ZBrush is a bit like a “hipster” within the 3D art community. While most software packages provide artists with everything and anything they could ever need, ZBrush is instead content in going off and doing its own thing. Most 3D software tries to specialize in 3D modeling, textures, rigging, animating, and more, but ZBrush mostly focuses on really advanced “sculpting”. This allows users to create incredibly detailed 3D art relatively quickly, but animation is almost nonexistent in its software feature list. Because of this, ZBrush plays an interesting role in the creation process of many professional projects.
ZBrush Work Process
If you’re already employed as an animation artist then you may be fortunate enough to never need to model anything of your own, and instead move the creations of others at your company. For many aspiring animators though, the burden of multiple technical facets lies with them. While it’s true that most employers won’t be too worried about modeling skills of animators’ portfolios, expressing an understanding of the workflow of a character from start to finish never hurts.
In today’s 3D world, it’s still very common for a program like Autodesk 3ds Max or Maya to be used to create the character geometry, then import it into ZBrush to expand on it and create its high poly version so that it can be used to create a normal map, which will be used on top of the low poly model. Once that’s completed the artist can return to their original software and continue the mapping, texturing, and animating process. However, those who wish to remain in ZBrush to animate their work can do so with the help of plugins such as ZAnimator.
Current ZBrush 4 Features
As some of the top 3D software packages upgrade and expand their features each year, you get the sense that they’re trying to make ZBrush’s niche less relevant in the industry, but Zbrush itself is updating with more skills to offer its users each year as well. Don’t take my word for it, just skim through this condensed list of high budget films that have recently utilized ZBrush’s power: 300, Avatar, Cloverfield, The Incredible Hulk, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Terminator Salvation, Beowulf, The Clone Wars, Iron Man 2, each of the Lord of the Rings films, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Watchmen, and many more.
The ZSphere approach to creating base meshes – as seen in the picture above – is fundamental to the quick sculpting process that has remained successful over the years. Also fundamental is its use of “Pixols” that contain color, position, depth, lighting, and material information, which means entire texture and lighting situations can be entirely adjusted with ease instead of repainting your maps each time. Along with this, one of my favorite aspects of ZBrush is how damn easy it is to texture your work! You can simply use the built in Polypaint to paint right on your sculpted model without needing to make a texture map or even UV unwrapping first, though a built in UV Master is available.
To enhance and improve this sculpting and painting process, one thing that’s been introduced and expanded in recent years is GoZ, the built-in importer and exporter that allows ZBrush to transfer meshes and entire subdivision data to and from Maya, Modo, and Cinema 4D. While animating might not be a specialty, transposing poses with ease is still something that ZBrush prides itself on. You can quickly deform, reposition, scale, or rotate objects on the fly without the need for complicated rigging or tedious painting of weights that’s common in other software.
Lastly, the 3D brushes that ZBrush fans know and love are still there in every way, and the 30+ brushes, many materials to sculpt with, and ability to add surface noise still allow artists the ability to create objects that would be far too detailed and time consuming in other programs. Because it’s not at all uncommon for complex models to become millions of polygons, the Decimation Master is a nice built in optimizer that can reduce over 10 million polys down to fewer than one million, yet still give you the freedom to use Subtools and work with individual sections of your model or scene.