All-in-one Guide of ZBrush CC Pose Manager (Early Access of CC to ZBrush Posing Pipeline)
ZBrushGuide founder, Pablo Munoz Gomez gives away a whole course in 3D character creation. From concepting in Krita to sculpting in Character Creator 4 (CC4), he takes us on a ride of turning 2D concepts into articulated 3D characters with the strategic use of ZBrush and AccuRig. Explore ways to set up a humanoid character in ZBrush for easy rigging and posing with the ZBrush CC Pose Manager, a free plugin developed by Reallusion in collaboration with Maxon and ZBrushGuide. Don’t wait — get started now with early access to the plugin here!
*Note to readers: Since the publication of this article, the plugin referred to as “ZBrush CC Pose Manager” has been rebranded as “Pose Tools”. All references to ZBrush CC Pose Manager in this article should be understood to refer to Pose Tools or CC to ZBrush Posing Pipeline.)
Pablo Munoz Gomez is a renowned 3D concept and character artist, with a passion for education. 3D sculpting, visual development, and other mixed-media form the pillars of his artistic passion which he channels through the various platforms that he owns, including ZBrush Guides, 3D Concept Artist Academy, and 3D Snippets Project. Thanks to his vast online following, he is able to reach artists from around the world and help them advance in a variety of 3D-related disciplines.
The workflow I’m going to show you through the video series is a real game changer when it comes to posing and managing poses in ZBrush as it allows you to keep all your subdivision levels while testing and prototyping all sorts of poses!Pablo Munoz Gomez – Founder of ZBrush Guides
This article is a part of a transcript series based on Pablo’s tutorial videos and the following content is presented in his own words.
Design Characters with Thumbnail Sketches
Let’s create a full-body character project from scratch using ZBrush and CC4!
To start off, I will be focusing on the ideation process and generate some ideas for the character. The goal is to create a character that can be rigged using the CC4 AccuRig feature and test its integration with ZBrush.
I began the process by sketching lots of rough ideas using Krita. I only spent around thirty seconds on each sketch, just enough to get the gesture and the general shape of the volumes, without any detail. You can use any tool you prefer, but I like using Krita because of its experimental brushes. I also use Procreate when I just want to take a more relaxed approach.
The setup is simple, with a light gray background and using a hard brush to sketch pure black on a new layer.
I then did a second pass to figure out the volumes inside the silhouette. I used some tips, such as using “alpha clip” to restrict my brushstrokes to the silhouettes, customizing the brush to add a bit of “wet mixing“, imagining a single key light from above each character, using a slightly darker gray for the foreground, and even at this stage, defining ideas for the materials.
From all the sketches I created, I settled on one silhouette that I felt had a good balance and some areas for extra details. I then refined the silhouette on a larger resolution to use as a reference for the character design.
For those who might not be as comfortable with 2D sketches, I have some tricks to help get started with 3D sketches. You can use CC4 to morph a base silhouette, take a screenshot or render the image directly, fill the layer with black, and paint over it with additional shapes.
Another option is to put together a ZSphere armature in ZBrush, pose it using the Rotate tool, add primitives, and render a BPR. You can then use the alpha and invert it to black, and start painting on top to refine the silhouette.
Setup the 3D Concept in ZBrush
With a more defined idea of what I wanted to create, I used a base mesh from CC4 just to get a rough idea of the proportions. The goal of the project was to use a different topology anyway, so I ended up Dynameshing and sculpting it in ZBrush.
I split the body into various parts like the hands, legs, head, and body, and then used Dynamesh and sculpting brushes to bring the silhouette closer to the reference sketch. I also added a couple of extra pieces using cylinders for the neck and the wrists of the suit, and defined the cuts and panels with the “cutter brush” from my H.R. Giger tribute pack.
At this stage, it was very sketchy and low-resolution, but I was able to assign polygroups to the body suit based on the cuts I made with the cutter brush. This not only allowed me to test the palette with a quick polypaint color but also guided the ZRemesher process later on.
The next step was to start the polishing process and cleanup of the forms. I increased the Dynamesh resolution of all subtools to add more details and refine the cuts and panels. For example, with the head, I increased the Dynamesh resolution to define the secondary shapes and add folds around the side of the face, neck, and mouth. I then used ZRemesher to generate a cleaner topology for the head and sculpting brushes to add details and polish the head.
The process for the body suit was the same, using the polygroups to guide the loops of the ZRemesher process and then using PanelLoops to generate the cuts inside the panels and polish the surface a bit more. I also used the polygroups to mask some areas and add wrinkles to give a hint of the different types of materials on the suit.
For the final step, I duplicated the entire mesh of the body suit, used selection tools to isolate some polygroups and deleted the rest, and then used Dynamic Subdivision to add thickness to generate the extra hard-surface objects. I used IMM brushes to create the tube connectors, and took advantage of the polygroups to add wrinkles and folds using a custom brush from the Cloth and Drapery pack.
Regarding the design of the space creature, I wanted to push the AccuRig tool inside CC4 and try new things, such as a low center of gravity, three fingers on each hand, and a combination of hard-surface and soft deformation parts. I also wanted to keep the neck piece completely solid when doing the rig.
Polishing & Remeshing the 3D Sculpt
At this point of the process, I’ve completed the setup and sculpting of the character in 3D, it’s now time to move on to the textures. I’ll briefly talk about how I approached planning and baking the high-resolution mesh into the low-resolution mesh and how I used Substance 3D Painter to create the texture sets of the creature.
Let’s start with the planning process. Organizing the assets is an important step to make sure that the baking and texturing stages go smoothly. I started by having a high-resolution mesh with all the details and a low-resolution mesh with UVs. To simplify the process, I tried to keep the number of subtools in both high and low-resolution meshes to a minimum, making sure that they match. I also separated the objects based on the material or texel density to have more control over the details.
An important thing to keep in mind when merging subtools is that in ZBrush, you can only combine objects with the same number of subdivision levels. If you have different levels, you’ll have to make them the same before merging. Another important thing to remember is to make sure that the UVs switch in the Merge section is enabled to keep your UVs. In my case, I had overlapping UV islands, so I used Ryzom UV to pack them and update the UVs of the low-resolution mesh.
Next, I exported the low- and high-resolution versions of the model, keeping the same name on the subtools and only changing the suffix from “_low” to “_high”. In Substance 3D Painter, I used the Match by Name option to bake the details from the high-resolution mesh to the low-resolution mesh.
Once the baking process was completed (just a few minutes of computing time), I generated the base color palette for each piece of the character:
You might have noticed that there are already some details and patterns on this blocking of the color palette. This is because some of the base materials I used are substances that come with certain details like the hexagonal pattern on the green areas or the padded stripes on the abdominal area.
Next, I spent some time adding some wear and tear and adjusting the brightness of the colors. The change might be subtle, but when you add all these subtleties together, you’ll get something pretty cool. I then focused on unifying the base colors and varying the roughness a little bit. My goal was to maintain the bright and saturated colors that I thought would go well with the character’s stylization, but also keep them within the same hue range.
There’s a simple trick that I like to use in Substance 3D Painter, which can override the hue. You can create a fill layer on top of your stack of layers in any texture set you want, and turn off everything but the color channel. Then you can right-click and copy the layer, and go to another texture set, right-click an empty area, and click on the Paste Layer as Instance option. This way, you should have a layer that only affects the color of each texture set, and you can change its settings, and it will update across your texture sets. The other cool thing you can do is change the color and set the blending mode to something like soft light, and then play with the opacity to fine-tune the effect. Just keep an eye on your black and white colors so they don’t get overly tinted with the overlaid color.
For the head and hands textures, I used the Stylised Skin Smart Material resource that I developed for one of my previous 3DSnippets projects (the Viking). I simply tweaked a few settings to adjust the strength of the bumps and the colors. I wanted to keep a very simple and stylized texture for the creature, so I avoided any patterns that could be distracting.
In addition to the smart material, I created three layers (two of which are instanced) to vary the color and add a bit of darkness based on the ambient occlusion. Finally, I added a couple more layers and another smart material to sharpen some of the smaller pores/bumps and make the reds of the base color pop a bit more.
Auto-Rigging ZBrush Character with AccuRIG
So now, I have the character ready with UVs, textures, sculpted details with subdivision levels, and a symmetrical pose. I also have everything that makes up this character in four subtools.
Before we start rigging in CC4, there are a few things to keep in mind. You don’t have to have UVs or textures, but having them beforehand makes the workflow easier.
You need to have CC4 installed and the GoZ connected for sending things back and forth between ZBrush and CC4. And it’s always a good idea to save both the ZBrush files (ZTools) and the CC4 projects as you work, just in case you need to go back to a previous stage.
Now, the first and only step is to click the All button next to the GoZ on the Tool palette. This sends all the subtools, not just the selected one (which is what happens with GoZ). You might have to select the external application if you have more than one connection in the GoZ Settings, in which case, select Character Creator 4.
In CC4, you will see a window and the default settings should be okay. You should only have one action template which is Create Prop because we created the entire character and base mesh in ZBrush. Note that depending on your version of Character Creator, this window might look different, so make sure to update to the latest version.
Once you click Update, you’ll see your character in CC4 with the same subtools as separate meshes in the Scene tab on the left-hand side. The connection between ZBrush and CC4 through GoZ will automatically look for the lowest subdivision level available in your subtools and send those into CC4. If you want to visualize more details, you’ll need to create normal maps and send those over. If you have textures in ZBrush, CC4 will automatically recognize them and plug them in. But if you have maps outside of ZBrush, you need to tweak a couple of things.
Now, for the fun part! Select all your meshes from the Scene tab and in the Modify window, you’ll see the AccuRIG button. Click on it and let’s start the process!
Once you enter the AccuRIG, you can choose to rig all the meshes or just a selection of them. In my case, I’ll use the All Meshes option and click the Create Guides button.
The first step of the AccuRIG process is to place the reference of the joints (the green, orange, and blue dots) on the character. As you place the dots, you can toggle symmetry on or off and mirror the placement of individual joints if you want. If you’re struggling to place the dots, you can turn off the Midpoint Placement option.
Probably one of the most important placements is the joint for the wrist. The correct placement of this point will make your life a lot easier when setting up the fingers.
If you move to the next step and the points for the fingers don’t look quite right, make sure you go back and tweak the wrist:
The next step is to choose the amount of fingers you have on your character. I intentionally designed my creature with three fingers and a thumb just to show you the versatility of this process.
From the Number of Fingers drop down I selected “4”
After you make your selection, you can hit the Generate Skeleton button to create points for the hands, allowing you to adjust the placement of the fingers if needed.
The final step is to bind the mesh to the skeleton you’ve created, which is accomplished by clicking the Bind Skin button. Now you have a rigged character ready for posing. You can use the Check Animation button to preview the deformation, and if you’re satisfied with the result, you can exit AccuRIG.
You can also adjust the skin weights if you want to change the influence of certain joints on the mesh, but that’s a topic for another time. For now, let’s move on to the final step which is sending the pose to ZBrush. Simply find a pose you like from the animations, or edit a pose yourself using the Edit Pose button. Then, select all of your meshes and hit the GoZ button at the top of the UI.
A new window will pop up, and it’s important to choose Current Pose from the bottom and select Relink from the drop-down menu so that CC4 can find and relink the pose to the character in ZBrush, including all subdivision levels and details. If you don’t select Relink, the pose will still be sent to ZBrush, but as a new mesh, and you’ll lose all subdivision levels and details.
Once in ZBrush, we have the pose from CC4, and all subdivision levels and details are preserved. And if you need to make changes, you can easily go back to AccuRIG and reset the pose or create a new one.
Rig Tweaks and Managing Poses
To wrap up this project and make sure you have all the information you need, I want to share some additional valuable tricks to enhance your workflow and the quality of your poses.
First, let’s take a look at one of my final poses in ZBrush. And here’s a quick render in Marmoset Toolbag 4, which was exported from ZBrush:
Now, let’s dive into the ZBrush CC Pose Manager, a fantastic little plugin from the folks at Reallusion. It is the perfect companion for the ZBrush-to-CC4 workflow. The plugin is incredibly useful in automating the process of recording layers on each subtool to save new poses.
The best thing about this plugin is that you only need to click one button to switch between poses, even if you have multiple subtools with multiple subdivision levels. Here’s how it works:
- Selects the first subtool from the subtool list.
- Go to the highest subdivision level of the subtool (if applicable).
- Create and record a new sculpting layer from the Layers subpalette.
- Go back to the lowest subdivision level (if applicable).
- Move down to the next subtool and repeat the process.
Here’s another pose recorded in a separate layer within the same project:
So once you have your character rigged in CC4 and you want to start playing with some poses, you can send them all to ZBrush and keep them in layers using the ZBrush CC Pose Manager.
To get started, you need to have ZBrush and CC4 open and the character rigged. Essentially, everything we’ve done in this project up to the last update post.
The next step is to create a pose in Character Creator using the posing tools or a pre-made pose from the Content Manager in CC4. You can create any pose you want in CC4. Then, make sure that you have your default A-pose in ZBrush and the ZBrush CC Pose Manager plugin installed. I have the ZPlugin palette docked to the left for easy access.
The plugin is very simple and straightforward. As I mentioned earlier, it just follows a series of steps that can be done manually. In order to bring the pose from CC4, you need to click on the Relink to Add Pose switch at the top of the plugin.
Once this switch is turned on, go back to CC4 and send your character in a pose to ZBrush using the GoZ button. Make sure to select the Relink option from the pop-up window.
Then, click on the switch from the plugin to turn it off and bring the character pose. Let the plugin do its work, and you’ll have a new pose added in your ZBrush CC Pose Manager that you can turn on or off. This allows you to keep your original symmetrical pose and all your subdivision levels!
You now go through the process of adjusting your pose by sculpting in any of your subdivision levels in a new layer so the entire process is non-destructive.
For instance here are some Before And After comparisons of one of the poses I sent from CC4 to ZBrush and how I tweaked to update the compression of fabric and some little nudges to the geometry around the hands and the head:
ZBrush CC Pose Manager for Lightning Fast Posing
The tweaking of the rig is a bit more tedious and somehow more technical, but nothing too crazy. Once you get your head around the idea of how to edit the weights you can spend a couple of hours refining the rig and then it will make a huge difference when you get to pose your character.
For instance, the creature for this project has some hard surface details that should not deform with the rig. Instead, they should be props or accessories to the rig.
Take the neck piece as an example since it is the most obvious one.
The default rig gives you something like this:
So we can simply edit the weights of the rig to affect less — or more — of a specific area. All you need to do is select the object you want to edit, in my case the “SUIT_DETAILS” object, and then click the Skin Weights menu on the right:
In the image below, I’ve entered the edit mode for skin weights and selected the bone that I want to use to control or move the neck piece: “CC_Base_Spine02”.
You’ll see that it looks like a portion of the neck piece is white and the other part towards the back is black or dark gray. This simply means that pure white will be 100% influenced by the selected joint or bone, and anything that is pure black will be 100% left alone (zero influence over the neckpiece by the selected joint).
So, you can use the icons next to “paint operation” to add or remove white or black to tweak the influence of the joint over the piece or object you want.
In other words, I want the neck piece to be 100% white when I select the “CC_Base_Spine02” bone so that when the character moves the upper torso, the neck piece moves with it and when the character moves the head (a different joint) then nothing moves on the neck piece.
I painted it all white:
That is all there is to it. The hard surface bits should be easier since in most cases they are either 100% white or 100% black in weight mapping.
With all the tweaks to the rig, it was a lot easier to pose the character and simplified the process of adjusting the sculpt once the pose was back in ZBrush. Here are a couple of final renders from my favorite poses of this character:
Thank you for taking the time to read this tutorial, I hope this has been helpful and informative!
Free Download :
• ZBrush CC Pose Manager plugin (Early Access of CC to ZBrush Posing Pipeline) https://www.zbrushguides.com/tutorials/posing-characters-in-zbrush-with-accurig#resource-related
• Character Creator https://www.reallusion.com/character-creator/download.html
Learn more :
• Pablo Munoz Gomez https://www.artstation.com/pablander
• Auto Rig Technology https://www.reallusion.com/auto-rig/accurig/