ZBrush Character Design - Dynamic Thumbnail Techniques with Cesar Dacol Jr.

Learn the art of ZBrush character design with master concept artist & creature creator, Cesar Dacol Jr.

Sep 12, 2012

I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  That’s all I kept thinking about while watching this week’s lesson.

This week’s video, Zbrush Character Design, is all about digital sculpting.  For those of you who’ve never heard of ZBrush, it’s a truly expansive computer program that allows you to create designs digitally on a computer.  Today we’re replacing clay with polygons, hands and tools with a mouse and a cursor.  In the larger scope of things, it’s a relatively new medium, but it’s an important one.  If you’re viewing it for the first time, it has some similarities to Photoshop, but is definitely is the next level in character design.

Every artist has their opinion on different mediums, and every artist will be more than happy to give you their pros and cons of each.  In this case, the leader of our lesson, master ZBrush sculptor Cesar Dacol Jr. will tell you that for him it’s all about forward momentum.  This is where ZBrush really shines.  It is a medium that allows you to get from point A to point B in the quickest format possible without having to backtrack and repeat work.  He says it’s all about, “getting there,” and this is most important when dealing with producers and directors.  For them, it’s all about “getting there” in the quickest, and most importantly cheapest, way possible.  In these types of cases, ZBrush is incomparable.

Now, on the surface ZBrush seems a bit overwhelming.  That’s fine.  That’s normal.  But don’t shy away from it.  Just dig in.  Cesar digs in by creating a series of dynamic thumbnails for his creature.  By using a few thumbnails to then combine and mix and match, he creates many more.  This is a much simpler process than creating each one individually.  Plus, it’s here that he talks about finding those “happy accidents.”  As you watch you’ll see how a few of these “happy accidents” show themselves, and it’s a cool thing to see.  This dynamic thumbnail process is a perfect showcase of how ZBrush can be a wonderful tool for not repeating yourself and moving quickly.  Remember, it’s all about forward momentum.  Cesar stresses that concept repeatedly and, trust me, it’s something very good to learn if you’re ever going to work in film or TV.

The remainder of this first volume of the ZBrush process is very similar to sculpting with clay.  Start with the basic shapes, then add more detail, and keep refining.  As you watch Cesar do things such as the creating the fingers, adding the wrinkles around the neck, lengthening the jaw, finalizing the face, and adding teeth, you become transfixed with the process.  At first the computer may seem like a daunting medium to sculpt on, but those initial “fears” go away as you watch.

Like I said at the beginning, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Yes, the medium has changed, but like I said, as the video progresses and gets into the actual nitty gritty sculpting of it all, you’ll realize that, well… sculpting is sculpting.  It still requires a knowledge of anatomy (something Cesar says should just be a “given”.)  It still requires artistic talent.  And it still requires a massive amount of patience and attention to detail.  In the end, what amazed me was how initially it seemed so vastly different, and by the end I almost forgot about the medium, and just focused on the sculpture itself.

Art is art.  The medium may change.  But the art stays the same.

Check out the lesson HERE.

-Jeff Dixon