Model a stylized sumo wrestler with ZBrush & Substance Painter

Introduction

This project is based by on a concept sketch by Javier Burgos. As soon as I saw the sketch I was very inspired by it and wanted to give it a try in 3D right away. It was a real challenge since I am not used to modeling characters with exaggerated proportions and in such a clean and expressive style. Modeling stylized characters is a real challenge since you have to simplify shapes but keep enough detail and dynamism.

The following will be a quick breakdown which proved to be a creative challenge too, that allowed me to grow as an artist. I intend to show you some of the steps and challenges  I went through and how I tackled them. Every project is a chance to grow, and sometimes the goal is not to have a perfect image at the end, but to learn along the way, improve your technique, and just try to better yourself every step of the way.

I want to start by saying that every project starts very rough; sometimes when we see the beautiful images done by very talented artist on the web we think they started perfect and that they never struggle when creating the artwork, and never face new challenges. But we forget that behind every image there is a creative process where you hit many walls and even sometimes just surrender to it, not finishing a project because we feel it is too big of a challenge. This is why it is key to always see every project as a chance to learn and improve, not trying to be the best but be better than what you were yesterday.

Analyzing the concept

Before I start any sculpting, I like to analyze the concept I am going to work from and break it down into shapes that will help me afterwards in the block out phase. This is key since working with simple primitives will allow you to understand shapes better, and do changes on the proportions really fast. Just keep it simple and try to simplify the overall shape in a way that best works for you; for me it is always helpful to not only work with simple primitives but also find the center lines and understand the surface changes on the sketch, represented by the lines with arrows that cut the shapes.

Starting the block out

Here, I start blocking out the character. I do it really quickly and am not too concerned with the proportions just yet as you will see later. Here I just want to have something that resembles a figure as fast as possible to get a better idea in my head, and be able to start sculpting as fast as I can.I try to do it like this since as soon as I see something that resembles a body or figure I can better motivate myself to continue, and not get frustrated in the small details. It is better at first to just look at the big picture; details will come later once you have a decent block out.

Iterating on the model

As you see from the previous step, I already have a base I can work with, but the proportions are just not there yet – I need to tweak a lot to get there. It is key to get as close to the proportions as possible in this step, since making changes to the model does not require much time or effort at this point. If you wait to do this until the end you are going to suffer, especially if you are working with a model that has many details. Here I just play with shapes, keeping them separate. I only join them once I feel comfortable.

Iterating on the head

Just like with the body, I do the same to the head since it is such an important part of a character, you have to spend as much time on this as you do on the other elements. Also, it always helps to ask for feedback from your peers; they can point out areas to improve or mistakes faster than you can see them once you have been working on a project for a while. Do not be afraid to ask, it is only going to help you.

Preparing for texturing

In this step I just want to create quick UVs for the body using UV Master in Zbrush. Here, I use the Polygroup option for the unwrapping, after dividing the body into different Polygroups where I want my UV islands to be. Since the final product will be an image I do not have to make clean UVs or perfect topology.

Gathering reference for the tattoos

This step is pretty straight-forward. I just go online and look for different references or images from Japanese tattoos that I can use later in Substance Painter. I will combine them and project them onto the model using the projection feature of Substance Painter.

Creating the tattoos

In this step I bring my model into Substance Painter where I will also load the tattoo images I gathered previously. Now on two Multiply layers I will project the tattoos onto the mesh; first a layer where I will try to cover as much of the arm as possible, then a second layer that I will use to fill the gaps using different stencils.

Rendering in Blender

For the render in Blender I just bring my meshes and the textures for the body. For the rest of the pieces that do not have textures I just plug an input node that will take the vertex colors from the Polypaint in Zbrush, and I get the colors quickly without the need for textures. I use the FlippedNormals render scenes for Blender which saves a lot of time and are really easy to use.