↑ Return to Getting Started

Your First Creature Creation


For your first 3D model, let’s sculpt a one-eyed funny / ugly creature. For this purpose we will work with different levels of Subdivision (which increase the number of polygons) using only a few brushes and learn how to work with different 3D objects and finish with some painting to give it a silly touch.
1. Move your cursor to the bottom of the ZBrush interface to open Light Box or click on its button, located at the top left of the interface. Within Light Box, choose the Project section then double-click on the DefaultSphere.ZBP thumbnail to load a simple sphere.


2. This model already has several levels of subdivision and Symmetry will already be activated across the X axis.


3. In the Tool palette which is by default open on the right shelf, go to the Geometry menu and move the Subdiv slider to the lowest level (1) or press the shortcut SHIFT+D twice.


4. Go to the Brush thumbnail on the left shelf and click on it to open the pop-up menu. Choose the Move Elastic brush by clicking on it. An alternative way to do this is press keyboard shortcut “B” to open the Brush pop-up window, “M” to display only the brushes which start with the letter B and then “E” to select the move Elastic brush. Simply type B,M,E to do this step. Note that this works with all the ZBrush brushes; just learn your favorite key strokes to boost your productivity!


5. Now let’s tweak the sphere’s overall shape with this brush. Use a large Draw Size to make global tweaks. As with many of ZBrush’s features, there are many ways to access this setting: S is the shortcut to set the brush size. You can also access the main brush settings by pressing the Space Bar or right clicking the mouse. Alternatively, the Draw Size slider is found on the top shelf as well as in the Draw palette. Feel free to experiment and find the approach that works best for you.


6. Sculpt by simply clicking and dragging across your model’s surface. Feel free to let your imagination run wild, but try to avoid stretching the polygons too much to prevent unexpected behavior at later stages. You can also experiment with the Z Intensity slider to control how strong the brush’s effect is within the area defined by the Draw Size. The higher the setting, the more dramatically the brush will affect the model.


At this step, you deliberately do not have a lot of polygons to work with. We only want to create a shape which will be roughly close to the final look of the model. Don’t try to create fine details at this stage; just look at the overall shape and form. A very common mistake for new users is to go to higher subdivision levels too soon. The simple truth is that the finest detailing in the world will look totally wrong if the basic shape isn’t right. Also, trying to make broad changes to the model’s shape while at a high subdivision level results in lumpy brush strokes that are very hard to control well.

7. When you’ve accomplished as much as you can at level 1 and can’t refine the shape anymore, go up to the next subdivision level by pressing “D” on the keyboard or by clicking Tool >> Geometry >> Higher Res. Now that you have four times as many polygons you’ll be able to refine the shape further, probably with a smaller Draw Size.


8. Once totally satisfied with the overall shape, go to the highest level of subdivision of your existing model (which in this case should be 3) by again pressing the “D” key or by going to the Tool >> Geometry menu and moving the Subdiv slider to the highest level (3).


9. Go to the Brush selector on the left shelf, click on it to open the pop-up menu and choose the Clay Buildup Brush — or just type B,C,B to do this step.


Now let’s start sculpting the base mesh a little bit and add more rough details to this funny creature. Four important elements are to be kept in mind:

  • By default, clicking on a surface with most of the brushes will build up the surface of the model. Holding the ALT key while doing this same step will reverse the effect, pushing the surface inwards.
  • Holding down the SHIFT key will call the default Smooth Brush. As long as Shift is held down, sculpting will smooth (or soften) the surface of your model.
  • Change the Z Intensity of the brush (the amount it displaces) and its Draw Size by modifying the settings located on the top shelf above the Document.
  • Draw Size is a universal setting that remains active until you change it, no matter which brush you change to. Z Intensity is unique to each brush and will be remembered for every brush as you switch between them. So while holding Shift you can change the Z Intensity for the Smooth brush without affecting it for the Clay Buildup Brush.

With the Clay Buildup brush and while holding Alt, start to dig out the area of the mouth. Release Alt and build up some polygons on the center of the face to make a kind of nose. Also build up the foot and refine areas as you wish. Don’t forget to smooth some areas.


10. As you may notice, it’s not easy to sculpt details as the model doesn’t have enough polygons. That’s fine. As stated earlier, take the model as far as you can with what it has before you move on. You’re already at the highest subdivision level, so when you’re ready for more polygons you won’t be able to simply press D or use the subdivision slider. Instead, press Tool >> Geometry >> Divide to create a new subdivision level. This will increase the global density of the model by 4, meaning that you’ll have four times as many polygons to work with. This will allow you to work on smaller areas and add more details like sculpting the areas around the eyes, adding some big wrinkles if you want and more. At this stage, you can switch to the Clay Brush (B,C,A). It’s behavior is close to the Clay Buildup brush, but has a softer result.


If you ever decide that you wish to adjust the more basic shape of the model, simply drop down to a lower subdivision level for a little while. These broad changes are easiest when you have fewer polygons to work with. When you return to the highest subdivision level, everything you previously sculpted will automatically adjust to fit the low level changes. This is one of the great advantages of sculpting in ZBrush: You can always work at whatever level best suits the edits that you wish to make, without ever losing any work that you’ve already done at other levels.

11. You can continue sculpting with the Clay brush, but you can also try other brushes like Inflate (B,I,N) to magnify areas or Pinch (B,P,H) to pull points toward your brush stroke. As you use ZBrush more and more, you will discover that all your creative needs can be fulfilled through the numerous brush presets and settings.


12. Now it’s time to add an eyeball to our one-eye creature, with the help of SubTools. SubTools are other 3D objects connected to the main Tool, creating a global group of different objects. (In fact, your sphere loaded in the project is a Tool which already contains one SubTool: the sphere itself!) Go to the Tool >> SubTool menu and below the nearly empty (except for your alien!) SubTool list click the Append button. A pop-up window of the Tool palette will appear, showing the currently loaded 3D objects and primitives. Click on the Sphere3D primitive. As you will notice, ZBrush will warn you that it’s a primitive (a parametric object) and needs to be converted to a Polymesh 3D if you want to add it as a SubTool and sculpt on it. Press Yes.


13. The sphere has now been added to your object, but it may not be at a good position or a good size. To change the size and position, you must first select the Sphere in the SubTool list. But before doing this operation, you may need to switch to Transparency mode (on the right shelf – ) as the added Sphere3D may be hidden inside your alien body.


14. There are three different ways to select the desired SubTool:

  • Press the N key. If you only have two SubTools, it will automatically select the other. If you have more than two SubTools it will show a list of all of them. Click on the Sphere3D.
  • Go to the SubTool menu located in the Tool palette and click on the Sphere3D line to make it active.
  • Hold the ALT key and click on the eye where it’s visible on the canvas. Alt+Clicking on any part of your model will always select the clicked-on SubTool.

When the SubTool is selected, its color will slightly change to a lighter tone.

15. To change the eye size, you can do this in two ways:

  • Go to the Tool >> Deformation palette and use the Size slider. This will dynamically change the size of the object while moving the slider. You can also make precise changes by clicking the slider, typing a number value, then pressing Enter.
  • In the top shelf of the interface, click on the Scale switch to activate ZBrush’s TransPose feature. This mode uses an action line to make local or global deformations (depending on whether the any part of the model is masked or not) but there’s no need to use the line for quick scaling or moving. Simply press and hold the ALT key and click+drag on the eye; it will dynamically change its size. When satisfied, activate the Draw switch located close to the Scale switch to go back into sculpt mode.


16. Now that your eye is a good size, you must put it in a good position. As your eye is in the center of the model, this will be easy to do. First, switch to orthogonal view, by pressing the P key or by turning off the Perspective switch located in the Draw palette.
17. While holding the Shift key, click and drag in an empty part of the canvas to rotate your model to the side with a 90° constraint, making it perfectly aligned in the side view. You may find it easiest to rotate your model close to the desired angle, then hold Shift while completing the rotation. ZBrush will always initially try to snap the model to the closest 90° view.

18. Now switch to Move mode located in the top shelf. Press and hold the ALT key and click+drag your eye to find the best position. When satisfied, click Draw located next to the Move switch to go back to sculpting mode.


19. Turn perspective back on by pressing P again. If you wish, you can continue sculpting your alien body to refine it, since the addition of the eye may have sparked some ideas. You can also sculpt to perfect the fit of the eye socket around the eyeball. Don’t forget to ALT+click (in Draw mode!) on the body or press the N key to switch between SubTools. You can also enable or disable Transparency, add new Subdivision levels and more, depending of your needs and desires. Feel free to experiment.


20. Now that your sculpt is done, don’t forget to save it. Just press Ctrl/Command+S or Tool >> Save As to do this operation.

Now it’s time to paint your model a little bit! For this step we will use PolyPainting, which consists of painting the model’s points with color, filling the polygons between them. The resolution of your painting will depend upon the resolution of your model. If you have few polygons, you will have a low-resolution painting. Consider adding some extra levels of subdivision to your model but take care to not add more levels than necessary!

A good rule of thumb that you’ll use as you become more experienced with ZBrush is that 1 million polygons is about equal to a 1024×1024 texture. 3-4 million polygons are good for a 2048×2048 texture and about 12 million polygons match the detail of a 4096×4096 texture. (These are strictly generalities, since all textures have unused pixels according to the specific UV mapping.) The nice thing about PolyPaint, though is that you can paint what you want to see and then decide on the best texture size later. You can even paint before a model even has UV mapping, or change the UV mapping after you’ve painted without losing any work that you’ve done!

21. First, make sure that Draw >> Rgb is active. This tells ZBrush that you will be painting with color, as opposed to material or color plus material. Select the body SubTool, go to the color square on the left shelf (or use one of the color selectors in the Color Palette) and choose a base color. Then in the Color palette, click the “Fill Object” button. This will fill all the polygons of your model with your selected base color. Your model is now ready for PolyPainting.


22. Pick the Standard brush (B,S,T) to start painting but first, look at the top shelf above the canvas: you should see that Zadd is enabled. Zadd means that the brush will sculpt, which is not what you want right now so click it to disable it. Rgb is already active, which is what you need to paint color. You could of course paint and sculpt at the same time by having both Rgb and Zadd active but for this small tutorial we will disable the Zadd mode.


23. Go back to the color picker and choose a color to paint some variations or details. But before drawing on the model, check the different settings available on the top shelf:

  • The Draw Size of your brush.
  • The Focal Shift of your brush, which will define how sharp or soft the stroke’s border is.
  • The Rgb Intensity which will define the opacity of your color.


24. You can also modulate your brush by loading or selecting from different Alphas, which are simple grayscale patterns. You can find them in the Alpha palette or by clicking on the Alpha icon on the left shelf. Some extra alphas are also included in the Alpha section of Light Box — double click on one to load it into the Alpha palette.

Creature-27b Creature-28

25. Don’t forget to switch to your Eye and paint it too! Redo the Fill Object operation with a base color and paint it. To paint circular strokes, go to the Transform Palette, activate symmetry, switch to the Z axis and disable the X axis. Just below, you have a small R button which is for radial symmetry. Enable it and increase the slider value to 16: Your brush will now draw 16 stokes at the same time around the Z axis! But… the axis isn’t aligned with the eye; it’s aligned with the center of the scene! To fix that, just press the L.Sym (Local Symmetry) button located in the Transform palette.


26. It’s now the time to do a quick render of your model:

  • In the Draw palette, change the perspective value if you’d like and disable or enable the Floor grid.
  • In the Document palette, change the background color or its gradient.
  • Change the default MatCap for another material of your choice. MatCaps are specific materials with different properties like baked-in lighting, cavity effects and more. They are located in the Material palette or by clicking on the Material icon on the left shelf to show the Material pop-up window. You can also download new MatCaps from the Download Center at Pixologic.com. Place these in your ZBrush4\ZMaterials folder so that Light Box can find them, making it easy to browse and preview your materials. You can even use subfolders to create categories; Light Box will show these as well and let you browse between them.

27. Now press the BPR icon located on the top of the right shelf or by pressing Shift+R

After few seconds your image is rendered! Go to the Document palette and click on the Export button to save your image as a PSD (Photoshop), BMP or TIFF image file, ready to be edited in the 2D software of your choice! (You may wonder why JPG isn’t offered as a choice. ZBrush can import the JPG format, but it’s not offered for export because that format creates artifacts as it compresses the image. It’s best to load the uncompressed image into an image editor like Photoshop so that you can preview the compression artifacts and create the best JPG possible for your desired file size.)


28. Finally, remember to save your Project for later work by pressing Ctrl+S!

This short and simple tutorial isn’t enough to show you all of ZBrush’s amazing features. Those explained above are just a tiny fraction of what ZBrush can do, and even with them we’ve only skimmed the surface! To learn more, you’re invited to take a look at the New Features documentation, the online documentation at Pixologic.com and watch the ZClassroom videos!