3D Artist

15 ZBrush Tricks For A Better Workflow

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Steve Holmes

Discover 15 core ZBrush workflow tips from artists at ILM, Sony Santa Monica, Epic Games and more!

15 ZBrush Tricks For A Better Workflow

Our experts

Mark Van Haitsma – Senior artist, Epic Games
Guzz Soares – 3D artist
Christian Fischer – Freelance character artist
Tyler Wilson – Lead character artist
Maxence Fleuret – Senior character artist, SCE Santa Monica Studio
Richie Jon Mason – 3D character artist
Alejandro Pereira Ezcurra – Toy and collectibles sculptor
Raul Manuel Furtado Tavares – Freelance concept artist
Paul Liaw – Senior creature modeller, ILM
Mariano Steiner – Character artist, Rockstar Games
Krystal Sae Eua – Modelling and texturing lead, The Mill LA

(Image by Tyler Wilson)

1. Keep it simple
I would say that the biggest tip that has helped me in my career is keeping things simple. Learn a few processes and use a small set of brushes that work for you, and get busy making art. It’s very easy to get intimidated by all the amazing work that is out there. Don’t feel you have to be an absolute expert in the program to get similar results. ZBrush has a multitude of tools to offer artists, but it is also set up in a way where you can keep it simple and get incredible results.
Mark Van Haitsma

2. Work on the silhouette
During the sculpting process, I sometimes change the material to Flat Color so I can focus on the silhouette (I consider this a very important step).
Guzz Soares

3. Get a smoother mesh
Under Tool>Geometry is the Dynamic button, which can be used when you are doing faces and starting off with a low-res base mesh. It means that I don’t get distracted by looking at individual polygons since the mesh looks smoother, which enables me to focus on forms in the early stages. This helps me get the likeness right a lot easier.
Christian Fischer

4. Reset Subtool MRGB with Fill
You can reset your SubTool Mrgb by toggling it on and doing a Fill or FillObject with the Flat Color shader in full white.
Tyler Wilson

5. Use a small selection of brushes
The number one question that people always ask is “What brush are you using?”, as if there is a magical ‘make art’ brush. The truth is, 90 per cent of my work is done with four basic brushes. The Standard and Move brushes are fine for pretty much anything, I use ClayTubes to build up larger shapes by following muscle direction and flow, and the Clay brush does the same for secondary shapes and gives a more organic feel to the sculpt by introducing some imperfection.
Maxence Fleuret

6. Create brush pressure
If you don’t have a tablet and are using a mouse, a good way to simulate pressure is to use the LazyMouse under Stroke.
Richie Jon Mason

7. Sculpt with snakehook
Use SnakeHook with Opt/Alt and your mesh will follow the surface. This is very useful if you are sculpting hair, for example, and you need to adjust it to the body or the head.
Alejandro Pereira Ezcurra

8. Start with low poly
Don’t rush through the basics and don’t underestimate low-poly geometry for building your initial shapes. The less you focus on detail the more you can focus on design language. Start with a low-resolution DynaMesh (32) and build things gradually (slowly but surely) in the same way you build a house – from the ground up.
Raul Manuel Furtado Tavares

9. Layer passes
Layers are essential to my workflow. I tend to do several passes of detailing using layers because they are easy to alter after feedback. I keep a clean, undetailed version of my mesh that can be really useful in the baking process to extract different levels of details and maps for texturing.
Maxence Fleuret

10. Quickly create polygroups
Become an expert at making Polygroups fast and creatively by using basic stuff like brushes, connected pieces, UVs and also the extensive options in ZModeler for selection. Having flexible control over every bit of your model is one of the main cornerstones of speed/accuracy.
Paul Liaw

11. Make your own alphas
Remember sculpting your own alphas whenever is necessary, and grabbing them with the MRGBZgrabber. After a while, you’ll have a big brush/alpha library that will make your life easier.
Mariano Steiner

12. Affect only one side
If you have a very thin mesh, when you add or subtract your mesh, both sides will be affected. With the backface mesh activated, only the side you are working on will be affected. You can find it under Brush>Auto Masking>BackfaceMask.
Guzz Soares

13. Work with an object outside of transpose
Using Transpose, if you hold Opt/Alt and pick your mouse in the object you can move or scale it outside the rule of the Transpose.
Alejandro Pereira Ezcurra

14. Compare tools
Shift+S will let you take a snapshot of your current tool so you can compare details to another ZBrush version or with ZTool. This is especially helpful when clients or art directors stop by and want to see different versions of a model on your screen.
Krystal Sae Eua

15. Find symmetry effortlessly
Sometimes when trying to use Smart ReSym to mirror one side of the mesh to the other side, ZBrush is not able to find 100 per cent of the symmetry even though the mesh has been built symmetrically. You can simply activate Symmetry, click on Use Posable Symmetry and ZBrush will be able to find full symmetry again.
Christian Fischer

  • dopepope

    All excellent tips.