The latest update to ZBrush, 2021.6, brings new tools for creating complex and interesting armor along with many other things that require hard surfacing. From spaceships to buildings, you’ll find hard surface models everywhere, and generally along with that came tedious hours of detail work or building alphas for detail work.
This update brings us one tool, in particular, I want to focus on, the Project Mesh brush. That is PRO-ject as in projection. We’re not talking about a file to store your scene and assets but a brush that, combined with Live Boolean, makes us all look like master sculptors. Add in old school alpha sub and add you get a great looking piece of armor in minimal time with little fuss or headache.
The Project Mesh tool provides us with an easy base mesh, cutout mesh, and fill mesh creating armor that looks more complex than it actually is. While the armor is three layers in usage, making those three layers is a breeze that is more like drawing than sculpting.
We’ve long had the lasso and curve tools that do the heavy lifting in a lot of chores and they continue to do so when combined with new tools like the Project Mesh brush. While you can easily loop around and draw out shapes with its default lasso tool, I prefer the curve tool so I can draw lines, not loops, and have the single and double-click ALT button to help with curves and angles. The curve tool just seems more natural for my choice so the video tutorial accompanying this article focuses on that tool to layout the base, cuts, and fills.
Now as what the base, cuts, and fills are. Well... you’ll layout a base for your armor then cut out a majority of the base leaving an outline. The next pass you fill in most of the cutout leaving a three-layer base mesh. The last mesh, the fill mesh, can be subdivided as needed and then use alpha brushes the good, old-fashioned way to cut out or extrude hard surface features. Using symmetry is a must so we only have to construct one side of the armor mesh.
A Quick Look at Easy Armor Creation in ZBrush 2021.6
This does not cover painting or texturing as we all have different ideas about that. It does, however, go over all the necessary basic steps for all three layers and the embellishment of the top layer with alpha brushes using both ZAdd and ZSub.
In this tutorial we create one of the last pieces of armor, the lower arms, using symmetry to demonstrate the steps involved. After we draw out and create the base, we will then cut out most of that base and fill it with new mesh that we can subdivide to get nice clean lines and slopes from the alpha brushes.
Live Boolean is critical to the workflow for detail, and this is a high poly model just north of 28 million polys. I was able to decimate it down to around 400K without really trying so it could probably be squeezed down further. I never had low poly in mind when I sculpted this armor. This was a concept model created to learn new tools, so I was surprised to get it leaned down enough to get into iClone to animate.
With proper planning and the right techniques, one could expect to get the mesh down to useable levels for animation, but you won’t be making crowds of NPCs out of them unless you have one heck of a decimation pipeline.
The great thing... this is just one tool of many in the latest update.
iClone Demo of Decimated Mesh
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.