Sculpt a detailed ZBrush mech

Marco Plouffe gives us an insight into his dynamic mech design, W.A.S.P., made with ZBrush, KeyShot, and Photoshop

In this making of I will take you through my workflow for creating sci-fi mech concepts. Blocking in ZBrush is the first stage, since it is when I conceptualize my model. It'll be followed by the polishing phase, then posing, then rendering in KeyShot.

Step 01: Blocking

I start blocking in ZBrush and use anything (ZSphere, sphere, base mesh, etc) and I explore shapes until I find a theme or a visual language that I want to replicate all over the model. I don't put much detail or polish at this point, and I use very few brushes.

Blocking out the basic forms, without too much detail

Blocking out the basic forms, without too much detail

Step 02: ZTools and SubTool management

I work with many different ZTools (see colors pictured) for smoother navigation in ZBrush. I temporarily decimate completed meshes while working on other ZTools. I reassemble the undecimated ZTools at the end before the posing phase. I sometimes even merge many SubTools together, even if it destroys the subdivs.

In each ZTool, I work with many SubTools, so when I'm working on an area that will be focused on (like the head) it'll be easier to polish. Still, most of my SubTools are DynaMeshes. In areas with less focus, I tend to use fewer SubTools. For example, the head has many SubTools, the arms less, and the legs even less.

I work on some smaller parts individually and in an Orthographic view. Once finished, I place them around the character, like the thruster for example. I tend to work this way when I will be reusing a part all over a model.

I use more SubTools in complex focal areas like the face

I use more SubTools in complex focal areas like the face

You can see that the tibia is only one piece that I blocked roughly, then polished

You can see that the tibia is only one piece that I blocked roughly, then polished

Cutting the model into pieces and starting the polishing phase

Cutting the model into pieces and starting the polishing phase

Working on some smaller parts separately

Working on some smaller parts separately

Sculpting further details and placing IMMs

Sculpting further details and placing IMMs

Step 03: Posing and separating materials

Once finished, I assemble all my ZTools together and I pose the result with Transpose Master. Then I merge every piece that I know for sure will share a common material (see pictured). Sometimes I decimate the model before exporting it but KeyShot is pretty good with heavy meshes.

Posing and preparing the model for KeyShot

Posing and preparing the model for KeyShot

Step 04: Setting up in KeyShot

I import my meshes into KeyShot and test materials on them. I don't change the materials much. I use a common HDRi and tweak some settings around, rotating the lighting until I find one that makes my volumes easily readable. (If I need more lights, like a rim light, I'll add them in later passes.)

I choose a suitable backplate if possible (pictured in the lower right corner). I try to find a background at this early stage because it helps me to integrate the model in the scene. In the Camera tab, I simply save my camera angles, apply a depth of field and choose a field of view.

Importing and setting up the model in KeyShot

Importing and setting up the model in KeyShot

Examples of my render passes – these took 6-10 minutes each without Area or Object Lights

Examples of my render passes – these took 6-10 minutes each without Area or Object Lights

Step 05: Render passes

AO (ambient occlusion) pass: choose the 'All white' HDRi, pick a white diffuse material, and set Gamma to 1.

Rim light pass: choose the velvet material; this pass lets you mask your own rim light in Photoshop.

Clown pass: enable 'Clown pass' in the Render settings.

Curvature pass, choose 'Curvature' in any Material Texture slot; this pass lets you apply scratches and rust in Photoshop using the Color Range selector or Magic Wand tool.

Finally, I usually render my area (physical) light passes since they require more sampling.

The various render passes used for this image

The various render passes used for this image

Step 06: Setup in Photoshop

The final image is assembled in Photoshop using the render passes. Color adjustments, textures, and glow effects are added to tie the piece together.

Layer setup in Photoshop

Layer setup in Photoshop

and it's done!

and it's done!

Related links

To see more of Marco's work check out his website
Check out Keos Masons
Take your skills to the next level with Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop: Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Submit your work to 3dtotal

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