Sculpting an old man in ZBrush


Hi everyone. It’s been a long time since my last tutorial for 3dtotal which was sci-fi. This time I worked on a different project: a realistic old man portrait. I used ZBrush and Photoshop for the project, and will explain the process of creating the artwork.

Step 01: Finding references

For the first step you have to make it clear what sort of portrait you`re going to create, and look for inspiration. It’s not always necessary to sculpt famous actors or singers, sometimes a regular person can be exciting and more challenging. I found this image on my laptop when I was looking for people, and suddenly saw this old man. I realized that sculpting this man could be a challenge with those wrinkles. Unfortunately the image was very low res, and of course it becomes more difficult when you want to work on details, so I used some close-up images to help, which I had saved from

Some of my references

Step 02: Setting up the ZBrush scene

Before doing anything, I set my document size to 1920 x 1080 so I could work with a full-screen canvas. I usually stick my reference in the background to save the specific views; there are 2 ways to do this: with ZApplink properties or reference views. I used the second choice. The model opacity option can help you adjust the model transparency and the image appears through the model.

Setting up the ZBrush scene

Step 03: Starting to sculpt

To block out the face and teeth I used ZBrush 3D meshes and the IMM Primitives brush. For the hand I used a simple base mesh in the ZBrush tool menu. For the clothes I brought in some base meshes from my Pete Docter statue to save time. This project was done in ZBrush 2018 and I used the Sculptris Pro feature, something which I always hoped to see in ZBrush. I remember that one day I had suggested a similar function in ZBrushcentral forum, and I’m happy to see this in ZBrush.

For this project I didn’t remesh the head to get a low-poly model, and that made it more difficult to refine and manipulate the general shapes. My major brushes at this level were Move, ClayBuildup, DamStandard, and Transpose. In the beginning, I worked in symmetry to save time, and then I went asymmetrical.

Starting to sculpt and providing meshes

Step 04: Continue to model and sculpt

I made the cap with the IMM brush. I masked the whole section and unmasked the area of the cap’s edge, then pushed out with Transpose and refined with Sculptris Pro. The stick was made with CurveMultiTube, and the ring using ring3d mesh and ZModeler. His sleeve was cylinder and ZModeler. I posed the hand with the Transpose and Move brushes. I made each finger a different Polygroup to mask it every time I wanted to pose them independently.

Working with Polygroups and Sculptris Pro

Step 05: Working on details

For details, I used a combination of hand sculpting, XYZ maps, and some alphas and textures from around the internet, including some brushes by JRO. For this purpose I mostly used the DamStandard, Standard, and Move brushes. It’s important to have a mirror beside you and take a close look at yourself; this can be a good handy reference. Here I would like mention something that looks like a bug. I’ve seen this for a long time while working with ZBrush; you can be  sculpting and working in a relaxed state, but suddenly ZBrush makes a sharp straight line and sometimes you don’t notice and keep working. That’s a nightmare.

Some of the alphas and textures used for detailing

Step 06: Adding FiberMesh

I used FiberMesh to make the hair and cloth fibres. First you need to mask the area where the hair will be and then go to the FiberMesh pallet and activate the preview. There, you can play around with the settings and reach the result you want. Also, there are many presets in the menu to work with fibres; various Grooming brushes, and so on. Remember that other sculpting brushes work the fibres, but for me there is maybe something wrong with the Grooming brushes, as at first it’s not user-friendly and easy to work with – maybe my weakness. Secondly, when I groom the hair, it looks good from that angle but when I rotate the camera to the other side I see a straight line in the root of the hair and sometimes it’s not in a good direction.

Adding FiberMesh to the sculpt

Step 07: Texturing part

I did a fast texture in ZBrush with the Paint brush and some awesome alphas in the alpha tab. Mask by cavity is a good help here. Also, Inverse and ViewMask options are handy. You can paint on any material you like, but two materials are commonly used; those are SkinShade4 and FlatColor. I didn’t texture the face but painted it with a darker value around his mouth and nostrils.

SkinShade4 and FlatColor Materials

Step 08: Rendering and compositing

Rendering was done within ZBrush. I rendered in different materials and different lightings to compose them in Photoshop. In the material menu, go to the Wax Modifiers sub pallet, and there you can adjust the wax strength to get a SSS effect. In the end I also did a little paint over and retouch. Thank you for spending time checking out my making of, hope it’s useful.

Some of the layer passes

Step 09: Sculpting an old man in ZBrush

Top tip: Work methodically and step by step

I can say that you have to do everything methodically and step by step, and never give up anything. Practice every day and read new features and methods. Keep drawing and studying different anatomies. First try realistic and then stylized if this interests you. Share your work in the forums and get feedback from the professionals of the industry. Always challenge yourself. Be sure that you will do it.

old man, salesman
The final image