Create a Centurion in ZBrush & 3ds Max

By Marcelo Pinheiro


Marcelo Pinheiro takes us through the ZBrush, 3ds Max, and Substance Painter process for his “Centurion” created in Rafael Grassetti and Glauco Longi’s Forge Club…

This project was made during my mentorship with Rafael Grassetti and Glauco Longi in the Forge Club. As I knew the time would be a big issue I took all the shortcuts I knew.

Step 1: Initial blocking
I started from a previous project base mesh and made a pass on the anatomy and proportions to match the concept art by the amazing Daehun Park. After I had a basic body I’ve blocked out all off the armor pieces as quick as I could using 3ds Max. This method saved me a lot of time because in the end I already had the final topology and UVs for all of the armor.

The only exception was the chest plate which I did by extracting the geo from the chest in ZBrush, smoothing the anatomy and sculpting the under-plating following the concept. Still in the time saving mindset, I separated the shapes in polygroups to drive the ZRemesher. This way I was able to produce a good topology in no time. To finish the chest plate I’ve opened the UVs in 3ds Max and got it back to ZBrush.

Original concept art
Initial blocking

Step 2: Engravings
The next step was to figure out how to do the armor engravings as quickly as possible. The way I did this was by painting the patterns in the armor using masks, extracting the masks and sculpting the result to give it a 3D look. I also sculpted a basic skull that I then cut, posed, and stylized in different ways to get all the skulls in the details. For the details I wasn’t worried about topology as they would completely vanish in the final result, so I did it all in ZBrush using some occasional ZRemesher only to help me get a cleaner result.

I made some attempts to simulate the cape in Marvelous Designer but with no luck, so I ended up sculpting it by hand. I wasn’t satisfied with the result at this stage, but at least I had all the pieces together and could visualize the character for the first time, allowing me to make changes in proportions to best represent the concept.

Final blocking

Step 3: Projection
With all the engravings in place I moved on to project them in the original armor pieces by using the ZProjection brush. This process can be a little dirty if you don’t take care. The trick here is to constantly rotate the model in order for the geometry to deform in a clean manner. I wasn’t too concerned with the refinement as I was to later add battle damage and banged metal look that would completely ruin any pristine hard surface work. If I had more time I would probably make a retopology of the pieces by hand, but this would have to do for now.

Projected shoulder pad
Projected armor engravings

Step 4: Battle damage
The battle damage was created by hand, using a combination of the Clay, DamStandard, and TrimDynamic brushes.

Battle damage

Step 5: Detailing the body
It was time to detail the body and head now. After putting in the primary and secondary shapes I needed more resolution to sculpt the pores, so I separated the model into 4 parts, head, torso, hands, and legs. Detailing these parts separately leaves seams that I proceed to clean using a method that I explained in this 3dtotal tutorial.

Head details
Head close up
Arms and hand details

Step 6: Finished sculpt
I was happy with overall details at this stage, but the cape still didn’t convince me, so I re-sculpted the cape by hand giving it much more volume.

Finished sculpt
New cape

Step 7: Painting the textures
I exported the armor at level 2 subdivisions which was light enough for me to rig and still retained some of the silhouette of the details. I also exported the hi-res model to bake some normal maps in Substance Painter. With all the baked normal maps I painted the textures and added some tertiary details to the armor in substance. This way I was able to escape using displacement maps for the armor in the final renders. After exporting the textures it was time for some first render tests using V-Ray in 3ds Max.

Armor render test
Chest plate close up
Shoulder plate close up

Step 8: Body textures
The texture for the body was painted in Mari, as well as the initial displacement maps I used to detail the face. The new all-surface shader worked nicely for the skin. There goes the first skin render tests.

Skin render test
Skin close up

Step 9: Grooming
Grooming is always hard for me. As you can see, my first attempt at the goatee wasn’t very successful. I dropped this idea for a while, and focused on the environment, before going back to the grooming.

Weird goatee
Environment test
New beard

Step 10: Wireframe
As you can see by my wireframe, the model didn’t capture all the engravings alone, it depended heavily on the normal maps for the end result.


Step 11: Final touches
After painting some more dirty maps for the skin and the armor in Substance Painter, here are some more images of the final model.

Final character turntable
Character clay render
Final shoulder pad close up
Alternative render using the environment background

Step 12: Conclusion
This project was an awesome test to my workflow. At the time I didn’t know any other character artist that could give feedback, so the mentorship was the perfect opportunity to test myself and I surely evolved a lot with Raf’s and Glauco’s feedback.

Final image

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