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Create a 3D Micro Robotic Insect in ZBrush

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Read Time: 11 min

This week, Cgtuts+ has teamed up with our sister site Psdtuts+ to bring you this amazing two part, in-depth tutorial from Nacho Riesco. In this tutorial we are going to sculpt a Micro Bionic Insect with chemical war purposes using simple hard-surface modelling techniques with the Clipping Brush, Masking and much more. Head over to Psdtuts+ for the conclusion of this project where we'll composite our render passes from Zbrush, and create the final image in Photoshop!

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.

Step 1

Let's get started with a Sphere3D, convert it to PolyMesh3D and go to the Deformation Subpalette in the Tool Palette, apply the following settings on the Size slider.

Step 2

Add two more divisions to the mesh (Ctrl + D) to get a smoother surface, now pick the Clip Curve Brush and pressing Ctrl + Shift, make some cuts to the sphere as shown. Be sure that you are working on the right angle, to keep the symmetry on the X axis.

Step 3

Now apply another deformation to the mesh, this time on the Taper slider, use the following settings.

Step 4

Pick again the Clip Curve Brush and continue making more cuts, keep the X axis Symmetry activated to apply our work to both sides at same time. Smooth the edges a bit with the Smooth Brush to avoid jagged edges.

Step 5

For detailing the surface we are going to use Topological Masks, keeping activated the Move, Rotate or Size Modes. Holding the Ctrl key, you can apply a mask following the mesh topology. So, with the X Symmetry activated, make a mask as shown (or with the shape you like). Now remove the unwanted masked areas using the Mask Curve Brush.

Step 6

Now go to the Deformation subpalette and apply a deformation to the unmasked area using the Size slider with the following settings. By activating different axises you can get different results, also by using the Inflate slider, instead of the Size slider, you can also achieve different effects.

Step 7

Here we have the final piece after applying different masks and deformations.

Step 8

Append a new Sphere, place it under the first one and repeat the previous steps modifying the mask locations and deformations, now we have the finished head composed of two Subtools, "Upper head" and "Lower head".

Step 9

Let's follow with the body. For it, we will start using a Sphere3D again, convert it to PolyMesh3D and sudivide it (Ctrl + D) three times. To get the right shape, go to the Deformation subpalette and apply the following settings to the Size slider.

Step 10

Start sculpting the mesh using Topological Masks as we have done before using the same technique. To begin, apply the following settings to the Size slider. This time we will add an extra step to get sharper edges. To achieve it, activate the Move Mode, and holding the Shift key, move the unmasked area as shown.

Step 11

Using the previous technique, follow by applying Topological Masks, deformation and movements to get the different shapes and bevels.

Step 12

Now append the body as a new Subtool, "Body", and place it using the Move and Rotate Modes.

Step 13

To get the right shape of the body it will be necessary to bend it, so to achieve this. First go to the Deformation subpalette and apply a SBend deformation with the following settings. Next, using masks and the Transpose Line in Rotate Mode, follow along bending the body, remember to Blur the mask before blending it to get a smoother result.

Step 14

In this step we are going to sculpt the back protrusions, first of all, it will be necessary to isolate the parts of the body which we don't want to modify. So, again using Topological Masks, mask the part of the body you want to sculpt, then go to the Visibility subpalette and hit HidePT to hide the unwanted mesh. Now mask half of the mesh and use the Move Brush to sculpt the protrusion, repeat this process with all of them.

Step 15

Add more shapes by removing some parts using the Clip Curve Brush. On the protrusions use the Pinch Brush to get sharper edges in some areas.

Step 16

Follow along adding more subtools to the head, two more spheres will work well as monitoring eyes.

Step 17

Now we will start with the legs and antennas. To create them, use a Cylinder3D, convert it to Polymesh and apply a Size deformation with the following settings (repeat the value of 100 three times). Next, smooth one of the ends to sharpen it. Make a mask on the other end and apply a Size deformation as shown.

Step 18

Append the piece we created before, and Duplicate the segment the necessary amount of times untillyou get the right length. Use the Transpose line to Move and Rotate each segment.

Step 19

Using the Transpose Master Plugin to merge all segments, but before, take care to turn off the visibility of the subtools that you don't want to merge. So we will have only one subtool, Duplicate it and go to the Deformation subpalette to mirror it on the X axis.

Step 20

Using same technique as in the previous step, follow by creating the legs and antennas all over the body and head. When you are happy with the composition, merge all together using Transpose Master again.

Step 21

Next we will sculpt the wings. Let's start with Zspheres to create the skeleton, when you have the right shape, you will need to convert it to Polymesh, to do that, go to the Adaptative Skin subpalette and press the Make Adaptative Skin button, then append the new mesh to the body, and position it using the Transpose line.

Step 22

To sculpt the membranes, we are going to create a new topology. First we will need a Zsphere, then go to the Rigging subpalette and press the Select Mesh button and select the skeleton mesh we created before. Now to start creating the new topology, go to the Topology subpalette and press Edit Topology.

Step 23

Activate the Draw mode and start adding mesh points. To choose a point during the process, press the Shift key and select the desired point. To move a point, change to Move mode and relocate it. Follow until you have the desired mesh form, you can pre-visualize the mesh by pressing the Preview button or by hitting the A key.

Step 24

When the new mesh looks OK, convert it to a Polymesh using the Make Adaptative Skin button in the Adaptative Skin subpalette. Now it's ready to be appended as a new Subtool, place it and sculpt it a bit using the Move brush, when it's ready, duplicate and mirror it.

Step 25

Using same technique as before, create the small wings.

Step 26

To create the little spoilers, use the same retopology technique. But this time we will chose the body as the mesh to build our new topology.

Step 27

Again append it, then duplicate and mirror it, do it twice for each one.

Step 28

Now we will sculpt the light tentacles, append a Zsphere and draw some more until you get the desired form. Make a new mesh by pressing the Make Adaptative Skin button and append it to the body. Now sculpt it using the Move and Smooth brushes, add the detail at the end with the Standard Brush using Alpha no.34 with the DragRect stroke..

Step 29

Duplicate the tentacle and place the new one using the Transpose line, sculpt it a bit more with the Move Brush to differentiate it from the other.

Step 30

Now it's time for some fun detailing with Alphas, let's create them ourselves, as example we are going to create a rivet. Drag a Sphere3D, convert it to a Polymesh and apply a topological mask leaving a small circle in the middle. Go to the Deformation subpalette and decrease the size of unmasked surface. When you have the surface you want for the rivet, go to the Alpha palette and press the GrabDoc button. We now have the Alpha ready to be used. We will use it with the Standard Brush, DragDot stroke, and Zsub with an intensity setting of 50.

Step 31

With the technique shown in the previous step, we can create different Alphas and continue detailing the model, here is the final result.

Step 32

We now have the model ready to be polypainted. We will start masking areas to differentiate colors, paint the masks using the topological technique we saw earlier, or by painted them manually when necessary. When the mask is ready, go to the Color Palette and hit the FillObject button, pay attention to be on Draw Mode first to fill it properly.

Step 33

Let's continue adding some depth to the surface, go to the Masking Subpalette and apply a Cavity Mask with the shown settings. Inverse it and fill the unmasked surface with a black color and an intensity of 15.

Step 34

Follow same technique with the rest of the subtools, masking and painting them with different tones and materials. Here we have the final result. Later we will pay attention to the materials settings.

Step 35

Now we will add detail to the surface by adding some paint scratches. Pick the TrymDinamic Brush with Alpha number 58, disable the Zadd and Zsub Modes, and also turn on the Rgb mode. Use a white color and adjusting it's intensity, paint some strokes on the surface to imitate wear, you can also use darker colors to complete the finishing touches.

Step 36

Next let's tweak the materials. For the color parts of the body and head, we will use Basic Material 2, with the shown settings of Diffuse, Ambient and Specular. We will also add a Surface Bump texture. Import a texture image as an Alpha and select it in the Surface Bump picker, now set the Canvas Bump and Canvas Bump Scale controls as shown.

Step 37

Another material we'll use and tweak is Toy Plastic. This time we will colorize it's cavities. We'll use this material on all the wings membranes, go to the Toy Plastic's material modifiers and set the Cavity Intensity and Cavity Colorize controls as shown, leave the Cavity Color Modifier at a black color. The effect just will be visible using the Best Render.

Step 38

Now we will add the capsule, append a Sphere 3D as a new Subtool, place and scale it until it covers the entire model, check that the light tentacles on the back are out, I preferred to leave them like that because the capsule would be too big, and after in the final render, they look like they are inside.

Step 39

For the capsule we will use the Reflection Map material, as we already used on the body, so it will be necessary duplicate it. Copy the Reflection Map material and paste it over another material, that isn't in use. Next in the material modifiers, we will change the image of the Material Texture picker. I created a image with smoke brushes in Photoshop, import it as a texture in the Texture palette first. And place it on that picker, adjust the Spherical slider to 100. In the Subtool menu, turn on the transparency icon, then go to the Render Palette and turn on the Transparency button and adjust it's controls as shown, hit the BPR button to check the results.

Step 40

At this point we have everything ready for the final render, except for the lighting. I added two white Sun Lights, and placed and adjusted as shown. To get the final render it will be necessary to make two. First, a Best Render, for the effects we created on the materials. And second, a BPR Render. Check out the BPR config I used and don't forget to activate the Create Maps button first, to get the different maps which we will use in the Photoshop post process.

Step 41

For the final composition in Photoshop it will be necessary to render the model with and without the capsule. Here I have all the passes I saved to be used. I also added a Flat render to isolate different parts of the model, which will be useful for the manipulation in Photoshop.

Step 42

Finally, we will render two extra lights to be composed in Photoshop. First we'll create the light that comes out from the tentacles. For it, we will place two Point Lights on each one using the Placement menu in the Light Palette (just click on the P button and drag the cursor over the tentacle to place the light on it.) Follow the shown light settings and render the model. First with the Best Render and second with the BPR Render, and export the final image.

Final Image

Here we have the final render, you can see the Best Render effects on the wing material and the smoke texture on the transparent material. I hope this tutorial has been useful and helped you to discover a new process in Zbrush.

Check out the conclusion of this tutorial over on Psdtuts+

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