Making of 'The Mechanic'

The supremely talented Carsten Stüben shares how he made The Mechanic using ZBrush

Hi, my name is Carsten Stüben and I want to show you how my latest project The Mechanic was created. This character is a personal project which I've been working on in my free time in order to combine some techniques (which I will talk about in this article). We will look at my workflow when it comes to sculpting both organic and technical objects, and how materials and textures come into being in Substance Painter.

Some sketches

I had a relatively precise idea of how I wanted the /The Mechanic/ to look; bearded, strong and dressed in rough materials such as heavy leather and thick fabric. The mechanical hand, the neck brace glowing from the inside, tools, dirt, and oil stains – I wanted all of these to feature in the final image as a reflection of his working and living environments.

I started by creating some sketches to get an idea of which hairstyle I would give him; a bald head seemed to fit best. I directly created the other objects e.g. the neck brace and clothing in ZBrush. Using my initial sketch, the head was sculpted from a simple DynaMesh Sphere and other standard tools – the Standard, ClayBuildup, and Dam_Standard brushes. I tried not to get lost too much detail at this point.

Some sketches to find the right hairstyle

Some sketches to find the right hairstyle

A first form finding with DynaMesh and the standard tools

A first form finding with DynaMesh and the standard tools

Accessory creation and detailing - a workflow example

The boots make a nice example to illustrate my workflow. After making the rough DynaMesh sketch of the boot, I load a ZSphere into the scenery and draw, vertex by vertex, the geometry of the new leather parts directly onto the surface of this sketch. I use the same method to give the boots the desired geometry. Making the details is pure diligence work and a mixture of leather-alphas and the Slash3 brush. I use this method for each of the other parts and continue to work, repeating these steps for each item of clothing.

A good tip is to use layers when doing the details; one layer for the basic structure, one for the folds, one for scratches and rips, and one for the seams. It would be very annoying if you wanted to change the basic structure after having put everything on top of each other without using layers!

An example for work flow based on the boots

An example for work flow based on the boots

The remaining items of clothing are made similarly

The remaining items of clothing are made similarly

FiberMesh

The head also got a new topology and details. I used FiberMesh for the beard and the eyebrows; it was a bit of trial and error to find the right settings. I separated the beard into three segments to give each segment different hair length and thickness. With the use of masks you can fast and easily define these regions. I recommend playing around with the sharpness of the mask's edges to get a natural looking edge. Where the mask levels off, so does the FiberMeshes in length and thickness.

FiberMesh for the beard and the eyebrows

FiberMesh for the beard and the eyebrows

The mechanical hand

When designing the mechanical hand I needed to find something which fit the character but wouldn't be too crude to carry out precision work. The approach is basically the same as before – each part is made from a DynaMesh Sphere and gets a new topology before I start with the details. However, in this case I add one more working step. I assign different groups of polygons to the new topology before I add details. Then I use the Panel Loops feature to get a single object with material thickness from each group.

The fingers of the mechanical hand

The fingers of the mechanical hand

Material thickness through Panel Loops

Material thickness through Panel Loops

The fantastic ZModeler and the final mesh

Personally, this is the first project where I have had a bit more dealing with the ZModeler and it is truly exciting. Thanks to this tool I was able to create the complete geometry in ZBrush. The wrist, the tools, and the floating sphere were made from primitives through classic Boxmodeling and Dynamic Subdivision. I completely stinted on details in the surface for these parts to create them with Substance Painter later on. There is no particular reason for this it is just a different version of a workflow.

The last parts are created with the relatively new ZModeler

The last parts are created with the relatively new ZModeler

The final mesh

I used the Transpose Master Zplugin to pose the final Mesh. Since it's only a single image I left out complex Rigging and a resolution fit for animation. The UV-Layout of the individual parts were also made in ZBrush. The possibility to generate UV-islands from Polygroups made the process easy and simple. Where this was not enough I used "Control Painting" of the UV Master Zplugin. Eventually, I exported a high-poly version of each part to bake my maps in Substance Painter. In the majority of cases (especially with hard-surface parts) the outcome is much cleaner than the normal maps which I could export from ZBrush directly.

The final mesh

The final mesh

Substance Painter

On the basis of the high-poly meshes I now let Substance Painter generate all the maps I need for texturing: AO, curvature and world space normals. Let me illustrate how I do this on two examples:
The skin gets:

A: a basic color
B: a layer with blemishes, irritations and veins
C: some shading where later on there will be hair and darker pores (a cavity map from ZBrush helps here)
D: color shades adequate to the different facial regions,
E: dirt and oil stains

How the skin is constructed in Substance Painter

How the skin is constructed in Substance Painter

I want to show the construction of the clothing and the accessories exemplarily on the shoes:

A: a basic color
B: cloudy stains in the color and roughness channel for a natural look
C: discoloration of the leather in the depths and abrasion in the heights
D: a little correction of the color, a new material for the sole and seams
E: dust, sand and oil stains

Substance Painter offers many possibilities to mix materials with the help of previously created maps. In this case the curvature map helped to generate the abrasion and the world space normals to create the dust.

An example for clothing: the layers of the boots

An example for clothing: the layers of the boots

Octane Render

I built the light setup in the HDR Light Studio starting with simple 3 point lighting, with some extra lights to emphasize individual parts. The base color map, roughness map and normal map control two glossy materials in Octane Render. One with an IOR of 1.5 (this can vary) and the other with 1. The metalness map controls the mixing ratio. Merely a cove serves as the background ... some bloom and glare... done!

Since Octane gives feedback promptly and renders live when creating materials, there is no virtuosic piling of render passes. I hope my little walkabout was helpful. If not, don't hesitate to drop me a line. I really appreciate comments, questions, suggestions and critique.

Light and material setup in Octane Render

Light and material setup in Octane Render

...and a closer look

...and a closer look

The final Image

The final Image

Related links

To see more of Carsten's amazing work head over to his website
Grab your copy of our latest book, Anatomy for 3D Artists
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