# Design and create aliens in Zbrush

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Hello everybody, my name is Tudor Fat and within these pages I will describe the process I went through in order to make an alien character. I hope that you will enjoy it!

## Idea

The idea for this tutorial was to make an alien character that is technologically advanced and has amazing abilities to make high number calculations. His race is not very strong from a physical point of view, so they have to manage in other ways.

I don't necessarily make a sketch before I make the model, although that's technically the "right" way to do it, because it is the best way to avoid getting stuck or heading in the wrong direction with your model. Instead I jump straight into ZBrush and play with the amazing tools.

I really enjoy the liberty that ZBrush provides. You can work freely and without hesitation or concerns about the mesh that you work on, so for this character I went directly to ZBrush to have fun with it. I really enjoy the exploration process and I find it to be very rewarding, at least in my case.

I started with a simple primitive PolySphere. Using this sphere I had the freedom to construct anything and just play with the form as I wished. I chose a basic material, made the base color black, and then turned down the Specular to 0 and the Diffuse to 0 so that I could see the silhouette better.

I searched for a form that I liked for the head for my character, and started pushing and pulling with the Move brush. After I'd made a few iterations just with a black color, I returned to white so I could see the shape that I had created. At this point the mesh did not concern me, only the shape and the volume. (Fig.01)

Fig.01

I looked for something that would inspire me; something that had visual potential. I had a vague idea in my head that needed to connect with something. After looking through the iterations I decided that I needed to explore a bit more, so I took all the meshes a step further.

The first thing I did was to apply DynaMesh (with Resolution set to 48 and Project turned on) to all the meshes. After that I used the Standard, Move, Spiral, Nudge and Fold brushes so that I could get some more interesting forms, and find what I am looking for (Fig.02).

Fig.02

After I had chosen the version that I liked best (first model Fig.02), I started to play with the volume and the shape of the head. I was still not satisfied with the model so I modified it a little bit more by making the horns more prominent and adding some more elements to the face.

When I was satisfied, I continued with the re-topology of the head. This was done very simply with the help of a ZSphere. I selected a ZSphere, added the head mesh to the Rigging menu and pressed Select Mesh. After that I pressed Edit Topology and started adding faces (Fig.03 – 04).

Fig.03

Fig.04

## Body

Continuing with the body, I started thinking about the functions and how it would look, as well as the mobility and the proportions.

After deciding that my character was going to be an engineer, I wanted him to be supported by a gadget that would help him move from one point to another easily. But how would he control it – with his mind or with his hands? That is when I decided to make him have four arms. He was going to have two big arms to hold things and do the heavy lifting, and two smaller arms that actually controlled some keyboards and the gadgets that he used.

So I grabbed a ZSphere and started to sketch out the body for my character, adding more ZSpheres and trying out different positions for the body and the hands. I tried not to add too many ZSpheres so the mesh would be cleaner and easier to work with. I find that the less ZSpheres there are, the better the mesh holds, and also the geometry doesn't need too much tweaking (Fig.05).

Fig.05

After the base mesh was done, I divided it and started to do some modeling, just so I could see the base form and where I needed to change the mesh or add more geometry. When I was satisfied with the body I brought it into 3D Studio Max so I could correct the topology of the hands and add some loops where it was needed.

Back in ZBrush, the first thing I did was to define my PolyGroups, so I could work more easily with the mesh. First, I used Group Visible on the whole model so there were no mistakes afterwards. By clicking and dragging the mouse and holding the Ctrl + Shift, I only left the parts that I wanted to group. I did this for the whole body (Fig.06).

Fig.06

For every part that I do, I really like to think about the functionality and try to incorporate it into the character. For me, every part and every piece on a character has to serve a role and have a purpose. Sure, it can be visually appealing, but can it move properly? Can they bend their hand or neck without looking weird?

When I was finished with the retouching of the body model, I started to add some definition to it, placing the main muscles, correcting some proportions and defining the volume so it would match the head. For this part I mainly used the Standard brush to add volume and definition to the surface and also the Clay brush, which is the best for building up the mesh and adding volume quickly and with precision (Fig.07).

Fig.07

## Hard Surface

For the hard surface part I started by adding a Cylinder 3D to my subtool and then started to sculpt the device that the character would use. After this I use DynaMesh (Tool > Geometry > DynaMesh). For this I used 16 for the Resolution and enabled Project mode so that whenever I used DynaMesh the mesh would remain as unchanged as possible.

For the sculpting part I used the PolishHard Move, Standard and Clay brushes. I was not trying to define the details, just placing the big volumes and defining the proportions so they would fit the character (Fig.08).

Fig.08

Also to have a better idea about the model, I added some more PolySpheres and, using the ClipCurve and Symmetry, I made some rough models of the support wings for the transport device. After I was done cutting, I used DynaMesh to remesh the models.

Also for the propellers, I just added a PolySphere and using the Move brush with Shift pressed to add a hole so I could see where the exhaust that held him up would go (Fig.09).

Fig.09

For the other parts I used ShadowBox to create exactly what I wanted. It gives more control over the volume and makes it easier afterwards to clean out, use DynaMesh and detail the parts, rather than just going with the DynaMesh.

There is actually a difference between the shapes. Some of them are easier and others more complex, and when you make something like this the distinction between them has to be made, so you know which you can handle in what way. Of course you can make everything just one way, but this is how I choose to work (Fig.10 – 11).

Fig.10

Fig.11

After I was happy with the form of the device I started to add details. For every major part I duplicated the original mesh and used SliceCurve, Delete Hidden (Tool > Geometry > Modify Topology > Delete Hidden) and Close Holes (Tool > Geometry > Modify Topology > Close Holes) so only the part that I wanted would remain.

Finally, I used DynaMesh to unify my mesh so that I would get that crisp edge when I started polishing. The inside of the meshes that were not visible were not important so I left them as they were (Fig.12).

Fig.12

For detailing every part of the device I used the PolishHard brush to get a good edge, the Standard brush to elevate where I felt the need and the Move brush to correct the form where it was too curved and place everything so that it fitted perfectly. Of course, I also used the ClipCurve to obtain a perfectly straight line where it was needed.

To finalize every part I used DynaMesh with Projection on and increased the resolution to obtain the best possible geometry for the details to come. After doing that and re-polishing everything, I started to add some cuts and bolts where they fitted best so that the device wouldn't be in contrast with the character. I did not want to overload the mesh with too much detail; I wanted to keep everything very clean and simple.

## The Vest

For the vest I used the body as a base and used the amazing ZSphere, as I did for the head. I constructed the topology for both the front and the back of the vest. I added a ZSphere in the panel and at the rigging, and added the body with a mid resolution as a support.

Afterwards I just selected Edit Topology in the Topology panel and started to lay out the vest. When I was done, I adjusted the Skin Thickness in the Topology panel and previewed it by pressing the A key. When I was happy with it, I turned it into a PolyMesh with Make Adaptive Skin from the Adaptive Skin panel (Fig.13).

Fig.13

After that I added the mesh to my main ZBrush file and I used Crease (Tool > Geometry > Crease) to add some edge loops so it would be crisp when I will divided the geometry. For this I separated every part with the Select Lasso, while holding Ctrl + Shift (Fig.14).

Fig.14

When I was done with this I started to do the stripes that would hold the vest together. The process was the same as for the vest. The difference is that I just made one side and after finishing up some tweaks (like matching everything to fit) I used the Subtool Master (ZPlugin > Subtool Master) to mirror everything.

## Detailing

I find the detailing part to be the most fun of them all, at least for me, because I just play with the surface of the model without modifying major things.

First off I made a new layer so everything could be retrieved. Then I stored a morph target so when I went too far with my brush I could put everything back in place. For me these two things are important to do before I start adding alphas or cuts to the character. By having layers I can later adjust the intensity of the changes I have done. Of course you can have multiple layers and play with them as well.

So, starting with the head and body, I took some alphas from pixologic.com and started adding them to the mesh. For this I used the Standard brush with DragDot and a lower intensity. I tried to organize the details for the model from the soft ones, such as skin pores and wrinkles, to the harder ones, like cracks and bumps, all of them on different layers so I could manage them individually. For this part of the process, Symmetry was not active so the skin would look more natural (Fig.15 – 16).

Fig.15

Fig.16

For adding the skin and the alphas I used the Standard brush with DragDot as a stroke and a low intensity of 10.

After I was done with the body I started to add details to the device and the vest of the character. This part was rather easy because I wanted to keep it simple so there was not much to add. For this part I used the Slash3Line2 brush with these settings: Intensity = 30, Stroke, LazyMouse, Lazy Step = 0.05.

I really like the line that this brush gives, but of course there are many other excellent brushes. Still, I prefer this one and with LazyMouse at 60 (Fig.17).

Fig.17

For some of the details I used alphas, some taken from pixologic.com and some made by me. The process is very simple: you grab a plane, divide it and then with Symmetry on you start to model in the middle of it. After you are done, go to Alpha > Transfer > GrabDoc and then you should have the new alpha (Fig.18).

Fig.18

When making an alpha, if you try to apply it to the mesh and it looks weird or shows the borders then you should play with the MidValue that controls the gray point in the alpha (Alpha > Modify > MidValue). Just play around until it looks the way you want.

When the details were done and I was satisfied, from the Layer panel I baked all the layers to the mesh so they were permanent. I did this to all the subtools (Tool > Layer > Bake All).

Of course there where some patterns which I could not create just be using a brush and for these I used the Surface Noise (Tool > Surface > Noise). I used the Alpha function and played with the values of Strength and Scale until I obtained what I wanted. I placed the masked part that I wanted to modify with the front facing the canvas and applied the alpha with Surface Noise (Fig.19).

Fig.19

## Polypaint

First off, I took a screen grab of the whole model from a semi-profile pose, to take it into Photoshop and make a color test. It was very simple; I just brought the image into Photoshop, added a new layer with the blending mode set to Overlay and started playing around with the colors and the values to see which fitted best. When I was done with that part I came back to Photoshop and started to polypaint the model.

I like to keep things ordered when I work so my subtools won't get mixed up (Fig.20). As with the details, I start with the head and body by adding some base color with the Standard brush, and the Zsub or Zadd deactivated and RGB on.

Fig. 20 d_fig.

The material I use is the Basic material, as I find it very convenient for me; I just take the Specular down so I can see the color better. For this character, from the color point of view, I wanted to have a contrast between the body and the device he uses for moving – the body having warmer colors and a more natural tint (Fig. 21).

Fig.21

For all the pores and the cavities from the body I used the Mask tool (Tool > Masking > Mask by Cavity), with a Blur value of 2. With this, I added a new layer and painted with a darker color, so they were made visible.

Of course there are always places in an image that I don't like how they look, and for these I like to use the PolishHard brush with the Zadd and Zsub deactivated and RGB on. I really like the effect that this brush gives with color and if you press the Alt button it colors only the outside or the inside of the cavities (Fig. 22).

Fig.22

I wanted the device to be clean so the color had to reflect that as well. I wanted to have just three colors so it would have a better contrast – white, orange and dark blue, which were closer to the body of the character and would give a sense of consistency.

On the device there were parts that had to glow: the hologram projector, the control buttons, the light source, the propulsion and the attention lights. For all of these I applied a basic color without any details because the glow would cover a lot in the end, which would be done in the final BPR set (Fig.23).

Fig.23

## Posing the Character

After all the details were done, the next thing to do was to start thinking about how the character was going to look in the final image: what his posture was going to be. The fact that the legs ere incorporated in the device left only the hands, the upper body and the head to be arranged.

So I hid every subtool except the body, the head and the vest. After this I went to the ZPlugin menu and chose the Transpose Master plugin. I checked the Layer and the ZSphere so I could use the ZSphere to control my rig.

The rig was pretty simple. First I made the rough form and placed the key joints, and afterwards I added some support caps to every point for the arms. For the rig you usually have to check how the geometry holds up and if the ZSpheres are not influencing more geometry that they should.

The vest, for example needed some extra ribs so it wouldn't stretch too much when I turned the character around. For every point and modification I checked the rig by pressing Bind Mesh (Tool > Rigging > Bind Mesh) (Fig.24).

Fig.24

After I was done with the posing of the character ,I went back to ZPlugin and pressed Transfer TPoseMeshed to SubTool, so the modifications I made would be transferred to my mesh on the new layer. Of course, it wasn't going to be perfect; there were always going to be problems to correct afterwards, but those were very easy and fast to correct in the lowest subdivision level with the Move brush.

When everything was in place and baked out as I wished, I moved on to the BPR render.

## BPR (Best Render Preview)

To start with the BPR render, I first had to establish the resolution that I was going to use for rendering and for the final comp. I tried out some layouts and considered that 5000 x 4000pixels was just right and left enough room between the character and the canvas borders. I like to make images larger so after I am done with them I blend everything together by reducing their size a bit – about 5% – in Photoshop.

I made some keys in the timeline (Move > Timeline > Show), just by clicking on it. I did this to ensure that if, by mistake, I dragged over the canvas with the mouse it would be easy to put everything back just by dragging the timeline slider between the keys.

After I was done with these I started to do my render passes for the final comp. This was a straightforward process. First off I made a simple Color pass without any shadows or ambient occlusion. For this I applied the Flat material to every subtool I had, made a BPR render with a Sub Pixel AA of 4 and kept this setting for every other pass that I did. Every render that I do is saved as a PSD file so it has the best quality possible.

After that I wanted to make the shadows and the Ambient Occlusion passes, and for that I changed the Ambient Occlusion resolution to 4096 so it was going to be smoother. I left the shading as flat because the passes would still be saved in the Render > BPR Render Pass. When this was done I saved them and the Depth pass too (Fig.25).

Fig.25

I continued to make the rest of the passes for the final composition. For the material I used a Basic material so that I would have a base for the white that I had on the device. The rest of the passes were made by using the same Basic material, but with the ambient and the diffuse turned down to 0. I also played around with the specular and the position of the light to get a better effect (Fig.26).

Fig. 26_ d_fig.

For some of my passes I tried to separate the device from the rest of the body and the vest by filling the body with a solid color and a Flat material so I could make selections more easily later on in Photoshop.

Fig.27

Fig.28

## Compositing in Photoshop

After everything was done and the render passes were finished, I took the images into Photoshop and started to compose them. The final image was going to have lots of glows, light and the hologram so I kept this part for last.

The structure of my Photoshop file was simple. I wanted to keep everything in Groups so they didn't get mixed up. First off I structured the compositing of the character in two parts: the device and the body. This made my work a little bit easier, as I could control them separately and make better adjustments for each one. The groups were hard surface, body, AO and add (which contained the added glow and other effects), and the background.

The alpha and the depth were added to new layers in the Channels set so I could quickly add masks to my layers, and the depth to add lens blur at the end.

For every pass and layer added I tried to get the best out of them and played with every aspect of them, such as blending mode, opacity, color, contrast, hue, etc.

Regarding the additional graphics, I made them from scratch. The rest was just text that I modified with Transform. On top of everything I made a new layer with some noise from Filters > Noise > Add Noise so it would unify the entire image.
I hope that this was useful and informative; I wish you all good luck and good ZBrushing!

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