3D Artist

ZBrush organic sculpting in 6 steps

Tips & Tutorials
Carrie Mok

Matteo Stella teaches organic sculpting techniques

ZBrush organic sculpting in 6 steps

This tutorial was written by the amazing Matteo Stella and appeared in issue 99 of 3D Artist

Tools used


This illustration was created as an experiment with organic materials, such as horns and teeth, and went all the way to a full illustration. I always try to improve my workflow and find new solutions and sometimes a simple experiment can become a fully fledged piece of art; I dedicate myself to workflow improvement on every single sculpt I handle. For this work I was inspired by some sketches by an illustrator named Adrian Smith – I love his man-beast hybrids! Actually, I love almost all his artistic production… I’ve identified that the main feature in this concept are the horns, so this tutorial will be heavily focused on them.

ZBrush is really friendly when trying to achieve shapes and design, allowing you to produce different variations in a really fast way. If you want to really mimic the look of the concept, the blockout phase is the most important: take your time on this. Study the concept and the obvious reference images – you must understand how the image works: in this case a humanoid head with a couple of horns inserted on the skull. Take the insertions directly from a goat skull, adapt them and you’re good to go. Understanding anatomy is the only way to get the sculpt right.

This process is fundamental, because it’s a sort of epiphany when you get it. The next step is putting some definition on the surfaces, so flattening parts, using some cuts to define the flow of the sculptures and so on. The fun really starts in the detailing phase – going deep into the sculpt. You’ll give a stronger identity to the model adding overall details, such as scars, for example, or any detail that suggests a history for your character.

Bear in mind that it’s very important not to get lost in the software at this point. Don’t add too much resolution to the model, but stick to what you need. Once you get a nice-looking angry face and you are satisfied, you can push the resolution of your model to add crazy details like pores, wrinkles and so on. We’ll highlight how to do this without killing your workstation. In the end we’ll break up the symmetry to give a more realistic look to our model.


Step 01 – Approach the concept

ZBrush organic sculpting in 6 steps

At this point we need to reorder our ideas to be sure of what we’re going to do. Place your reference on the canvas, and with the easiest forms try to sketch the shape of the horns. Start with a DynaMesh sphere, then help yourself with the SnakeHook brush and the Move brush. You can also use a sketch shaded black to look just at shapes, making it work correctly.

Step 02 – Block out

ZBrush organic sculpting in 6 steps

Once you’ve got the right shapes, start to put the overall mass all over the model. Don’t forget to put the horns on a base – this can be your character’s head or just a generic head from ZBrush that you can find in the Lightbox. You can still make some changes to the silhouette, because as you press on with the sculpt you will understand better what would you’d like to achieve.

Step 03 – Add in macro details

ZBrush organic sculpting in 6 steps

Now we should have the overall blockout and the right shapes, so we can start to add some details on the horns with the use of ZBrush’s range of tools and brushes. The first is the Dam_Standard that you can use to start defining the main grooves. Then, with the help of the Clay_Tubes brush, you can pump the forms that you created with the Dam_Standard. Finally, using the Standard brush, you can make some peaks and valleys alongside the horns to give a more realistic look to the model and to create some variation on the surface.

Step 04 – Clean up the topology

ZBrush organic sculpting in 6 steps

At this stage we have to add some resolution to the model. From the SubTool panel, duplicate the SubTool of the horns. We can use the ZRemesher guide brush that allows us to choose the direction of topology, drawing alongside the horns the lines to give a direction. Now move to Geometry>ZRemesher>ZRemesher button. Then subdivide your geometry with the Divide button. Next, go to SubTool>Project>Project All to project all the sculpted details onto the new cleaned mesh. Remember to be on the cleaned SubTool while you’re doing this operation, with the original SubTool turned on.


Step 05 – Push the realism

ZBrush organic sculpting in 6 steps

Before we do anything else, we need to create a bone look. The main tool that we can use is the NoiseMaker to add a tileable noise to our horns. You can find it by going to Surface>LightBox>NoiseMakers. It will help us to improve the realism. If we use that with the Morph Target turned on, with the Morph brush we can decide afterwards where to put the noise or not. Also, by using the DamStandard brush and HPolish we can make some of the details that we made with NoiseMaker a bit stronger.


Step 06 – Include details and asymmetry

ZBrush organic sculpting in 6 steps

Once we’ve finished the model, we need to add some asymmetry between the horns. It can just be a little variation on the silhouette and on the small details. Add scratches where you think they’d exist – for example, where the impact with another pair of horns could happen. For this part, turn Symmetry off and work wisely – too much detail might not be realistic, but not enough can be irrelevant, so find the happy medium. You can use the Standard brush with Alpha 58, for example, and with a low Z_Intensity dig some scratches along the model.

  • Nami

    such a great tutorial…Thank you

  • Adrian Ladino