IVL Sketchbook

Hello Z-Brush,

I have been lurking on these forums for some years and in lieu of the exceedingly impressive artistry on this site, I have never had the nerve to post. However, even though I am a mouse amongst giants in here, I use Z-Brush on a daily basis so I figured it was time to man up and say hello. So here is my introductory post complete with some eye candy of my latest build, an Orca Whale skull, the second one ever to be completely digitized (we did the first too), Ill put up a side by side of both of the skulls and a few other things we did with the models once they were finished.

A little background, I am a research associate at the Idaho Museum of Natural History and I work for a non-commercial, NSF funded 3D digitization lab called the IVL where we scan various museum collections for research, archiving, and education. Our pipeline begins with 3D scans of an object that we then edit, clean, texture, etc. We rarely begin a build without scan data so we are not like the really core sculpture artists on this site though sculpting does play a big part of how we finish some of our builds.

Enough about all of that lets get to the pics, I will continue to post projects as they get finished and I am always more than happy to receive critiques, share tricks, and just generally join in the discussion.



This is the latest build. Lots and lots of editing went into making this model but I am quite happy with the end result so it was worth it.


A side by side of the two Orca skulls we have worked on. Simple render inside z-brush with the Fatmiri’s Grey Metal material (my favorite material for rendering bones).

z-shrunk render.jpg

Finally a full reconstruction of the first Orca we digitized. Each bone was put in place manually and then rendered out. This is currently printed out at a little over 8ft long and hanging outside of our museum’s gallery. Fun fun project!

Anyway, that ends my first post but Ill keep stuff coming.

Thanks for looking!!


z-shrunk render.jpg

Wonderful work, Nick! Thank you for sharing this. I would LOVE to see what other things you have done in this vein…


wow, very nice clean work. awesome to see how ‘outside’ experts use the software.
i’m in the same boat. i’ve been lurking on this forum for years but haven’t had the guts to post, probably because my work was pretty juvenile still.
i’ve been practicing a lot and taking a masterclass. i will post soon :small_orange_diamond::slight_smile:
how did you get into your field if you don’t mind my asking? everyone wants to work on big budget film projects it seems. i’d do mostly anything. love scientific work btw!

Very impressive. Really love your work and effort on the skeleton! Super Well done!

This is fascinating! please post more!
Has the museum ever considered releasing the properly digitized skeletons for artists to work from in zbrush?
it would be a very monumental step in helping artists to create more realistic interpretations of prehistoric creatures as well as living ones!

In any event -thanks for sharing such beautiful work!


Wow, fantastic! would be lovely to do reconstruction/anatomy kits like this of various animals. This is very refreshing
and masterfully finished. Look forward to seeing more :slight_smile:

Thanks for the great comments!

We have often considered doing model replica kits and other things of that nature but we tend to stay pretty focused in making various
research modules and other online applications. We have many irons in the fire though so there could be something down the road.

I will post some more stuff tomorrow along this line of work…we have quite a bit of material. A majority of it is scientific, but we have done some
artistic stuff as well. I will put up selection of both.

harapuzo, I got into this field as a graduate student in Anthropology. A group had started the facility and a professor told me to go check
them out so I did and I loved it. I was working there within a couple of weeks and have been ever since. :slight_smile:

thanks again for looking and commenting!


I work with Nick at the IVL. Our website is ivl.imnh.isu.edu if you’re interested in checking out our website. It’s a tad dated, haven’t updated it in over a year and we really need to get our heads out of the 3d stuff long enough to go over it again. Most of the work we are currently doing is for a NSF project titled The Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic, or VZAP for short. VZAP is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation (ARC-0808933, ARC-1023321).The whole thing is an attempt to create the most complete and comprehensive osteological comparative collection anywhere, but for the entire thing to be completely virtual. We have fish, birds, and mammals all together in one database. It’s currently designed to be the ultimate tool for faunal analysts, but the interface they want leaves most normal people totally confused. Our code monkeys here at Idaho State University are creating a interface for non-experts in faunal materials (meaning it’s made for the general public, not the bone people) but that isn’t quite public yet. You can go play with the database here if you want to:-)

And since Nick forgot to post this information with the images above, and we are supposed to do so, I figured I could do so here and not get in too much trouble :slight_smile: The second Orca we scanned (nicknamed Krozof after the island where he washed ashore) was recovered, processed, and scanned under NOAA Fisheries MMHSRP Permit 932-1905.

As a continuation of my introductory post, I will start adding images to this thread of past and present work conducted at the IVL. I hope you enjoy them. Once again I am always open to share tricks, receive critiques, suggestions, etc. So chime in and let me know what you think.

These particular images were created as mockups for various posters and other visual media. A few were created for an art walk we participated in last year spotlighting local artists.

thanks for looking!


Arctic Mammal Skulls.jpg
These are all rendered to scale. I have versions of this where each skull is labeled with their common and scientific names if anyone is interested i will post one of those too. We use photos of the actual objects to project our texture maps so variation or inconsitancies in the color information reflects the tones of the actual items represented. We rendered these with a wet look to exagerate morphology which warmed up the colors significantly but it was a tradeoff that we were willing to make.

bird skulls.jpg
Bird skulls from northern latitudes.

fatmirs cleaned.jpg
The same bird skulls rendered together with a skull from a teaching collection (hence the line around the cranium). This is my current desktop wallpaper and hopefully soon to be on a shirt.

walrus CT.jpg

walrus 3 view.jpg

bear CT.jpg
These three are manipulations we did with some CT scans of a black bear and a walrus. There is lots of good stuff hidden beneath the surface in CT scan data and we wanted to see it. So with much masking and a little patience we were able to peel back the layers and expose the inner workings…I love doing this kind of stuff.

More to come.

Thanks for looking!

Thanks for the follow up Rob. Devil is in the details :wink:



Bravo, skull heaven
ton of work there

incredible hard work :+1:

brilliant use for ZBrush… top row, and get on with it!!! :slight_smile:

Very cool stuff. What kind of scanning hardware and software was used? Was it all CT scan data or were other scanning procedures used?

It’d be cool to print some of those on a 3D printer. I’m located in Utah I might have to give you a visit up there sometime. :smiley:

I do a lot of work with scanning and 3d printing.

Really cool, thanks for posting these. Working on a lion skeleton atm and plan to do more skulls, so this was great timing! :+1:

MentalFrog, we use non-contact 3D digitizers to do all of our scans. Our primary scanner is a Konica Minolta 9i but we have two older Cyberware scanners, the MS and M15 (which are still awesome in my book), and of course a Next Engine. We are currently checking out Brueckman (amazing structured light scanners) to potentially add another tool to our chest.

We do have the capabilities to process CT data but do not have a CT scanner in house, we work with local radiology departments and other institutions to acquire the scans and then process them here (we use Mimics to do that). Other software that we use for building and mesh correction / cleanup / orientation etc. is Geomagic Studio and we throw in some Blender and Daz for good measure.

Aside from that, outside of the scanning software and authoring tools that come bundled with the hardware, Z-brush and Photoshop are our primary finishing tools.
We would be happy to have you, feel free to swing through anytime and we can show you the gear and facility :slight_smile:

Ill be adding some more images shortly.

Thanks for the comments!


ETA: Santis, we have never done a lion but we have done some other big cats that might be of help to you as reference material. They can be found on one of our main model sites called VZAP (http://vzap.iri.isu.edu/ViewPage.aspx?id=230), a Canadian lynx for sure, a Bobcat or two and there may be a Mountain Lion up there as well but I would have to check.

All of the models on that page can be accessed for free as 3D pdf’s so you will need a current version of adobe acrobat to view them but there are also high quality 2D photos of the bones available as well. Keep in mind when viewing them that we have to decimate down to about 1/10th of the surface resolution / mesh density in order to make them distributable online but if you see something and need a better view send me a PM and Ill put some stuff up in the thread. Good Luck!!

In following a request, I thought I would add some more stuff from the whale build posted in my first entry.

red clay spine render.jpgribs top view.jpgskull detail.jpgrender final build.jpglayout2big.jpg
These are just some of the build shots I captured as I was going through the articulation before I finally settled on a layout. The curve of the spine was way too exaggerated as you can see in the first pic here, so it got toned down before i started putting the ribs in.

gates studio small.jpg
This was taken inside of Gates Fine Arts Gallery in Pocatello. The poster to the left of the whale is the one i uploaded earlier in the thread…it too was printed out quite large (we have several of these, I will find pictures of them printed out and post them too).

whale small 2.jpg
It is currently down off the wall waiting for a new home so we snapped another shot to give some idea of scale. The print render is
96.16 X 33.3 inches but we increased the height to about 40 when we printed. Ill add another shot once it gets back on the wall outside the museum gallery.

The entire articulation was done inside of z-brush utilizing the subtools / transpose functions and then rendered out. Slightly adjusted the contrast in photoshop but not much, this is essentially a pure bpr render exported and printed. Gotta love being able to do so much in one program.

More to come soon!



Thought I would add these in before i call it for the weekend. We have posted a good deal of skeletal material but we work with other stuff as well. This is a quick shot of some cleanup texture work we did with some artifacts from a teaching collection that we scanned in many years ago.

As you can see, the mesh is Really low density / detail due to both the scanners we used to capture the data and the fact that I was quite new to modeling when I made these. It makes me want to pull them up and start ‘fixing’…must control the urge!

However, once Rob got some color data put back onto them the lack of detail in the scan files is compensated quite nicely and the effect is photo realistic. Just what we like to see. Simple bpr render from z-brush, nothing fancy. The color data does all the work here.

Enjoy and thanks for looking!

I will be back to posting content on Monday I am sure :smiley:

So cool!

best regards,

wow what an amazing idea. this would be a great place for sculptors to study anatomy and apply comparative anatomy! :smiley: