BREAKING DOWN A SCULPT
To help with time management and directing your sculpt process, break it into three stages: Main forms (blocking) – the stage when you will look for your overall silhouette. Secondary forms – without breaking the main forms, add more definition inside. Tertiary forms – the final stage where you will finish everything with even the smallest of shapes. Note that this isn’t a surface details pass – your pores and other cool micro surface details will go to a bonus fourth stage if needed.
TEETH AND EYES
The chances that your next character will have teeth and eyes are pretty big if you ask me. I have spent some time making good eyes and teeth subtools with UVs and good topology, and I paste them into every new character I make and tweak them to suit the situation. This approach is a lifesaver if you need to hit a tough deadline.
SCULPTING PRECISE DETAILS
If you want to sculpt something really precise like, for example, the stripes on a whale, it will be very hard to do inside ZBrush. To solve this problem, unwrap the area where you want the details to be, take the UV layout to Photoshop and paint the stripes. Then take the map you painted back to ZBrush and apply it as noise (located in the Surface menu).
LIMITED COLOUR PALETTE
For the Kasey and Mac image (below right) I used a limited color palette made from mostly white materials mixed with light brown and small color touches, extracted from Commodore 64-style graphics with some modifications. Limitations are good for your work as they help you to focus inside the boundaries and discard everything you don’t need.
CUT MOUTH HOLES IN THE RETOPOLOGY PROCESS
There are more use cases for retopology than just getting proper topology. I use it to cut my holes for the mouth, eyes, ears and so on. I just sculpt without bothering with the inside of the mouth (unless it’s a sculpt where the inside of the mouth is particularly important) and cut my holes inside Maya, extruding the edges inside and only then sculpting some more definition in this area.
SET UP POLYGROUPS INSIDE MAYA
Sometimes it’s better to set up your polygroups inside Maya or a similar application. Just take your lowest subdivision mesh into your software of choice, cut to separate UV islands and lay them out. Then go to ZBrush and hit the ‘Auto groups with UV’ button. This can be a lifesaver especially with problematic areas like inside the mouth and mouth corners.
HAIR CONCEPT SCULPTING
It’s always a good idea to sculpt hair before going to XGen or a similar hair simulation software. Firstly, you will get the idea of how your specific hairstyle works. Secondly, you can extract curves from the sculpt to use them as guides, which will make your XGen experience a lot better and faster. Thirdly, you can always use this hair to print your character, which is a nice bonus.
Transition meshes are meshes you can (and in most cases should) use to glue eyes to eyelids and teeth to gums. It is a small layer of liquid you naturally have there, so they are as refractive as water and pretty reflective. They will catch the light on the area when the eye meets the eyelid and cast a contact occlusion shadow to truly spark life into your work. You will use a slightly different approach depending on whether you’re using a real-time renderer or an offline one, so use Google to find the right one for you.
MAKEUP LASHES AND BROWS
This one might sound obvious but a lot of artists miss this step and struggle with a basic appeal, especially with female characters. Apply basic Polypainted makeup inside ZBrush during the first steps of face sculpting and add lashes and brows (as with teeth and eyes, I have sculpted basic lashes and brows that I reuse in every project). This will make your character appealing from the beginning, so the sooner you do it the better.