my second screen. Keep open an anatomy book as well! Proportions are key at this point! Make sure the legs are the correct length, the hips are the desired width, ect…
For the first approach, start off by drawing a single zsphere. The zsphere can be found on the right hand side of the screen under the tools Panel. Under the button that says “Clone all subtools” there is a slider. Slide this bar towards the right side and somewhere close to the end you should find the zsphere. Proceed by first drawing a zsphere. Once a single sphere is on the screen, at the top bar, click “Edit”. Make sure the draw button is activated.
From here we can attach more zspheres to our first one, and pull out limbs. Make sure symmetry is activated. You can activate symmetry by hitting the X key. Tap your sphere where you want your limbs to go. Use the move tool to pull out the arms by clicking the sphere and pulling. To activate “Move” mode, click the Move button next to the draw button at the top of the screen. If you need to add a segment in the middle of an extruded arm, simply add another zsphere where you wish for the segment to be by making sure you are in draw mode, and clicking where desired. Continue moving and creating more zspheres until you have a body. For reference, check out my earlier post when I created Nessa out of Zspheres.
For the Second approach. Start with a single Ball, not a zsphere. Go under “Geometry” and find the Dynamesh button. Slide the slider next to the button to a lower resolution. Then click the dynamesh button. Make sure symmetry is activated by pressing X, and begin to pull out your arms and legs with any brush that you wish to use. Once you pull out a limb, it will look like a stretched piece of crap, to use Dynamesh’s smoothing feature, hold CTRL and Drag your mouse off of your mesh on the canvas somewhere. Instantly your mesh will divide. Use this only when needed, and be sure to examine and be aware of the changes that are made before continuing. This isn’t photoshop, you only get a few amount of Undo’s so be aware of what you are doing, and save often.
Speaking of saving, it is best to save every single chance you get. By the end of your project you should have hundreds of save files. No joke. To save, under the tool palette, click “Save as”. Load from the load button under the tool palette.
Now… for later on… once you get to applying materials and getting a light setup going, save your entire project by going to the top bar and clicking “File> Save as” this will save everything. Be warned, do not use this for regular incremental saving. It eats hard-drive space like a G. A single save can get up to 150-200 MB
The Sculpting Process-
There isn’t much advice I can really give here, other than know your stuff. When I say know your stuff, know the human form. Have a billion anatomy books open as well as references open of what you are sculpting. It would be great to work from a turn around of whatever you are sculpting. Aka… have a front, back and side view drawn.
A general rule of thumb, start at a low level of detail and work your way up to high levels of detail. You mesh should look like a blocky piece of shit on subdivision level 1, and like how you want on your highest subdivision level. Start by working in the basic muscle forms and shapes. Work in the general outlines of how the body is shaped, when ready to add more detail, go to Geometry> Subdivide on the right hand side of the screen. Don’t be shy! Make sure you get each level of subdivision as detailed as you possibly can, but don’t let that scare and limit you. Make as many subdivisions and works as slowly as you need to! Don’t be afraid to get up to the millions in polygons. The millions are when true detail and musleform begin to show. You can check your polycount simply by glancing at the top of the screen next to the Focal shift and draw size of your brushes.
For Eyes, make sure to start off my pushing in eye cavities and then adding eyes later. To add eyes, look to the right hand menu, and go to subtools>Append search for a sphere, and click on it… Now… Use the move tool and scale tools to move and position the Sphere in the correct eye socket. The Move and scale tools are very tricky.
To use them, draw a line through your object, from top to bottom, hold shift to keep the line straight. Clicking on the center circle on the line will make changes proportionally to the entire object, IE (this is what you click to move your entire object.)
Once the sphere is placed in the eye socket duplicate your eye sphere, look to the right hand side of the screen and go to Deformation>Mirror. This will put your duplicated sphere and flip it to the other eye socket.
For a mouth, unfortunately dynamesh is really the only way to make an actual working mouth cavity. Please note that you Don’t have to create a mouth cavity, but if you plan on later posing your character so his or her mouth is opened, you need to use Dynamesh. If it comes down to having to use dynamesh, go to your lowest subdivision level, and punch out a mouth cavity using dynamesh. Turn dynamesh off, and clean up the mouth cavity on all of the other levels.
One final word on the sculpting process… DO… NOT …. USE….LAYERS!!!! Don’t FUCKING use them! They are horrible in every situation. Zbrush’s layer system is glitchy right now as of 4R2, and does not work properly. In the end, for newcomers especially, you will have to work twice as hard to make up for the shortcomings and flaws of the layer system. Keep it off and just don’t touch it ever.
Coloring, Lighting, And rendering….
This is a long stage, but it is the stage where you bring your character to life.
People have written entire books as well as devoted their lives to the final rendering process. It helps to have a background in professional photography at this stage. But is not necessary.
Start by coloring your model with polypainting. To polypaint, a few annoying things need to be done. Seriously, it’s annoying… Under subtools, click the paintbrush icon next to each subtool that you wish to paint. Now… Look at the top bar… If Zadd or Zsub is activated, turn it off! Make sure it is off! Next, click RGB on that same bar. Slide the RGB intensity slider to 100%, Now shift your eyes over to the right hand side of the screen, go to Polypaint>Colorize, click it. Make sure it’s on.
Now you can start painting! Start by adding base colors… On the top menu, go to Color, Choose a color you want to fill your object with, and click, fill color. Bam… you have a base color. You can use this same method to fill an object with a specific material too. To do that, make sure the M is clicked next to RGB and hit fill color. MRGB fills an object with color as well as material at the same time.
To add details, make sure all of the above paint settings are activated, and simply use your sculpting tools as if they were paint tools. Take this opportunity to detail your character a bit, if your character is a cute girl, add a little blush to her face. Pretend like this one of those anime figurines you might be into blowing all of your money on… If you have any figurines that you like the look of, set them on your work desk and examine them… High quality figurines will have bits of blush painted in on certain areas, but… make sure you don’t paint in shadows or highlights. This isn’t a painting… your materials and light settings are going to create the highlights and shadows for you, so avoid at all cost painting those in!!!
Your next step would be to pick out materials for the various subtools you have colored. Don’t brush this step off as unimportant! Materials and Lights are EVERYTHING. If you want your model to look good, you need to take this step as seriously as possible and give it the attention you gave the sculpting process. Don’t go diving for the finish line just because you think you are close to being done, take some time and work with this step.
I really won’t go into too much detail explaining the lighting and material process, but I will go over the basics.
Essentially, there are 5 aspects that control the final look of your character…
With materials, you have two options… Matcaps, or basic materials. Dont use matcaps. They are really dumb. They essentially have the lighting information baked into them… so if you try moving your lights on a matcap…nothing happens… Matcaps can cause confusion later… My suggestion is to work with basic materials and give yourself the freedom of lighting and lightcapping yourself.
Shaders are what control how a material looks… to examine a shader, simply go to your top menu, Materials>modifiers. In this stage, Ctrl is your best friend. Hold down Ctrl and hover your mouse over something and you will get a description of exactly what it does. This feature is a genius innovation that NEEDS to be utilized. It decodes the retarded jargon that looks like Chinese essentially.
Lights can be found and edited from the top menu under Lights. Simply drag around the dot to shift the main lights of the scene…
Lightcaps Essentially… these lights are the lights of your material. Use these skillfully and as professionally as possible. Light caps are what can give your shadows a soft blue glow, and the highlights of a beautiful woman’s skin an alluring blushy red tint. Lightcaps are IT, they are the game. Look up as much on lightcaps as possible, they will make or break your render. For my Faerie model, Nessa, I used Lightcaps to add a distant purplish red glow to the shadows as well as a bluish-green glow to the highlights. The Lightcaps also are what added the “Glossy” highlights to her body to give her a “Plastic” or “Wet” look. The purplish red glow is prominent on the undersides of her breast, as well as the bluish-green glow on the tops of her breast. Again, lightcaps are what will give the details to your character. For any and all painters out there, Essentially a lightcap is what you have to paint into the skin of your character when you are painting a picture. You have to paint in the highlights, the subtle color glows… everything. Well, here we don’t paint them in as we do with a painting. We add them in with light.
For more details on rendering… check out the link below and familiarize yourself with some of these videos. They are life savers and will touch upon what I haven’t covered!
The final Render-
Okay! The last step. This is an important step that I screwed up in the above picture of Nessa. Later I will update this with redone pictures now that I have recently learned and know better…
What you need to do at this step is make your document a size subtle for illustration and photoshop editing. If you are printing your object or even posting it on the internet, this step is critical.
SAVE YOUR PROJECT! Then… Save out each of these individually. Save your tool, your materials you created, your lights, and your lightcaps.
Close your document. Then open it, or go to Preferences>initZbrush
Now, adjust your document size… Document> and next to the giant “Pro” button, adjust the sliders. Make sure your document size is Double what you want it to be. Now load each individual item separately and pose up your character. Make sure they look the way you want them.
On the right hand side of the screen, there is a button called AAHalf. Press it. Suddenly, your image will get smaller, and the jagged edges will go away. If you miss this step, it is a lot of work in photoshop to try covering up the damage… and even then when printing, it still shows.
Now go to render>Best then on the right side of the screen click the BPR button.
You’re done. From here it would be an amazing idea to go into photoshop and tweak the look of your character. Another thing to try would be to play with BPR filters. They are under the “Render” menu on the top screen. Go light with these settings, play around with them or watch a few tutorials on them. To render a turn around, check out the “Movie” tab. If you render a turn around, your object with have to be rendered on each frame of the turn around. If you go this route, then congrats, you now know what Pixar animators have to go through when rendering a movie… They have to render literally every frame of a two hour long movie running at 60 frames per second. Each render can take up to several minutes long…. Yeah… Give yourself a while when rendering a turntable.
Closing Comments and Help information-
And that’s about it! I hope this helps anyone who is looking into getting into modeling. I tried to cover as many things that ruined my day and made me rip out my hair. Hopefully you can avoid the mistakes I made by reading this guide carefully.
Feel free to contact me personally for any questions. At Faeriesdice@gmail.com be sure to ask for “Bryan”.
Google is your friend, use it as much as you can when you have trouble.
My other number one recommendation for help is
go to the technical help board, and ask away, these guys are a tightly knit group and they are better than most of my teachers I paid 30 thousand a year for at Art School.
Also, go to the zbrush forums as well…
Go light on the questions here though… these guys get sick of noobs quickly. But they will occasionally provide helpful insight.
Be sure to also check out the reason why Nessa was created in the first place! Go to
to see all of the great artwork and products that we sell and produce!
Thank you so much for reading, and thank you so much for your support!