Create a dark character in ZBrush and 3ds Max

Hello everyone, my name is Michael Robson and I'm a 3D artist living in Curitiba, Brazil. I've been doing 3D art for about one year and a half now, and in this making of I'm going to take you through the process that I use to create a 3D character that could be used for animation. The character is based on the concept art by Boris Rogozin.

Gathering references

Gathering references is one of the most important steps of any creative process; in this case we are going to look at some real photographs that will help us to reproduce a believable representation of the concept art. Here for example, as you can see in the concept art, the character is covered by clothing, so take your time to analyze the various types of materials to collect the right references.

Blocking a Base Mesh

In this step we are going to start blocking a base mesh for the character. I used a base model from ZBrush and with the move tool and Clay Buildup brush, I started to pose the model until I get a nice silhouette that matches with the posture of the concept art. Do not rush this step, take your time and it is always good to check your silhouette in a solid color, this way you will not be distracted by the details.

Blocking secondary elements

When I'm satisfied with the base mesh, I jump into the secondary elements such as the clothing and accessories. The method that I use here is very simple, basically masking, extract, move and zremeshing. At this point, I'm not concerned about details. For the accessories such as belts, chains, lamp and other small features, I poly modeled in Maya.

Making the clothes in Marvelous Designer

I decided to experiment with Marvelous Designer and see if I could use the software in my favor to extract a very solid base for the clothing. The key to achieving good-looking clothing in Marvelous Designer is to see how real garments are sewed together. The measurements must match to each other so when you simulate the cloth, you will not get a weird looking stretched fabric. Once I'm happy with the base, I clone the pattern and paste it as a second layer of fabric, decreasing the particle distance and adjusting the shrinkage value to a number higher than the first layer of fabric.

Quick Tip: in Marvelous Designer it is always good to work with layers, this way your garment will be more organized and the simulation will be more successful avoiding artifacts.


Once I'm happy with the character in general, it's time to do the retopology, some people are used to use zremesher but my personal preference is to do it all by hand, this way I have total control on how the quads will be distributed over the mesh. I exported a decimated version of the mesh from ZBrush to Maya, and using the Quad Draw I started to recreate the surface of the mesh on top of the decimated version.


After I finished the retopology of the entire character, I used Maya to unfold the UVs. If you plan the retopology you're not going to have any problems to unfold them. That's why I think the retopology phase is one of the most important steps to pay attention and not rush it.


After the UVs are ready, I imported those meshes with UVs to ZBrush and started the detailing process. When it comes to detail my approach is to work non-destructively, so I always work with layers inside of ZBrush, paying attention to the references. To add an interesting look to the surface, I use surface noise and in this case, I loaded a seamless fabric texture.


After all the details are done in the entire character, it's time to texture him inside Substance Painter. I imported the low res mesh into Painter and baked a hi-res mesh exported from ZBrush. After that, I started to paint the materials, as always keep your references even close to you in this step. Once the textures are finished and exported properly to use in V-Ray.

Light and render tests

When all the textures are finished I start to setup my scene in 3ds Max with some lights, different HDRIs, and then it's time to do some render tests to see if everything is working right.

Quick Tip: Take your time to do some research about how lights are positioned in a real world photography studio.

Posing and finalizing the character

Now that everything is working properly I brought the model that I used in the 3ds Max scene to ZBrush, and started to pose the character just like in the concept art. To do that I used a very simple technique with masking lasso and the transpose tools. When happy with the pose, I exported the model again to the scene in 3ds Max, and rendered the final shots.

Final thoughts

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they are creating or reproducing a character, is trying to finish it as fast as possible, or jump straight into the detail. I know the first steps are pretty boring but trust me, they are crucial to get a nice result in the end. Do not jump or rush any step of the process take your time and keep the focus, delete, and start over if necessary but do not rush it. I really hope this article helps you to understand a bit of the process that I use to create my artwork, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Related links

Michael Robson's ArtStation
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Grab a copy of Beginner's Guide to ZBrush

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