Creature Concepting in ZBrush

A comprehensive series focusing on combining 2D and 3D into one powerful tool, utilising ZBrush, MODO and Photoshop


Creature Concepting in ZBrush

A comprehensive series utilising ZBrush, MODO and Photoshop


Creature Concepting in ZBrush

A comprehensive series utilising ZBrush, MODO and Photoshop

 A sneak peek of what you get

 Practical Info


In this Creature Concepting in ZBrush tutorial we will explore a lot of different concepts when it comes to creating creatures. We will take you through some very basics techniques in ZBrush just to get you started as well as talk about advanced sculpting concepts to really help you enhance your design. We'll cover both 2D and 3D concepts, talking about design and delving into why figuring out your creature is just as important as actually producing it. It's something we enforce throughout this series and are principles we employ ourselves when designing.

Creating anything, whether it's a character, prop or a creature is never a linear or simple process. We'll be discussing different design principles and how we go about exploring our design and making it the best it can be. We don't want you to simply follow along, but rather use this as a means to help you come up with new and interesting designs on your own. Everything we talk about is directly applicable to your own work and is in no way limited to what we are showing.

We'll take you through the process of Creature Concepting in ZBrush, from the basics in ZBrush to rendering in MODO and finally finishing off the piece in Photoshop.
We'll be using 2D to explore the direction of our creature. This is an important tool and can often help you get new ideas of you're stuck in 3D. And for anyone who's not familiar with some of these packages, we've made sure to include chapters to get you up to speed with the essentials so you can start creating awesome designs of your own!


If you're unsure if this CG tutorial series is right for you, feel free to read this review from William Vaughan.

Review: Creature Concepting in Zbrush

We hope you will enjoy this tutorial and if you have any questions or just want to show us your beautiful creation please don't hesitate to contact us.

- Flippednormals

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00 - Intro
01 - Ideas and Reference
02 - Brush Techniques
03 - Dynamesh 101
04 - Sculpting the Base
05 - Refining in Photoshop
06 - Sculpting Internal Shapes

07 - Refining the Sculpt
08 - Sanity Check
09 - Sculpting Details
10 - Modo for Beginners
11 - Posing
12 - Lighting
13 - Postwork in Photoshop

For more details check out the syllabus below

Duration: 345 minutes
Size: 3.9GB - Compressed
Software: ZBrush, Photoshop, Modo
Full HD - h.264, MP4 Video
VLC Player Recommended

 Project Files Included
 Basics of MODO
Intro to advanced ZBrush tools
Focus on sculpting & design principles
 3D and 2D combined workflow

Sample Gallery

Creature Concepting in ZBrush is not a step by step tutorial. While we show everything, parts of the tutorial is timelapsed (with narration). This tutorial series is about the overall workflow and the principles behind it, not specific A-B-C steps. This however doesn't mean that you can't follow along if you wish, but everything won't be real-time.

Maybe you want to know more about Creature Concepting in ZBrush or you just forgot something in one of the chapters. Maybe you want to test yourself and see if you can remember what we talked about.
Whatever the case may be that's what this syllabus is for. We've compressed the essentials of our tutorial down to this and hopefully it should cover most of the answers you could have.

We’re going to give you an overview of the concepts, techniques, hotkeys and other useful bits of information which are being covered in this tutorial series. It's pretty straight forward actually Simply click on each tabbed section above to have a look at whatever you want to know more about.

And in case you haven't noticed, right below this syllabus we have a section of related tutorials. So if you want to go more in depth with a specific topic look through them and see if any of them might be able to help you out.

Have fun!

01 - Ideas and Reference

It’s really important to start any project with a strong idea of what you want to create. While it might be extremely tempting to jump the gun, doing so will result in a piece which lacks definition and credibility. There are several questions to ask yourself here:

  • Where does it live?
  • How old is is?
  • Gender?
  • How, oh HOW did it get all those scars?
  • In which climate does it live? A tropical climate produces very different creatures compared to a cold one.
  • What’s its personality? Alpha? Aggressive? Passive? Kind? Submissive?
  • Does it have any birth defects?
  • What is its favorite TV show and why is it Breaking Bad?
  • Is it a predator? Prey? Where in the food chain does it belong?
  • How does it feed?
  • Which is the closest animal living today to it?

By answering these questions, you learn a great deal about your character. Instead of the description being literally only “Badass Monster”, you’ll get something far more inspiring. Getting a solid foundation when it comes to the idea is really the key to starting a good project. This is particularly important in a production where this information is essential for departments down the line. Texture artists need to know what the surface is made of, for instance.
Once you have an idea of what your creature is like, it’s essential to get proper reference images. That said, writing a description and finding reference doesn’t have to be a linear process; you can easily go back and forth here. Oftentimes, finding reference images can really inspire the overall creature - Who is he, where does he live, and all that jazz. 

02 - Brush Techniques

ZBrush has a huge array of brushes which is both awesome and terrifying. To save you the trouble of going through them all, here’s a list of the ones you’re probably going to use the most. In general, you’re probably going to use the clay brushes in the beginning of the project and standard brush as we near the end.

We've also included the shortcut of each of the brushes.

Clay Brush - BCL - This is a really nice brush for adding volume, definition and texture to your model.
Clay Buildup - BCB - One of our favorite brushes, as it’s great for adding volume and definition to your sculpt.
Standard - BST - The standard brush is good for adding more defined details than the clay brushes. We tend to use this a bit later in the project where you need to define shapes more.
Trim Dynamic - BTD - When you need to add planes to your sculpt, there is no finer brush then Trim Dynamic. It will simplify your model into planes and all is well.
Dam_Standard - BDS - Ask a room full of ZBrush artists which brush is the coolest brush and they will chant “Dam Standard” in unison. This is a great brush for adding wrinkles to your mesh. You can also hold down the Alt key to get some really sharp lines going outwards too.
Move - BMV - When moving big chunks of polys around, the move brush is here for you. We use this a lot in the early stages of the project
Move Topological - BMT - Much the same as Move, but it only moves polys around based on their topology. Extremely handy if you have a lot of objects close together, or you want to move posed fingers.

03 - DynaMesh 101

Dynamesh is the single best invention since fiber optics and buttons. It allows you to have great creative control over your design and you can change it on the fly.
You find it under Tool - Geometry - DynaMesh

In this video we give you a brief introduction to this awesome feature. In essence, there are only three things you need to keep in mind:
To activate DynaMesh, hit the friendly DynaMesh button. Your current tool will be turned into a dynamesh
The resolution slider. This determines how dense (high in polys) your mesh will be. Higher numbers will give you more polys to play with, but it’s slower to compute.
Once you’ve stretched your mesh to beyond recognition, you need to re-dynamesh it. You do this by Ctrl dragging outside the model, in the same way you clear a mask. This will recompute your model and it will give you nice and evenly spaced topology.

04 - Sculpting the Base

The sculpt is started using DynaMesh, which is a great way of doing concepts. Begin by getting the main topology down for the model, like a body, tail, head, arms and so on. Start working all over the model and gradually refine the model.

IMPORTANT: Don’t add any details until the model can support it.

The general workflow and order when sculpting is the following:

  • Proportion
  • Bony landmarks
  • Muscles
  • Fat
  • Skin & wrinkles
  • Fine skin details, such as pores.

This way you’re making sure your model will have a solid foundation and it will support all the fine details you need later on.

05 - Refining in Photoshop

After sculpting for about an hour, it’s time to take it into Photoshop to make some design revisions in 2D. ZBrush is an awesome design tool, but it’s easier to have an overview of it in 2D, as you’re not limited by the technical limitations of 3D. We use Liquify and the paint-tool in Photoshop to push the design. Liquify is amazing when it comes to changing proportions and testing out new designs.

06 - Sculpting Internal Shapes

Once we’ve done the Photoshop design revisions, we have to change our sculpt based on our new 2D concept. Use the Move-brush to move big chunks of polys around to quickly change the design. Once the big changes have been done, it’s time to move onto the internal shapes of the creature. By this we mean anything which doesn’t break the silhouette. While the silhouette is extreme important, this is just as important. The silhouette makes the design look interesting, and this makes it feel believable.

07 - Refining the Sculpt

We move on from where we left off in the last video where we refine the sculpt more. You still need to keep an eye on the overall silhouette, but your main focus should be on internal shapes, like fat, skin, muscles, etc.

08 - Sanity Check

It’s important to do a sanity check of your concept from time to time. As you’re working, it’s really easy to drift off track, which can dilute your original vision. By doing these sanity checks, it’s way easier to keep your concept strong. We use the transparency slider in ZBrush to compare the model to the concept.

09 - Sculpting Details

This is the last sculpting video and the design is working at this point, but we still need to push the model to the next level when it comes to details. We move more towards using the Standard brush, as it’s a great brush for adding details.

10 - Posing

The posing is done using Transpose Master, a neat plugin for ZBrush, found under ZPlugins in the UI. If you’ve used Dynamesh, you’ll need to retopologize your model before hand. This is easy to do using ZRemesher.

We make heavy use of Polygroups, Masking and the Move Topological Brush in this chapter, so here are a few workflow things to keep in mind. When you mask part of your model, you can turn that into a polygroup by pressing CTRL+W. And for masking, when you use the transpose lines to mask with it produces a crisp edge. You can soften this edge by holding down CTRl and clicking on your model

11 - MODO for Beginners

This video will give users who have never touched MODO before a brief introduction to the program. We are only going to go through the rendering interface and basic settings, as well as navigation.

12 - Lighting in MODO

We start this video with a pre-made modo scene we’ve supplied you with. You need to import your model into it and adjust the lights to your lighting. As a tip, use color in your lights. This will make your lighting far more dynamic and interesting compared to having your lights being white. The lighting is done using a fairly standard three-point lighting setup, using area lights.

Once we’re happy with our lighting, we render it and save it out as a Layered PSD.

13 - Postwork in Photoshop

We can only take it so far in 3D and that’s where Photoshop comes into play. The way we do this is based on re-painting the eyes, using texture overlays, adding a brushes background and then grading it all. This step is very important and a lot of people skip it. Even if you just do some quick grading, your image can improve massively.


S - Resize brush
B - Brush Palette
BST - Standard Brush
BCL - Clay brush
BCT - Clay Tubes
BCB - Clay Buildup
Alt - Click on Subtool in viewport - Switch to subtool
Shift - Smooth Brush
Ctrl Drag Outside of Model - Dynamesh it
Ctrl Drag Outside of Model (if you have a mask active) - Clear Mask



Alt + LMB - Navigate
Ctrl + Alt + LMB - Zoom
Shift + Alt + LMB - Pan
Ctrl +1 - Pie Menu for toggling visibility of cameras, lights, grid, etc.
F9 - Render
F8 - Bring up the Preview
Ctrl + F in the Preview - Auto focus on what’s under the cursor
Shift - Click on primitive - Make the primitive in the center of the scene in a new layer
Spacebar - Switch between component types (verts, edges, polys)



Alt + Click - Color Picker
Shift + RMB - Resize Brush
Shift + Alt + RMB - Color Wheel
Ctrl + F - Redo last filter
Ctrl + D - Deselect selection
Alt + Click on the eye of a layer - Isolate layer


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