How did you use ZBrush in creating the environments?
Kevin Johnstone, Senior Artist
I rely heavily on ZBrush to render anything organic in an environment, and also to give most of my mechanical hard surface models a degree of weathering and damage so I can avoid making things look too manufactured or unused.
I treat ZBrush like a sculpting tool and work like a stone mason using a subtractive modeling style through use of the Clay brush (focal shift -80 / BrushAlpha 28) to strip a model of its smoothness initially. I follow up the Clay brush stage with MalletFast to punch in some holes and larger dents (which I tidy up with the Clay brush and flatten).
When I'm satisfied with the broad strokes I rely on the Standard brush to push and pull out the finer lines I want to pop more or when I want to add deeper crevice style cracks.
I make use of texture noise alphas of concrete that I partially generate from ZBrush with the GrabAlpha function and then manipulate in CrazyBump to overlay finer noise before using that as an alpha stamp or stencil with Projection Master or straight onto the model.
For the Locust series in Gears 2, I relied much more heavily on ZBrush and did 80 percent of the work in the app with only the first 20 percent produced in Max to ensure the asset works on the grid. I pushed more use of Alpha brushes and the Lazy Mouse feature so I could trail soft, faceted loops of deco detail along the main forms and ensure everything looked hand-carved and organic.
Using Lazy Mouse Alpha brushes really made the intense Locust deco detail possible, and helped me produce the set in half the time it would have otherwise.
Pete Ellis, Senior Artist
The main thing that I feel ZBrush 3 allows us to do with environment assets is to dig in at a near microscopic level of detail and model surface texture onto our objects.
Several conditions were important for my workflow when creating environment assets for Gears 2.
I always started with the most uniform base topology I could. I usually tried to make broad surfaces close to the same density as a chamfered edge. Sometimes this would result in a mesh that I would subdivide only three to four times within ZBrush, but I found that this would allow me the most even spread of polygons for projecting alphas onto. When an alpha contains a lot of noise, such as a concrete texture, it's important to uniformly spread the polygons as much as possible to maintain a cohesive look.
Alphas were a huge part of defining the Locust architecture. Some of the alphas I had the most fun with were simple arch shapes tapering off into a curved point. When using an alpha like this with the lazy stroke (and stroke spacing settings tweaked just right) I was able to get a sort of ribbed spinal look flowing across the surface. This helped to define larger areas, which would then be filled in with less repetitive alphas.
One great thing about the alpha approach is that it allows artists to easily share images and create a library of art that can be used over and over in different ways. Assets created with this in mind will always be unique but share a commonality that helps keep things tied together regardless of variations in individual artists’ styles.
A major theme of Locust architecture is that it is carved from subterranean cave rock. I struggled for a little while trying to get a nice, chiseled rock look until I found the MalletFast brush. This brush proved to be a godsend in creating a convincing rock surface.
When it came to human architecture within Jacinto, I mainly used ZBrush to put dings and dents into surfaces. I would typically use a really soft large brush to put some waviness into the surface so as to not work with a mathematically flat plane. Next, I’d add pock marks, bullet holes, etc. with small size basic brush, and then use the Slash brush to put creases and, well, slashes into things!
I also found ZBrush to be particularly indispensible when it came to creating cloth folds on statues. I created a few statues that were either standalone pieces or part of a larger piece, and typically I would just bring in the cloth element in the most basic fashion possible and do the majority of the modeling within ZBrush using the standard brush and Pinch brush to create nice seams.