Create convincing mythological creatures

Brahim Azizi explains the ZBrush and Photoshop workflow adopted in the creation of Barbarian Minotaur, from concept sculpting to the final compositing stages

This character is based on the Minotaur creature, from the Great Atlas Mountains in Morocco, North Africa. I was inspired by the Amazigh and Berber culture in Morocco. I didn't want to make a typical human; I wanted to try something different, massive and unique.

After experimenting with various designs based on other artist's concepts, I decided to create my own concept this time. I wanted to apply what I've learned as an artist and also push my level up and challenge myself to develop more skills.

This project was done using only ZBrush, and Photoshop for compositing, no extra software was used. So I'm going to show you an overview of how I created this beast, and I hope you guys enjoy it!

Different angles of the full body anatomy of my Minotaur

Different angles of the full body anatomy of my Minotaur

Starting to model

I began with a basic base mesh and started to sculpt the body shape of the creature while looking at references of Minotaur and similar animals such as bison and bulls.

After I blocked out the basic form of the model, I did then a quick retopology using ZRemesher so I wouldn't have mesh problems later on (My goal was to work entirely in ZBrush).

After retopologizing the body, I posed the character using Transpose Master. I tried few poses before I decided to go for the one shown here.

I then started to work on the anatomy with Symmetry turned off - this made the character look more natural than a stiff symmetrical pose. I worked a lot of muscular information into the pose, which made it a great study for me.

When I'd finished adding the anatomy, I started sculpting and modeling the other equipment for the character. I made some changes to the design, because I kept thinking of new ideas to try. The hair and fur were done with Fibermesh and brushes such as the Move and Groom brush.

After all the parts were detailed, the character was ready for texturing.

The modeling steps showing the changes made to the design

The modeling steps showing the changes made to the design


As my plan was to work everything inside ZBrush, I didn't have to bother with UVs and unwrapping in the texture stage. Instead I painted the texture on the actual 3D model using PolyPaint.

I chose color tones and tattoos inspired by Africa, and ancient Moroccan Amazigh and Berber cultures.

I started to paint the texture using a mix of different alphas and textures rather than colors, on the first layer. I then painted the tattoos on a different layer. I also painted the fibers in.

The character with PolyPaint textures

The character with PolyPaint textures

Render passes

Once I had finished texturing, it was time to figure out the different passes I would need to get a convincing realistic look to my character. I started with the main passes: Color, Ambient Occlusion, Shadow, Specular, Reflection, Mask and ZDepth pass.

In this image you can see all the passes I used: Color, Ambient Occlusion, Gravity, 3 Shadows, a Fill light, Back light, Rim light, 2 Specular passes and a Reflection pass.

Then I took the passes to Photoshop to start the first compositing with these basic passes. In the process of compositing, I end up rendering more passes in ZBrush - two more Shadow passes each with different parameters, a Gravity pass using MatCap, another Specular map, and back and rim light passes.

I then I saved each render separately by exporting the pass file. After exporting the rest of passes, it was then time to work on much more advanced compositing.

A compilation of all the render passes

A compilation of all the render passes

Compositing render passes

During this stage, I did a lot of tests to find the perfect place for every layer.

Most of the passes were set to Multiply, Screen, Overlay or Soft Light modes, and each were given appropriate levels of Opacity.

For the two Specular, Reflection, Rim and Back light passes, I added a mask for every layer and painted the opposite to hide the areas that didn't look right in the image. Because rendering in ZBrush is a bit different, you need to do things manually.

The composition of the passes I exported from ZBrush

The composition of the passes I exported from ZBrush

The first compositing to see the model in a better render

The first compositing to see the model in a better render

Final touches

Once I composited all of my passes, I start adding some photos of textures, dirt and metal on top of my composition. This was to add a touch of realism to the image.

I also did some paint-overs to pull out some more detail, and create highlights and shadows in different areas.

I used filters such as Noise, and added a photo of snow and dirt with some Radial Blur to add some movement and dynamics to the image. With some final color correction, I got the final image.

The final composited image of the Barbarian Minotaur

The final composited image of the Barbarian Minotaur

Related links

Check out more of Brahim's work on his Tumblr page
Want to learn some new Photoshop skills? Then have a look at our Photoshop for 3D Artists book!
If you want to make your own minotaur and need some bison textures then look no further than our free texture pages

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