Creating an Overwatch-nerd stylized character in ZBrush & Marmoset Toolbag


Hi, my name is Alberto Esteban and I am a 3D artist. In this making of I’d like to share the creation process of one of my last characters, based on the incredible artwork by Ekaterina Bek-Nazarova. We’ll be covering the full pipeline, starting from gathering references, blocking the base mesh, making clothes, hair and polyplaint in ZBrush, and finally, rendering it in Marmoset Toolbag for presentation.

Nerf This!

Gathering references

Before I start any sculpting, I always like to analyze the concept and find references from other artists (it doesn’t matter if they are 2D or 3D) that could match the proportions and style I want to aim. I usually use Artstation, Pinterest or Google to collect any kind of images that I might need (thanks to all the amazing artists for helping me indirectly with their artworks). And of course, thanks to Ekaterina’s concept I had a clear idea what I wanted to do.


Usually, I start from a base mesh but for this model, since I didn’t have a clear deadline I decided to begin from a sphere and blocked out the character from it. This is really useful because it’s easier to change proportions super fast.

Then, when I’m happy with the proportions, I dynamesh all the body pieces except for the head and hardsurface pieces (like the headphones). I always do this because my next step will be focusing on the face. Maybe I’m the only one on this, but I cannot continue if I don’t have a face I’m happy with.


As I said before, getting a nice appeal on the face is super important to me. For this I follow the same workflow I applied for the rest of the body, I start adding pieces for the different parts of the face, then I dynamesh all. At that point I was not sure if I wanted to do a texture in Substance Painter (Spoiler! I didn’t!) or just Polypaint, so I decided to make a ZBrush retopology, which was not perfect but it was good enough in order to keep all my details and make the character look smooth and soft.

Thanks to Rhett Mason, where I learned how to paint eyes.

Sculpting hair

I always struggle doing the hair part. I think it’s the part where I need to put more hours into since I’m never completely happy with the result. Here you can find one of these examples from another project.

Starts are never easy. Nevertheless, since I wanted to keep a chunky shape for the hair and make it as smooth as possible, I decided to keep as less detail as possible from the beginning. So I started from a sphere, then dynameshed it and I used the Move and ClayBuildUp brush to build the shape and form the hair strokes. Finally, I added the last strands thanks to Dylan Ekren’s Hair brush and some fine details with Dam standard brush.

Sculpting clothes

For this part I like to duplicate the body mesh and I used it to mask and extract the different pieces of clothes I want. After the extraction I always ZRemesh with a low polycount target in order to keep it as clean as possible. For some of the wrinkles I use DamStandard brush with small Z intensity  and the LazyMouse enabled.

Polypainting in ZBrush

At this point I decided I didn’t want to go through all the texturing process, so I painted it in ZBrush and then I used these vertex color information as a “texture” in Marmoset Toolbag. For painting it I used a typical Standard Brush with RGB activated and focal shift=30. And for the colors I used the original concept as reference and always trying to aim for a smooth result.

Posing & last details

Since I always pose my characters with Transpose Master in ZBrush, it’s important to have meshes with low subdivision levels in order to be able to move arms, hands, fingers, and so on… easily.

This part is easy; it’s just copying the concept’s pose and trying to sculpt the last cloth/body details due to the anatomic changes/movement. Here, it is super useful to prepare in advance your character doing Polygroups from all the body joints in order to be able to mask them if needed.

Lighting & render in Marmoset Toolbag

This is the fun part to me, I love to drop my characters in Marmoset because with a little amount of work, it starts to look awesome super fast.

So in this case, I used that directional key light, a backlight to have a little bit of rim on the model, and a HDRI environment to fill the shadows.

I also like to have a bit of subsurface scattering mixed with a bit of fuzz effect, in order to make the character feel smoother and have a peach look on almost every surface.

Just as a reminder, this color information comes from the vertex color painted in ZBrush, so I didn’t have to do any texture, just playing with the materials.

Top tip: Use real life units

It’s a common thing that when you are working in ZBrush, probably you are doing it with a huge scale mesh or something that doesn’t match a real life character. If you want to make the lights and SSS effect work properly, you’ll need to adapt the size in Marmoset. To do so, you just need to show the “Scale Reference” in the Scene Menu, and adapt it till the reference and your character match.

Final renders

Thanks for reading and a huge thanks to 3dtotal for asking me to write this tutorial!

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