Join Ryan Kittleson for an in-depth discussion in this video Modular character design in ZBrush, part of ZBrush: Tips & Tricks.
- You can certainly design characters in ZBrush by just jumping in and starting to sculpt. But with a little bit of forethought, you can setup your scene for modular design. Now, by this I mean creating all the different parts of the character's body as separate objects, so that they're easier to move around and modify separately. It'll also be easier to make variations on a single design this way, so let's see how it works. Okay, so I got a very simple cartoony character here. As you can see, all of her different body parts and clothing are separate objects.
Now later on, they'll probably be combined into one object and DynaMeshed together so that everything is smooth. But while I'm trying to figure out what the design should be, it's a lot easier if all these parts are separate. So for example, if I click on the nose here and I want to make an adjustment to the design. Let's say I'm not totally happy where this nose is. I could get my move brush out, B + M + V, get a nice big draw size here. And I could just push this nose around anywhere. I could stretch it out, could make it thinner, wider.
It's very fluid, very easy to make changes like this at this stage. Now if that nose had been sculpted on, it'd be much harder to reposition it relative to the face. So let's take a look at this from the side. You can see that there's a very hard, sharp edge between the two. And let's say we want a nice smooth transition from the nose to the head. Well, that's easy to achieve once you're happy with the placement of the nose on the face. So let's combine them by moving this nose up next to the head. And I'm going to select the head and just merge it down.
So let's go to Merge, Merge Down. And this is just telling us that we can't undo this merge. That's okay. Now that they're one object, we can DynaMesh them together. Let's go to Geometry, DynaMesh, and click DynaMesh. Okay, so you can see they're now fused. So one thing I might want to do is just hold down Shift and smooth out that transition. Let's take a look at another part of her. I'm going to Alt + Click on this hand, and we'll zoom in here.
Now one thing I might want to do, let me turn on Solo Mode so we see just the hand, I want to hit Shift + F to turn on wireframe as well. So you can see that all the fingers and the palm of the hand are separate polygroups and they're not connected to each other. They're kind of free floating, but they're all within one single subtool. So how do we move these independently? Well there's a couple different ways about this. I'm going to hit Shift + F to turn off the wireframe. So one thing I like to do is go to Brush, go to Auto Masking, and turn up Mask by Polygroups.
Let's turn this all the way to 100. So what this does is it means that any editing you do only applies to the polygroup that you're clicking on. So let's say for example, I want to rotate this finger. If we click and drag from the base of the finger, and now we rotate. The rotation only applies to the one polygroup that I was clicking on. So we could reposition this manipulator, maybe rotate the finger this way, back that way, whatever we want to do.
And if we put the manipulator on a different object, and let's say we want to move this one up a little bit, very easy to do. And this works with any brush. So for example if I have the move brush selected, B + M + V, we can move all these things independent from each other just by clicking on them. And when we're happy with the position, just like before, we can hit DynaMesh, and now everything is fused together. Actually looks like the resolution on the DynaMesh was a little bit low, hit Control + Z to undo that.
Let's bring up the resolution somewhat and try that again. Okay, now we got a more detailed result. And maybe we can just smooth out this transition a little bit. So we're just going to hold down Shift and smooth this out. Okay, nice. Something else that's very easy to do when you're working on a modular design is to try out different variations of hairstyles, for example. So we can see here that we've got one hairstyle, but there's also a hidden hairstyle right here.
And if I turn this one on or make it active, we can see it, and there's something a little bit tricky about how ZBrush works with the visibility of your subtools. If a subtool is hidden, you can still see it if it's the active subtool. So what we can do is hide this other hair, and then we can use the arrow keys up and down to flip back and forth between the two different hair designs. So this makes it very easy to get a sense of which design we like better. When you decide on one of the hairstyles, you want to make it visible.
However, if you click on the eye while you're on the active subtool, it's actually going to make all of them visible, which is probably not what you want. So actually to make this one visible, just click on the little icon of it, and now that will make it visible without turning visibility back on to the other one as well. Okay, one final thing I want to talk about with how to work with modular design is showing you how you can move different subtools together as one. And this is done with the transpose master.
So if we go into ZPlugin, Open up Transpose Master, and hit TPoseMesh, what this does is it creates a temporary tool. You see right here, it's called TPose. And this is a temporary tool where we can work on the entire ZTool at once as if it were all one subtool. And what this does if we turn on our wireframe, is it puts each subtool into its own polygroup. So now let's say we want to make the legs longer or shorter, so we can just hold down Control + Shift and click on the legs, and then click it again to invert that selection.
Now we can hide the feet, and now I'm going to Control + Click in an open area to mask what's visible, and now I'm going to Control + Shift + Click in an open area to bring back whatever's hidden. So now we've got just the legs and feet unhidden. So what I could do is get the move manipulator hold down Shift to snap it in a straight line. Go back to Brush, and turn on the Mask by Polygroups back off again, so we can see what the design looks like with shorter legs or longer legs or we could actually stretch these two together, get something like that.
So when we're done with that, we can just go back to our Draw mode, go to ZPlugin and go to TPose SubT, and this is going to take all those changes that we made to the transpose temporary mesh and applies them back to the individual subtools. We're just going to turn off the wireframe with Shift + F. Okay, so as you can see when all the different components of your character are separate objects, it makes it much easier to play with different ideas, different design variations, and get to a design that you like faster.
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