Zbrush: The Revolution

As a  “digital artist” I’m fairly confident that I can provide some valuable information to anyone interest in, or looking to brush up on digital art. And by digital art I mean computer generated (CG) 3d models, Photoshop, etc. I’ll discuss a variety of topics in this 10 part series.
And for those interested in my credibility on the subject, my portfolio. Judge for yourself.
I can’t kick it off however without giving credit to a fairly recent revolution in the medium. Pixolgic‘s Zbrush. While CG art has been pretty much a requirement for movies, artwork, and is the back bone of video games, it hasn’t always been what it is today.

Zbrush Sculpting Gollum
Gollum from New Line Cinema‘s Lord Of The Rings. This is a detailed character rendered by a computer.

Clearly anyone who has watched older movies has noticed the lack luster graphics and special effects that don’t compare to today’s visuals. A few years ago dealing CG visuals was a serious pain. Artists did the best they could, but technical details frequently got in the way of creativity.
I don’t want to bog you down with the details, especially if you are unfamiliar with the process of creating a 3d model, so I’ll give a quick overview. Basically (just to break it down into basic english) you’ll create a model’s wireframe with points, lines, planes, etc. A texture, usually a .jpg file is then “wrapped” around the wireframe, which gives the wireframe it’s “color.” In order to make this texture first you have to “unwrap” a model. As you can tell, this is technical, and can be a bit difficult to follow. As a result, artists did their best, but they were limited by technical limitations at the time.

This is a model I created. On the left you can see the model with it’s wireframe. On the right you can see it’s “unwrapped texture.” On the right, it is essentially the wireframe flattened out. You can see where I’ve highlighted parts of the model on the left, and the selection correlates on the right. That part of the texture on the right, covers the part of the wireframe on the left.

Every once a while someone comes along with something that is described as a “revolution.” Zbrush was a new innovative way to detail 3d models. Developed by Pixologic, Zbrush not only allowed for more detailed models, it cut work time in half. It automated a lot of the technical things I was talking about above.
Let me explain…
Instead of unwrapped a model, you paint right on it. But it doesn’t stop there. You can sculpt a model in zbrush. Rather than building from a wireframe, you can sculpt like clay. This allows for uninterrupted creativity from the artist, without having to worry about technical details, like basic geometry, topology, or unwrapping. Painting on a flat texture is a pain, and can be hard to visualize, and not only that, inaccurate.  Painting on a 3d model however, well.. what you see is what you get.
Still not convinced? The movie Avatar was one of the first to add Zbrush to their workflow. Amazing visuals right?

Zbrush Sculpting Avatar
A character from the movie Avatar, which broadly boasts its use of Pixologic‘s Zbrush. This character was detailed freely in Zbrush.

Still not convinced? In June 2012 I uploaded a video of myself doing a speed sculpt of Marvel Comics‘ popular character, Venom, in Zbrush. In the video I go from start to finish sculpting the character from literally NOTHING. The video is quite popular, I might add, just shy of 20,000 views, and scoring over 100 likes.
Venom Zbrush Sculpt (2012, Ben Shukrallah)
You can easily see Zbrush in action here, with no help from any other software. Nothing but creative sculpting going on here.
It’s pushed the video game industry to new heights as well. Let’s take a look at a popular franchise, God of War, and see how Zbrush (along with better hardware) has helped push visuals.

Zbrush Sculpting Kratos
Kratos from God of War 2. This game predates the popularity of Zbrush. While good for it’s time, it’s sequel benefited greatly from the software package.

Zbrush Sculpting Kratos
Kratos in God of War 3. This model was sculpted and detailed using Zbrush. Granted, the game is running on more powerful hardware, it’s no joke that benefited from Zbrush.
Zbrush Sculpting
“Making of God of War 3″ Here we see Kratos being sculpted in Zbrush.
So I hope you can clearly see how and why Zbrush has revolutionized the digital art medium. It’s great. You can pick it up for $700 at Pixologic‘s website. Alternatively there is a trial version, and a free sculpting program called Sculptris, which is worth looking at, also made by Pixologic.
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