Sculpting a magical boy in ZBrush


My name is Vichar BN, I hold a Masters degree in fine arts specializing in traditional sculpture. With over 20 years of work experience, I am currently with Technicolor India as Department Director in the Games Division. When 3dtotal asked me to create something themed "Modern-day Witch or Wizard,” I thought of using the opportunity to create a stylized character with magical effects in ZBrush.

Magic becomes art when
It has nothing to hide
- Ben okri

The main goal for me on this was to find ways of creating magical effects in ZBrush. I thought of trying something different from the clichéd way of looking at magical characters. I thought creating a boy next door with magical qualities would be captivating.

Magical characters are fascinating. They are wielders of magic and product of magic. They usually have super-human powers of varying kinds, from mighty powers to simple spell-casting abilities.

magical effects zbrush character model render magic fire


When creating 3D art, be it realistic or stylized, preparing reference materials is one of the most important parts of the process. Since the creation of any art asset starts with building references, you can go as far as saying that the final quality of the finished product is largely determined by the efforts you put into reference building in the beginning. So, I would say, gathering references is the first step in the process.

references imagery research photos materials

I spent at least 1/3 of my time doing research downloading photos and analyzing them. I will usually make a collage. This way I get to know my subject better and I get a clear image of what needs to be done. I cannot stress enough how important this stage is.

Blocking the character

I started with the Demo anime head in ZBrush. I used IMM PrimitivesH brush to block the body; and for hands I used IMM B Parts as a starting point. Once I was happy with that, I did a low dynamesh and started sculpting and refining the sculpt. After reaching a certain stage in the sculpt, I did a polygroup followed by zremesher and polished the sculpt, then added more details and created hair form IMM brush and teeth. I also added surface noise on the cloth and hair for surface breakup.

I used the most basic tools during the block out stage, like the Move brush, Clay Tubes brush, Dam Standard brush, and Inflate. Apart from that, I used masks and polygroups and tried to keep the topology as low as possible, so that it’s easier to manipulate the shapes and move things around.

blocking character model colour effects rendering 3d

Sculpting effect in ZBrush

mesh tool effects hair smoke remeshing gizmo 3d design
  • Using fibermesh to create a base for my effects, I created two different feel of fibermesh as a starting point.
  • Once I was happy with that, I gave thickness to the bottom, using an Inflate brush like gradient thick to thin so that I can mimic the smoke feel in the sculpt.
  • Once I was happy with the results, I used Remesh By Union (available in Gizmo 3D).
  • After one solid mesh, I used Smooth in Gizmo 3D to get a nice shape of the effect.
  • After achieving a nice shape, I used zmodeler to create nanomesh to look like particle effects.
  • Once happy with the distribution of nanomesh, I once again used Smooth in Gizmo 3D to get a nice fade of the particle effects since it gives a lot of control while smoothing.
  • Finally I used a move topological brush with spray stroke with alpha to spread the particle from the main shape so that I get more realisitc effects.

Note: Smooth Gizmo 3D

The Smooth modifier applies a smoothing to the current object or its unmasked part in a similar way to the Smooth function found in Tool > Deformation > Smooth but based on a bounding box side direction. The smooth effect will go gradually from the side of the stretched cone to the opposite side, from 100% of the value to 0% of the value of the smooth set by the cone.

Sculpting the unicorn and effects

unicorn creature design model render 3d camera rigging
  • Created a quick zsphere model of a unicorn in pose so that I can create the feel as if it's coming out of the effects.
  • Converted the zsphere model to adaptive skin and sculpt the basic shapes and forms.
  • Fine tuned the proportion and gave some anatomical features and did a quick zremesher.
  • After achieving a nice shape, I used zmodeler to create nanomesh-like effects particle.
  • Once happy with the distribution of nanomesh, I used Smooth in Gizmo 3D to get a nice fade of the particle effect and blend feel.
  • Finally, to add movement and smoke to follow through from the unicorn, I used fiber mesh to get the desired look.
  • Once I was happy with the look and feel of the unicorn effect, I used a combination of Sculptris brush with smooth with alpha 23 to create a fade effect in certain areas and a more smoky feel to my sculpt.

Note: keep reading the sculpt with BPR render to get the understanding of the effects and look and feel.

character model 3d sheet boy young witch magical fire

KeyShot render setup

keyshot lighting render setup camera model character design

I used light emissive material, and for color I used gold glitter. For opacity I used silver glitter image to get this magical feel of the effect.

light emissive material lighting render character design 3d

For the body, I used a paint material and changed the color and reduced the refractive index. For the environment, I used the default HDRI map from KeyShot and played with the brightness. I also added an additional area light with a gold glitter image for the color to get some extra light on the sculpt.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed creating it. Looking forward to seeing more z magical sculpts from fellow artists.

Thank you!

Join Vichar in submitting a design for 3dtotal's character design contest #2

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