Model a primate boxer with ZBrush, Substance Painter, & Blender


In this tutorial I’ll approach some of the techniques and thoughts I used while creating this Primate & Sportsperson character (from the current 3dtotal character contest). I’ll focus on the design creation, from colors, to shape and pose. You’ll see some brief tips regarding texturing and rendering/lighting. I hope you guys can learn something about the process behind this character.

monkey boxer character design 3d sculpt model mammal monkey boxer character design 3d sculpt model mammal

Final render from our Primate. It includes hair particles and rig for the pose. Render made with Blender Cycles.

Discovering the character

In this stage everything is chaos and the theme is our only guide to find anything. We could choose from canine/primate and sportsperson/aviator. I do love dogs, but I was interested in making a biped character once the character should have human behavior, then primates have half of the problem solved. Also I do love the potential monkey designs bring, with those long arms and curious faces. Keeping the longer arms in mind I thought a fighter would feel interesting, so I started the first step of searching for references and gathering images from primates with interesting proportions, shapes, and expressions.

research monkey apes mammals visuals

I use PureRef to store my references and Pinterest for searching. At this stage I was looking for interesting feelings instead of shapes and colors itself.

Studying the shapes and impressions

Here we started the first stage of our practical research. Once we got our references I noticed some interesting impressions the main images were communicating. What we want here is to transmit a similar feeling. With that in mind I started trying to understand the main shapes from the monkey’s anatomy by doing a rough sculpt in ZBrush. At this point you could do the same process in any other sculpture media/software. Please take your time but remember to not go too far and extend this step, you just have to extract and understand how that image would feel in a volumetric environment.

shapes impression practical research monkeys anatomy form

Rough sculpt approaching some shapes and impressions that feel interesting from the references.

Cleaning the base design

Once we reach the impression we want to transmit we can start working in the design itself, cleaning the shapes and making the character look more like we like. It doesn’t need to be a beautiful, anatomic character, but it should look consistent and believable, even with a stylized proposal. In my opinion, these two qualities are what makes a good character design.

cleaning base design structure modelling 3d render monkey

Final design

Now we have finally finished our primate design. We can now work on the clothes, where I used some fighter designs as reference. Please notice that I adapted the designs to our proposal, keeping the rounded shapes and silhouette from the base. Remember that references are to help us solve design problems, with that in mind the final result should be what we imagine and want for that very situation. The colors here are temporary, but the values were kept once it suggests forms as well, please notice the circle shape in his chest and the way the colors draw shapes in his face.

base final design render 3d design model

Sagat, Charlie Bone (by Nesskain HKS), Joe Higashi and Buakaw in the references.

Refining the final design and sculpting

We’ve reached the final design and now we need to figure how our final render should look. As I’ve chosen a clean and graphic design, I opted to avoid mid level details, such as secondary shapes and anatomy details. This way I could keep this clean and easy reading of our primary shapes. With that I added just some minor details to the body and props, reserving the refining to the fine details and tertiary shapes (such as pores, scars, and so on).

refining model design top tip zbrush modelling sculpting

ZBrush screenshot showing the mid level details such as the scar in the right arm and the arms and belly folds.

Final result!

This is our final result! As I’ve mentioned before, I kept the detailing steps to the fine details. I feel more comfortable working these smaller details in the texturing step, with Substance Painter. As we don’t need to apply these on the displacement modifier, it usually works perfectly with normal maps and roughness/base color maps. For the body base I used hair particles to make these details at a micro level. The lack of mid detail helps to keep the primary shapes solid and the micro details add a layer of believability to the final result.

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Please notice that the bigger shapes seem solid and when zoomed you can see the micro detailing, with contrast between the surfaces prioritizing the overall impression.

Top tip - Keep it simple

That sounds obvious, but for a clean design simplicity is key. Be careful to not be too simple and make flat color surfaces, variety is extremely important. You should focus on making impressions of homogeneity. Make the base color and then work mostly with blend modes. Focus on colors before getting distracted doing other maps.

color surfaces blue monkey render fighter character design

Please notice how overall it looks homogeneous but when zoomed you can see some complexity in the surface.

Related links

I usually share some shading tips in my twitter and I’m starting using gumroad, you can check my sky environment texture in there for free. Soon I’ll be sharing some content regarding characters.

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