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Leathery skin is a special sculpting challenge. There's so much going on that it can become overwhelming. There are so many things to keep track of that sometimes it helps to make a list. The way that leathery skin looks is a combination of several things; one, how the underlying bone and muscle push and pull on the skin to form cracks. So for example, with this elephant, you can see that cracks are forming in a certain pattern that's because the motion of this elephant walking everyday for years has forced the skin into forming certain crack patterns.
Two, the variation of bumps on the skin and how those bumps transition across the skin. So for example, on this rhinoceros, you can see that there's where there's large bumps and then there's smaller bumps and there's kind of this transition in between them. That kind of pattern and the relationship between those different patterns can add a lot of believability, variety, and artistic interest in your work. Three, variations in thickness and firmness of skin. So looking at this image, you can see that there's some parts of the skin that are more thick and more leathery than others.
Around the eye, the skin is probably going to be a little softer, less hard and maybe on the trunk, the skin is going to be harder and that's going to affect how the skin bunches up and how wrinkles form. And then the last thing, number four, is a good helping of chaos. There's just a lot of random things that happen, and if you make everything the same, keep all the patterns looking the same, and going in the same direction, it's going to look artificial. If you change things up and just kind of do random things here and there, it's going to look a lot more believable.
Once you start thinking about these four factors and recognizing how they are creating the effects that you see in the reference, you'll be in a much better position to recreate those kinds of effects in your sculpture. So let's go into ZBrush. I want to start by making some major wrinkles and creases where the skin is most likely to get pushed and pulled by the underlying structure. Wherever there's joints or where limbs attached to the body, you can imagine how the skin will get repeatedly stretched. So I am going to zoom into the armpit area and I want to pull out the Crease Brush, B+C+J.So you can imagine that wrinkles are going to form around in this area.
So I am just going to carve in some and I want to keep some nice variation in there. So I am going thick and thin and I'm starting in some places and I'm not making them all the same length. I want to have some variety; I want some space between them to be a little bit different. So I have maybe some connecting to each other, some of them maybe starting far away and then moving closer to others, just a lot of nice variation. Then you can have some that cross the other direction too.
And maybe these are a little bit lighter, maybe they are a little bit more sparse, maybe they are a little shorter too. You can just play with all kinds of variation. If you don't like it, you just go in and erase it and start over. Now let's put in some major bumps. I want the skin close to the backbone of the creature to have more pronounced bumps and then get gradually smoother as it gets down to the belly. Try not to make a pattern that's too regular. So I want to go to the Custom Clay Brush, I am going to shrink it down a little bit, holding down the Spacebar, I am just going to draw on some bumps, maybe make some of them bigger, some of them a little smaller.
Just kind of try to space them out kind of randomly, and I want them to be bigger up here close to the back of the creature, and I want to transition to a little bit smaller down on the belly so that they are less pronounced down here. And I am putting them sort of in the spaces between the cracks as well, and of course, I'd probably be doing this over the entire surface of the creature, but just for an example, I'm going to focus on only the shoulder area. I don't want to use space too evenly.
Some can be close together, then others are more far apart. That kind of thing just adds interest. I don't want too smooth of a transition where they are very predictably transitioning from big to small. I want to kind of mix them up so maybe I'll have a small ones up with the big ones, maybe a few big ones down with the small ones, just keeping it interesting. Now that I've got some bumps, I can put in secondary wrinkles. These are creases that flow between bumps and also roughly perpendicular and parallel to the major creases.
So I'll go back to the Crease Brush, B+C +J and I am just going to kind of wind some creases in between these bumps. Again you just want to keep it natural, you don't want to maintain any predictable pattern. If you find yourself getting into a rut and just making everything the same, make a conscious decision to break that pattern and go in a different direction. So you see I am kind of going diagonally right down here. You kind of want to follow the shape of your limbs as well.
So if you come up to a limb, think about how that crease might interact with the muscle in the joints. Alright, I could probably keep going for a while with this, but let's move on. So now back to bumps. I am just going to zoom in a little bit closer and just add in another level of detail. I am going to go back to my Custom Clay Brush and make it a lot smaller. So now you can also get kind of just rough and random. You might even scribble some things and just to rough up the surface a little bit. I want to add some detail in this area.
You might want to experiment with different brushes. There's really no wrong brush to use here; you just want to make it look like it wasn't done by hand. You want to make it look natural, like it could really have existed on a real animal. And it can be hard to know exactly when you've gone far enough or too far. What I like to do is actually really push it until I know it's gone too far. That way I know to back off and maybe smooth out some of the roughness that I've made. So let's say I could really just take it too far here and just say that's just too much.
Maybe I'll just smooth it out a little bit. Go back to the Crease Brush, maybe just touch up a little bit there and I know that that's good enough. Don't worry about making the wrong details here. You can always smooth it over or sculpt over mistakes. It even helps to add to the texture and roughness of the surface to leave a little hint of your mistakes behind. One problem that some people run into is they get too timid at this stage. They don't want to ruin any of the anatomy that they've already created or sometimes people feel overwhelmed with the amount of work that will have to go into creating the fine detail.
The best approach that I've found is to just dive in and try a whole lot of things. There's just one last thing to be aware of. When I am sculpting this kind of detail, I usually have Symmetry turned on. However, when you get close to the center line of the creature, it becomes very obvious if you use symmetry. So for example, if I'm sculpting in some sort of detail here, it becomes looking artificial because it's so symmetrical. So what I'd like to do is turn off Symmetry when I am working close to the center line; just hit X to turn it off and then you can go in and sculpt things along the center line, and then as you start to get farther away from the center line, then you could turn Symmetry back on.
Sculpting this kind of detail is a challenge because it requires you to engage both your artistic brain and your analytical brain at the same time. It can also seem daunting because there's so much detail to make over the whole creature. I find it helpful to just put on some music, shut out the outside world, and attack it. If you get stuck, you can always look at some reference images to help you out.
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