So you originally started out sculpting everything in clay?
Yes... does that answer the question?
Just kidding; I will elaborate. The industry has changed so much in the past five years. For a while, sculpting by hand was the only way to go. Everything for the most part would start out in clay to rough in the basic shapes of a figure. From there we would have to make a mold and cast that sucker in wax so we could get some of the finer details. It’s the same mentality as starting off with a base mesh and then subdividing to get your detail in when you are ready, though it takes WAY more work and time. It takes at least a night for a mold to set so we could cast from it, so the rough clay by default would add a day to the workflow.
As computers started to get thrown into the mix it would save us some sculpting time because we could work from scans or models that the client could supply, or we could even make our own rough models in C4D or Maya. This helped cut down on sculpting time a bit, but it did add print time and then there still was the mold work that had to be done. Who really likes molding? Even the word sounds unpleasant... moooooooold!
What led to transitioning into digital sculpting? What have the advantages been since doing so?
A friend of mine convinced me to try it out. After sculpting for a bit I suddenly saw the amazing potential of digital sculpting. ZBrush’s tools were actually analogs to my real world tools, and the interface was surprisingly user friendly. (Yay! I no longer have to put on magnifiers and hand sculpt a 1” princess head with a needle tool!) The scalability of working digitally, as well as the ability to quickly make changes that weren’t permanent, meant we could turn around sculptures faster and easier. Within a few months, I found I was working exclusively digitally.
Someone mentioned to us that a lot of sculptors were moving over to a program for our kind of work. So I went online and looked up some videos on what this ZBrush thing could offer us. After seeing the tools that could allow me to take my .Obj meshes, sculpt on them and then pose them without rigging, I was sold. At the time ZBrush 3.5 was just being revealed and I told Robert that we needed this in our studio. I bought a book and then took an intro to ZBrush course and a ZBrush-focused anatomy class taught by Zack Petrok. From that point forward, ZBrush has been an integral part of Little Wonder Studio's workflow.
It was really very sudden. I think James and I took that first class together. We found it very interesting and picked up a license and got up to speed. Once we found that we could actually get a really fine detailed sculpt with great speed and little output clean up, we were in love. As far as advantages go, speed is the biggie. It took a bit to get used to it and figure out a strategy but we quickly got into the swing. Also, as more updates came out with new tools and plugins, we were able to move even farther away from other packages to stay primarily in ZBrush.
Why do you use ZBrush so prominently compared to other 3D applications?
Things just run more smoothly staying in one package. It is so quick and easy now to create parts right on the model within ZBrush without jumping back and forth.
What is your technique for starting from scratch in ZBrush? Why use ZBrush from the very beginning?
After years of using ZBrush and watching video tutorials, I found that the best way to start a project is with some techno music and the “dog” tool. (Just kidding!) If the project is a human head or body I usually start with a mesh that was made in C4D as my base mesh, then I take it to ZBrush from there until the end.
Working with a nice low-polygon mesh right from the beginning makes it a lot easier later on when we get the comments back from both the client and the licensor. We can make necessary changes while still keeping it on original model.
Kevin: True! It also really depends on the project; they are all so different -- from the ridiculously cartoony to the very realistic. Sometimes we will use stock bodies or meshes like James said that we have created and which fit the bill. If there is a project that needs something more unusual, DynaMesh is our friend. It gets us there quickly by allowing us to focus more on the job at hand rather than spending so much time on a base mesh.
Plus everyone works a little differently at our studio and we each have our own way of starting off and reaching the finish line. That is one of the nice parts about being a small studio. We all have our own processes but work well enough together that there are no bumps in the pipeline. Since we are all working in ZBrush, we can easily hand a job off to someone else and work in our own ways without worrying about drastically changing anything that the other person has done.
Heather: Yes, for example many of my sculpts begin as 24 sided polyspheres. I tend to use the Move tool to initially rough out the shape I want, using the Slice Curve and Extractions to modify the geometry of the beginning shape. That way, as my sculpt progresses I keep a very low subdivision level in case I have to go back and make major changes to the overall shape. I will occasionally use ZSpheres or DynaMesh, particularly if a deadline will not allow me the time to retopologize a piece. In my experience, it’s generally better to work with a lower subdivision level, providing a better foundation for the sculpt.
Kevin: It is really cool how we can all have our own processes yet still work together very smoothly.
James: Yeah, as long as there is techno, metal or some J-pop going, you can do anything in ZBrush!