WXS-07 'Depopulator'

This is a personal project I’ve been working on - on and off - for the last couple of months. When I started it was with the aim of creating an entire hard-surface character completely in Zbrush without falling back on the 3dsMax crutch.
I found an interesting concept by Jerad Marantz, and decided to go with it. It’s just a single front perspective sketch so I had to design/improvise the rest.


I’m just going to use this thread as a kind of progress report/process on how I created the project. I thought it might be of interest to any beginners or those new to hard-surface creation in ZB.

The original character is a ‘Marauder’ from the Thor universe, so as the initial challenge turned to a full-blown project the character background evolved. There are several Latin derivitives of the word marauder: preadator, and the word I chose for the character, depopulator. So this led to the background story…(which is always a good idea as it often drives your design decisions)

It is the cliched near-future. Earth’s population has tripled again, and is untenable. Governments have banded together to brainstorm on a ‘final solution’…Sci-Corp win the lucrative contract…

Sci-Corp Industries has been commissioned to engineer a depopulation strategy with little allowance for liberal footnotes. A drastic measure has been devised: 7 foot tall, genetically engineered mutant-cyborgs!

Enter WXS-07(weaponised-xtreme-system) - cognomen Depopulator. Latest prototype.

I started with a pre-built basemesh and just pulled the forms around to define the silhouette. This initial ‘clay’ can be anything really, a sphere, a Zsphere, whatever. It’s not important as I’m just looking for the initial forms/silhouette. Then it’s on to Dynamesh concept sculpting.


I just use the basic brushes in the image above plus snakehook and a variation in the clay brushes.
It’s mostly just carving/building out forms, sketching placeholders, and pulling things around. The process
is loose and at no time am I being too precious or needlessly noodling on specific parts, which just stunts
the process and wastes time needlessly. This is just the concept and will eventually be retopologised
for the clean, final result.

More to follow soon…

Once the concept sculpt is complete it’s on to retopolgy. There are several ways to do this in Zbrush: Zsphere topo, Topology brush, Zremesher. I mostly used Zsphere topo as the aim is to create the silhouette of each piece of armour with very sparse topology and use creasing/subdivide/Zremesh for the final sculptable topology.



And I also used the slice curve/Zremesh method for some parts


Looking good there!

looks good indeed

@SKYWAYS128 @KorayAtes Thanks lads. Appreciate the comments.

Creating the arms was just a matter of drawing out the parts with the curvetubes brush and using move topological(or mask by polygroups) to tweak the layout. Then I deleted the backfacing geo for easy unwrap and added extra detail using Zmodeler.
For the interlocking armour sections I created a simple insert mesh brush and positioned them the same.


Here’s another piece done using simple Zsphere topo and Zmodeler to add detail:


And the final sculpted result below. Because I used a combination of Zbrush detailing and Substance Painter normal map detailing it was
important to set up a workflow that resulted in sculptable topology that was fast to achieve for each piece(nearly 40 in all) and avoided
unnecessary complex manual retop that wouldn’t have served as good sculptable topology unless a lot of time was taken to build it to
suit sculpting. Plus as the pieces were built with no backfaces/thickness this makes it much easier to unwrap(all of which was done
directly in UVMaster) Lastly I decimated with ‘keep UVs’ checked and the asset is ready for texture painting.


The Zsphere topo/Zmodeler/Crease/Zremesh method I used for the majority of the objects can be found in part 2 of this 3-part vid tutorial series I have on my YT channel.

And also the SliceCurve/Zremesh method is shown(also on my channel) here:

<iframe width=“560” height=“315” src=“https://www.youtube.com/embed/xtGEghClPsw” frameborder=“0” allowfullscreen

And here:

<iframe width=“560” height=“315” src=“https://www.youtube.com/embed/nlYVd4RPvig” frameborder=“0” allowfullscreen

Great thread Danny:+1:
I’m not a member of youtube and so it’s a great pleasure to thank you for the fabulous videos you post.

Heyy I didnt check the name when I was replying previously…I’m a subscriber and I watched almost all of your videos, not completely ofcourse that would take ages but skimmed through and learned alot from you…Thanks much for the videos…Cheers :slight_smile:

@boozy floozie Thanks mate. glad you’re enjoying the vids. :slight_smile:

@KorayAtes Cheers man, yes, there’s a lot of hours to get through on my channel. :slight_smile: thanks for the sub. Great to know the vids have helped you in your learning path.

Early in the process of turning the rough concept sculpt into finished pieces I began working on the head sculpt. The head started life as a trusty sphere, and was then dynameshed.


Usually as a sculpt progresses I will work at a very low-res most of the way through, Zremeshing when I can’t get the forms I want with the topology I have. I always work low like this and only go up to a higher res when refining the forms and adding tertiary details. I see a lot of beginners in Zbrush
jumping up to a ridiculous high-res when they haven’t even got the basic forms in place. My rule of thumb - both for hardsurface modeling and organic sculpting - is : only add geometry when you can’t get the forms with the geometry you currently have. The great thing about Zbrush is that the tools and
workflow work so non-destructively that you can change or revert this stuff any time you want, duplicating subtools and re-projecting all day long.


As the back part of the head was going to be under the helmet it didn’t need the same density for sculpting, but I still wanted geometry
there for SSS shading/lighting in the final render, This is where polypaint density comes in handy.

It was important to sculpt the head with the finished helmet/headgear pieces in place as it had to look like the flesh
was being compressed .


When sculpting organics I have a few matcaps that I switch between, and I will always use the Basic material as it reacts to Zbrush’s interactive
light. I can’t stress how important this is when sculpting as a lot of the matcaps won’t give you a true representation of your sculpt. Sculpting
is essentially manipulating how light and shadow falls on your sculpt. So it is imperative the light is constantly moved around to check how the forms
This is one of the best things for me about the Keyshot bridge. It allows me to instantly check my forms under true, physical 3D lighting.


So it is imperative the light is constantly moved around to check how the forms

Great advice Danny - adding a folder of saved lighting presets in your ZBrush Application Directory is a good way to quickly access saved lighting settings from your Lightbox directory as well as quickly reset the light back to a saved default position.

Pressing Cntrl+P will engage the plugin ‘Interactive Light’ (ZPLugin>Misc Utilities) this allows you to move the light over the form when moving your mouse.

Render Menu >Render Properties>“View Blur” - this can be set to a hot key to check overall tonal values without getting lost in details. Of course squinting your eyes does the same thing :slight_smile:

Some additional advice that I gave recently to Tomerk is the ability to be able to adjust and diminish shadows that occlude your forms details when sculpting with matcaps or materials. When you create your custom interface placing these 3 buttons to your interface will greatly help adjust your shadows as you work and help you see better/ judge surface depth in these occluded areas
1, Render Menu > Shadows
2, Render Menu >Preview Shadows >ObjShadow
3,Render Menu>Preview Shadows >Length

Yours etc,

Something I forgot to mention earlier is the step in the process that can be taken advantage of to derive a game asset, if that is the intention of the project. Or if at a later stage you want to have the option to create a game asset you can save out the tool for later use.


As I mentioned earlier, all Zremeshed parts were unwrapped directly in Zbrush using UVmaster. A simple one-click job as
the parts were all single-sided geometry(no thickness) I didn’t in this case - as each part had its own texture sheet - but
the UVs from UVmaster can easily be tweaked/scaled/normalised/combined/etc in your 3D application later on.



And here are some clay renders of the final model. UV-ed/decimated and ready for texturing in Substance Painter.





Really nice hard surface work!

@Derek Frenzo, cheers mate. Thanks for the comment.

nicely done.

@gabo1991, thanks man.

EDIT: Haha! Just realised you are, in fact, Paul Gaboury. Practically the grandfather of ZB hard-surface. :slight_smile:

And thank you for being part of the small group of people that have allowed us to put brain to screen in such a wonderful way.

Towards the end of the modeling process I started to think of my final illustration. The last few projects I’ve done, I’ve taken them straight from Zbrush to Keyshot to render passes, and finish up with a paintover in Photoshop. This process has been popular for a number of years now and can be quite liberating in comparison to days and days of shader look dev/render testing that often accompanies rendering a straight beauty pass from Vray(with render element passes) The Keyshot process is different(but can be done in any renderer including Zbrush) as I’m just rendering passes of different materials/lighting which will be masked and heavily painted in Photoshop…So with all that said, this time I decided to return to Vray for the endless hours upon hours of watching tiny render buckets crawl across my screen…:slight_smile:

Then I hit a complete spell of indecision on the colour scheme I wanted to go for. I tormented myself and became obsessed to the point of abandoning the project for nearly 2 months as I was not sure what direction in which to take the colouring!! There is so much well-known sci-fi work out there with easily recognisable and iconic colour schemes that this was a much harder decision than I thought. Eventually I settled on the scheme below, having tested the good old orange/white/grey scheme…the black/red theme…the blue/yellow theme…and a few others.(another fantastic bonus of SP:trial and error/iteration/realtime colour scheme brainstorming;) ) The military drab olive/yellow/black(and tiny hints of orange, later) worked well for me in the end, I feel. So that 2 months lost wasn’t procrastination, it was research, dammit!

As crazy/compulsive/ocd as this may seem to some, this was probably the most important point in the project for me and I just refused to continue until I was 100% on the scheme. If you’re going to give many, many hours of your life to a personal project, don’t rush it. You’ll only do it once so make it count.

The primary reason for the choice of rendering in Vray was Substance Painter. As I had the character fully UV-ed, I thought it would be a great opportunity to run the entire lot through SP and see what comes out. Plus I wanted to see what the high-poly workflow would be like and also an excuse to play with the SP Vray export preset. Here’s an early look-dev test with the first iteration of the smart material to test the export preset and set up the basic shader in Vray. This is just with a few base layers and some blocking out/masking.
And also, a major plus for the texturing/rendering in Vray Vs material render pass comping in something like Keyshot is that you’re not locked to a camera view, so you can set up the shot from any perspective and have all that texture detailing for free;) whereas in the other workflow you have to recomp/repaint from scratch for every illustration.


This was a smart material that I built up from scratch in SP. The beauty of it was that I could build this template material and run all the other assets through it, ensuring consistency throughout.(as I think I mentioned earlier there are nearly 40 different armour parts) and because all the parts were still high-poly I couldn’t just bring them all in to SP together. But with the smart material I wouldn’t have to as I knew it would work seamlessly on all the parts. I’ll post up the material tree in a later post.