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Creating a Character Portrait in ZBrush, the Making of "Hammerhead"

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In this Making Of tutorial, Nacho Riesco will guide you through the workflow he used to create his awesome Hammerhead character portrait, which was recently chosen by 3DArtist Mag as Image of the week and part of a larger collection featured on the Character Designed Served website.

Throughout this tutorial, Nacho will discuss his sculpting and rendering techniques in ZBrush, and explain how to correctly render out various passes from ZBrush, such as Ambient Occlusion, Z-Depth, Shadow and Specular using various materials and lighting configurations, before moving into Photoshop for final compositing and post work.

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I hope you will find this tutorial useful, and hope it helps to enrich your skills discovering other ways to do things. If you need more help, you can find thousands of great 3D models on Envato Market.


Step 1

The model has various different Tools, organized in the Tool > Subtool Palette. They are the body, eyes and eyelids. The body was sculpted from a single mesh with different brushes, which you'll see in the following steps.


Step 2

To start sculpting, I usually choose the Sphere 3D, convert it to Polymesh , go to the Geometry Sub-palette (under the Tool Palette) and convert it to Dynamesh. Choose a low Resolution, the default 128 is OK.

Dynamesh is a great way to sculpt the main forms while keeping good geometry, so by using the Move Brush, I extrude the forms of the head, eyes, shoulders, back and chest. To update the mesh while sculpting, hold Ctrl and drag on any blank area of the canvas. And ZBrush will instantly retopologize your DynaMesh to restore a uniform geometry distribution. Even if you have stretched the geometry to extreme measures, the result will be a uniform mesh that you can easily continue sculpting on.


Step 3

For the main bones and muscle structure, I used the Clay Buildup Brush. It's a good brush to get volumes, and because it's Alpha is square, we can take advantage of it getting nice contrasts. The workflow is as follows, use the Clay Buildup Brush to get the main volume, followed by the Smooth Brush (Hold the Shift Key) to smooth the surface, and finally use the Inflate Brush to re-size the volume to the final size.


Step 4

To sculpt the lips, I use masks to isolate the upper and lower parts and sculpt them separately. To profile the lip forms, use the Pinch Brush, and to create their texture. The Inflate Brush is a good choice to add subtle volumes.


Step 5

For the antennas placed on he chin, I used the SnakeHook Brush. This brush is good for this kind of thing and must be used carefully, because it deforms a lot the geometry.


Step 6

For all kinds of wrinkles, skin folds, etc... I used the Dam_Standard Brush. This brush is hidden in the brush folder by default. To get it, go to Lightbox > Brush > Standard. It's a classic brush that helps a lot in creating tons of forms and volumes. Use the Zadd and Zsub modes to achieve different shapes. For example, the wrinkles on the clavicles.


Step 7

To create the eyelids, use a Sphere 3D. Make a Mask as shown, and use the Extract tool in the Subtool Palette. You can try different thickness amounts with the Thick slider, once the result looks OK, hit the Accept button to create the new subtool. Then with the Move Brush adjust the final form.



Step 1

Once the sculpting is finished, we can start to paint the model. The first step is to choose the base Material. For my organic models, I use the Skin Shade Material. So with that Material selected, pick a light blue color on the color selector, activate the Mrgb button to fill the model with that material and color, and go to Color > Fill Object. Repeat this step with both the body and eyelid Subtools.


Step 2

Next, we'll add the main tones. Darker areas on the back side and the upper head, and lighter tones on the chest and upper lip. Turn on Mrgb mode to apply only color to the model, and don't forget to turn off Zadd and Zsub Modes to avoid sculpting the mesh. To get well mixed tones, adjust the Mrgb Intensity to get soft transitions.


Step 3

On the lips I used another Material, the Toy Plastic Material. Which is more shiny and fits better with that part of the body. With Mrgb Mode activated, I picked a darker blue in the color selector and painted the lips with a combination of color and material.


Step 4

Next, I used the Surface Sub-palette to create texture on the surface by adding some noise. Tweak the Scale and the Noise Curve controls to get the desired look and distribution. I kept the Strength control very low, because I didn't want to get an rough surface, just a subtle texture that imitates skin pores and imperfections. I used the Color Blend slider to adjust it as shown, to get a white mottled finish.


Step 5

Now it's time to create the marks, stains, veins, etc... I used different Alphas (default ones) to create them and combined them with different brush strokes, such as the Drag Rectangle and the Dots Stroke. Always adjust the Rgb Intensity to get a good mix tones.


Step 6

I like to use Symmetry while I'm sculpting and painting, but I disable it when I am adding the final details to avoid an unreal finish. Try not to saturate the surface with too many Alphas Strokes, and play with the Rgb Intensity to get an uniform surface.


Step 7

To finish the Polypainting, I applied a subtle shadow to all the wrinkles and depressions using a cavity mask. In the Masking Sub-palette you will find the Mask By Cavity button, this mask will cover all the cavities of the surface, just Invert the mask and paint over them with a darker color by going to Color > Fill Object. Use the Rgb Intensity slider to adjust the intensity of the shadows, to get a soft gradient.


Step 8

Finally paint the rest of Subtools. I used the same Material for the eyelids, as I did on the body, but with a darker tone of blue. For the eyes, I used the Zbro Eye Reflection Squad Material provided in the assets and combined it with a dark blue color.


Posing, Lighting & Rendering

Step 1

Once the Polypainting is finished on each Subtool. I used Transpose Master to pose the model. I Rotated the shoulder axis to turn the head and give him some added depth, and I bent the X-axis a bit to relax the pose.


Step 2

Now it's time to start preparing the render. First, on the Document Menu, I changed the Document to my desired size. You can turn On or Off the Pro button, depending on if you want a proportional canvas or a custom one. I like to set the size a bit bigger than the final image size required, and decrease it at the end in Photoshop to get better anti-aliasing. Finally drop the model on the canvas and place it in the desired view.


Step 3

I turn on the Perspective button to use an orthographic view of the model, on the Draw Menu you'll find the Angle Of View slider to adjust the perspective. In some cases, adjusting it can add a more interesting view of the model. Before starting to render, I recommend playing around a bit with the Angle Of View, you may find a cool result.


Step 4

With the view and perspective chosen, I start rendering, the first thing I do is place the main light. In the Light Palette, move the orange dot to adjust the light's location. In this case, I chose an upper right direction, as you can see in the picture.

This will be the light which will cast the shadows, so I do some tests until I get a good shadow distribution. I like to render the shadows separately, for that (on the first render pass) I disable shadows by turning Off the Shadows button, to render the model without any shadows. On the BPR Render Pass Menu, I export the Shaded, Mask and Depth passes.


Step 5

For the next render passes, I turn on the Shadows and Ambient Occlusion buttons to export the Shadows and AO passes. As I will later compose them in Photoshop, I don't tweak any parameters before rendering these.


Step 6

Next, I start adding additional lights, for them, I prefer to use LightCaps. First turn Off the main light, and add a new light with the New Light button in the LightCap palette, then place the light as usual. For this model I created a new light to illuminate the bottom left profile, to help show the volumes which will be in shadow. Don't forget to adjust the Shadow slider to 0, for two reasons. It will shorten the render time, and because we already cast the shadows from the main light earlier.


Step 7

The secondary light will be placed on the upper right side to enhance the volumes located in this area. For the rest of the Lightcap's parameters, I adjust and test them until I get a good result, there is no rule. I don't mind the light color, in Photoshop I will change it if necessary. Export the Shaded pass for each LightCap render.


Step 8

The last render will be for the specularity, to achieve it, I use the Toy Plastic Standard Material. And one very important step is to paint the model a black color, this will allow us to blend this pass in Photoshop appropriately. So, choose Mrgb mode and in the Color menu, press the Fill Object button for every Subtool. Don't forget to undo this step before you save your Project, to avoid destroying all the polypainting work.


Step 9

After all the render passes are complete, we have the following passes. Each one will have it's mission in the final Photoshop composition, which I will show you in the next steps.


Compositing & Post Work

Step 1

Now we begin the Photoshop phase. Open the color (diffuse) render first (Bpr render), and Duplicate the layer by pressing Ctrl + J, change it's Blending Mode to Overlay and go to Filters > Others > High Pass. Set the Radius to 2.0 Pixels and press OK, then adjust the Layer's Transparency to 50%. This is a way to get a sharper base image with crisper details to work with.


Step 2

Next, open the Shadows and AO renders and place them above the previous layers, and set their Blending Modes to Multiply. Here is where you can play with the shadow's opacity and decide how intense they should be by adjusting the Layer Opacity.

In some cases, like this one, I also tint the shadows to enrich their hues. To do this, go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation, Check the Colorize box and adjust the sliders to get the desired tint. Here, I colorize the shadows with a yellowish hue, getting a fleshy tone which gives more tone to the skin.


Step 3

With the shadows placed and adjusted, it's time to add more light. Open the 2nd Light, Rim Light and Specular renders and place them above the previous layers. For the light layers, I use a Lighten Blending Mode and adjust the Opacity of each to control their intensity.

As I did with the shadows, I also colorize them with the Hue/ Saturation filter, coloring the rim light with yellow, and the left 2nd light blue. By adding Layer Masks you can decide where to place the light, if there is some areas which work better left dark, etc.. The Specular light will add the wet skin look.


Step 4

At this point, I merge all the layers before I make the background and use the Mask render to isolate the model with the Wand Tool. Select the bust shape (white area) and create a Layer Mask. Then using the cloud, smoke and fog brushes (you can find in the assets), paint the background as desired. Once finished, merge both layers.


Step 5

Open the Depth render and place it in the Channels Palette as a new channel, then go to Filers > Blur > Lens Blur and on the Depth Map Source Selector, choose the new alpha channel (Alpha 1 by default.) Now adjust the Blur Focal Distance and Radius sliders, this will blur the far areas, such as the right shoulder based on the depth information contained in the new channel.


Step 6

With the Smudge Tool, create the eye's detail. And with the Dodge and Burn Tools combined with some textured brushes, add detail to the skin surface. Adding some stains and imperfections.


Final Image

Finally make some curve adjustments by going to Image > Adjustments > Curves, to enhance the contrast. Also add some noise to the image by going to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.


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