The relatively recent introduction of extremely powerful dedicated sculpting applications
, like ZBrush
, have raised the bar for the quality of 3D models being created today. They've sped up the process and changed the way 3D modelers work, instead of painstakingly moving vertices around they now have the chance to work much more naturally and intuitively. The use of a 3D sculpting package has found its way into the workflows of just about every 3D
Let's go over some very important tips and workflow techniques to get you on your way to creating lifelike sculpts that’ll have people asking, is this real or 3D?
Reference Is Key
Reference images are your best friend when it comes to sculpting photorealistic models. There’s no better way to sculpt organically than to model from life. It's a good idea to have a strong reference library built up that you can refer back to when needed.
You may be creating a character completely based off of reference images. Other times you may be incorporating different aspects of reference into a single sculpt. For instance, you may like how the nose looks on one piece of reference and the shape of the eyes on another. Don't be afraid to use your creative license to achieve the look that you want.
Without an understanding of anatomy, it can be extremely difficult to sculpt a realistic model
. Knowing the muscle groups, the skeleton and how they fit within a character ensures that your model is accurate and believable. It also allows you to quickly establish the overall structure and form for the sculpt when you know the proper placement and how it fits on a character.
A great exercise to do when wanting to learn anatomy is of course study it, but you can also create your sculpt one level at a time. Start with the skeleton of the character. Once that’s established, then sculpt in all of the muscle groups. Finally, build the flesh over that.
Do these three different levels on separate layers so you can sort of dissect your model and see how everything works together. You don't need to do that every time you create a new sculpt, but if you just do it once or twice you'll start to remember where everything goes, and it's a great way to put your anatomy proficiency to the test.
Knowledge of anatomy is not just important for human or animal characters. Even if your character isn't a real one, such as a creature, it still needs to be based on some form of reality to be believable.
Working in symmetry mode or creating one side of your model and mirroring it over is an extremely handy feature to have at your disposal, but you need to remember that there isn’t really anything organic in real life that’s perfectly symmetrical. Breaking up the symmetry in your model is vital for creating a natural and believable sculpt.
Of course you can still work in symmetry mode to establish the form for your model, but try to break away from this, especially when creating finer details like wrinkles. You can also take the move brush and adjust the placement of certain areas on your sculpt. For instance, moving the corner of the mouth just slightly lower than the other side will add that nice touch of realism to the model.
Learn Your Brushes
Your sculpting application will have countless brushes available to you, each one serving a different purpose. You should familiarize yourself with these brushes to learn their advantages so you know which one is best for the job.
For instance, a wax brush is great for slowly building out form while the knife brush is good for adding finer details. Your sculpting application also allows you to build your own custom brushes that are especially helpful for creating brushes to meet your needs if the default ones don't suffice.
Sketch Your Ideas
Before starting your sculpt, it ‘s helpful to study your reference and experiment with the anatomy by doing sketches of the character. This'll allow you to see what works and what doesn't. It's much faster to sketch an idea than it is to try and sculpt it.
Use a Base Mesh
Most sculpting applications have a few base meshes built in that you can pull from to start your sculpt. These meshes can be manipulated into any look you want so don't think you're stuck to the style of the mesh. As you sculpt more, try building up your own library of base meshes you can use. This library will speed up the process so you won't have to rebuild the mesh from the ground up each time you start a new project.
Build Up the Form
Try using something like a wax brush to start building up the main forms for your character. There’s no need to worry about those finer details at this point. You should be establishing the structure for your character. The process of building up the form is where an understanding of anatomy and reference images lends a helping hand.
Sculpt the Finer Details
Now that you have the form established, you can go in and start adding finer details to really increase the realism of your model. Experiment with different brushes to achieve wrinkles or scars, and use an alpha to add things like skin pores or bumps to the surface of the model. You can also use this time to break up the symmetry of your sculpt.
There’s a lot that goes into creating a photorealistic sculpt, and there’s no secret formula to producing lifelike sculpts. But implementing some of these tips and workflows can put you on the right track. Some projects require a different approach than others, but if you pay close attention to the details and have a strong understanding of anatomy, you’ll be on your way to creating amazing lifelike sculpts!
Learn how to sculpt detailed models and assets with captivating detail with 3D sculpting tutorials
, including ZBrush sculpting tutorials
and Mudbox sculpting tutorials