ÓSCAR FERNÁNDEZ / DIGITAL SCULPTOR
Hello, colleagues! My name is Óscar Fernández, and I am a digital sculptor specialized in figures for printing. I would love to show you a workflow that literally changes the game when it comes to producing figures for board games. I’m talking about a new Reallusion plugin called Character Creator Pose Tools, which allows us to connect ZBrush with Character Creator 4 (CC4) to rig our character and pose it with unprecedented ease. What’s more, it preserves all our subtools, subdivision levels, and the ability to continue modifying the character even after posing, making it easy to adjust the anatomy, add details, or incorporate variations.
This will be our complete workflow:
initial Idea / quick 2D sketch
Let’s start the project with a super basic concept of the character. Before we begin sculpting, I have created a quick 2D sketch to bring to life what was once just an idea in my head. This is only an initial concept to get started with, and it will probably evolve as I begin working in 3D.
There are some elements that I am sure will be present in the character’s design, such as:
- Horns or a helmet that integrates with the shape of the head.
- Armor for the torso with sharp elements to make the character more menacing.
- A powerful anatomy that showcases the strength of our character.
- Some fabrics to test how dynamics work in CC4.
- Three fingers instead of five to test AccuRIG’s auto rigging.
- Lastly, bull-like hooves or something similar to give our character a hybrid appearance without being exactly a minotaur.
MODELING IN ZBRUSH / THE HEAD
When starting a new character, I always like to begin by defining how the head and face will look. I usually don’t proceed with the complete development until I am satisfied with the shapes. So, gradually, we will structure the facial anatomy by adding a couple of spheres for the eyes and incorporating other elements such as ears or a beard, which will greatly define our character.
Once all the elements are in place, I begin refining the shapes after performing a ZRemesher and applying subdivision levels. Afterwards, I can add the fangs, beard details, and, finally, the horns.
In the end, I opted for a more organic structure for this part, creating horns instead of a helmet. Once we are satisfied with the head’s shape, we can continue moving forward.
BASE MESH / CHARACTER CREATOR 4
To speed up the process, we will use a CC4 avatar as the base mesh for the body. We put it in A Pose and use the sliders to modify the proportions. Since our character will have 3 fingers, I take the opportunity to create a similar structure that I will later modify in ZBrush. With a simple click, we bring it into ZBrush.
In ZBrush, let’s make further modifications to the proportions and attach the previously created head. By adjusting the size of the head to match the body we brought in from CC4, we ensure that the model’s measurements are optimized for later use in CC4. However, this is something we could easily fix later on if needed.
SCULPTING THE HORNS / ZBRUSH
Indeed, the communication between ZBrush and Character Creator has been available before, but in version 3, we couldn’t modify the topology of the base mesh, which was quite restrictive for character creation. With the arrival of CC4, we can now use all the typical ZBrush sculpting techniques to make any necessary modifications. So, let’s start by applying DynaMesh to create those bull-like hooves and define our character’s anatomy. Having the fingers placed together earlier will also speed up the process of creating the hand.
After achieving anatomical shapes that we are satisfied with, we will merge the head with the body using DynaMesh. Then, we will perform ZRemesher to have a more organized mesh, and we will project the details onto the different subdivision levels. This process will help us create a more refined and cohesive model, combining the head and body seamlessly while preserving the intricate details.
MODELLING THE ACCESSORIES / ZBRUSH
It’s time to create the accessories for our character. We’ll primarily use ZModeler with a low polygon count to achieve cleaner and more polished shapes. Our goal is to design pieces of armor with the intention of 3D printing, so we’ll aim for fully solid pieces whenever possible or with a slightly thicker thickness than they would be in reality to avoid issues with printing and to ensure the piece is not too fragile.
In this case, creating the fabrics is not very complex, as they are just a pair of flaps that cover part of the legs. Using the belt as a base, we apply an extrusion, keep the part we are interested in, and then adjust the shape until we achieve what we are looking for. We will use dynamic subdivision to work with a plane but get an idea of the thickness the final piece will have.
Once the fabrics are made, we have the complete blockout, so if we are satisfied, we can move on to the details. Since we already have a correct topology, it is enough to subdivide where necessary to add imperfections, dents, scratches, etc., and thus give a little more realism to our pieces.
We would only need to add a couple of weapons to our friend, so using the same techniques as for the armor, we will create a battle axe and a shield that are simply… enormous!
UVs AND MAPS / ZBRUSH
Let’s prepare the model to take it to CC4. Although this step is not necessary, it will enhance its appearance in CC4. We’ll start by creating UVs for the different pieces and generating normal maps.
For the UVs, we will utilize the new feature in ZBrush 2023 that allows us to use creases to define cutting lines and create our UVs quickly without needing to leave the program. We will adjust them within the grid and ensure everything is fine by applying a test texture. Once the UVs are set, we can also generate the normal maps.
Auto rigging / accurig
Now we have everything ready to take our character to CC4. Although we can send everything at once, I’m going to go slowly and, for now, I’m going to isolate only the body to send it to CC4 using the “Visible” option. Once the character is transferred to CC4, we see that we have the whole character in a single element, but keeping each of our subtools inside it, so I’m going to load the normal maps to make everything look a little better.
I was looking forward to this moment! Now is when we’ll witness the magic of AccuRIG, the automatic rigging tool in CC4. I must confess that I have no idea about rigging, and this tool seems like pure wizardry to me! We press the AccuRIG button, and the tool starts analyzing the mesh, automatically placing the joint points in a fairly approximate manner… Now, all we have to do is adjust the placement of those points by clicking on each one of them and following the diagrams we have at the top. We can use the symmetry function to work faster or deactivate it if our character isn’t symmetrical. We define the number of digits for our character, in this case, three, and hit “Generate Skeleton,” and voilà! The skeleton is generated in literally 2 minutes.
The next step is to configure the finger layout. We adjust the position of the little dots on each joint and also define the direction of a special point on the thumb that indicates its rotation. We make sure everything is set correctly and then press the “Bind Skin” button. The program will automatically calculate the skin weight around each joint so that all deformations occur smoothly. Once the complete skeleton is generated, we will check it with an animation to see how it behaves. The anatomy of this character is a bit unique, and I think I didn’t place the point of that joint in the most correct position, causing the shoulders to be too forward-heavy, but that’s not a problem; we will accept it.
Using “Pose Offset,” we can further fine-tune those particularities that depend a bit more on the morphology of our specific character. So, I adjust the position of the shoulders, the tilt of the torso, or the separation of the legs manually. Once everything is prepared, we can save our CC4 project.
For someone like me, who is used to working with static figures, seeing your character come to life is truly amazing!
DYNAMICS / BEHAVIOUR OF FABRICS
Let’s continue bringing accessories into CC4 as if we were dressing our character from the inside out, so now it’s time for fabrics. Once again, working with this type of element is super simple. First, we need to work with planes and define the parts that will deform and those that won’t, simply using polypaint. It’s similar to using a mask in Photoshop or Substance. We’ll paint the entire piece in white and protect the parts we don’t want to deform by painting them in black when applying dynamics. Since we are working with a high polygon count, we can achieve smooth gradients by just softening the paint a little. We’ll unwrap the UVs for each piece and create a texture map from the polypaint.
We launch the flaps again using the “Visible” button. In CC4, we can import them as individual accessories and adjust them to the body. We delete the color map, link all the pieces to the hip, and test that everything works correctly. Perfect! Now, we only need to activate the physics for each piece and load the weight maps we just generated with polypaint.
Our pieces now behave like fabrics, but we need to define which parts of the character they will collide with. So, we select the body and define the collision volumes for the hip and legs in this case, deforming the “capsule” with the gizmo.
For now, it’s enough… let’s go for the armor
armor / hard surface accessories
To bring the armor pieces to Character Creator 4, we follow the same process: isolate the pieces we want and press ‘Visible’ again. We import each subtool as a new accessory and then head to the texture panel to load the normal maps for each of them. I must say that this step isn’t really necessary, but it makes everything look a bit better.
Since I’m importing the elements in different phases, I have to position them manually and link them to their corresponding joint, which wouldn’t be necessary if we imported everything together, as the program would calculate it automatically. In any case, it’s super quick… just select each element, press the ‘Pick Parent’ button, and click on the joint to which it should be linked.
We activate the fabrics again to have all the accessories visible and check how they behave with the walking test animation we’ve been using so far. I can’t help but admit that I feel like Dr. Frankenstein: ‘It’s alive!’
To add the weapons, we follow the same process: isolate the axe in ZBrush, make it visible, and then import it into CC4 as a Prop. In this case, we’ll have a single element but with all the subtools inside.
Next, we set the pivot point to the center of the axe, position it in the hand, and check how it behaves during the animation.
Completing the character’s equipment, we follow the same steps for the shield, and now we’ve finished the whole process… everything is ready for playing with poses.
Posing in CHARACTER CREATOR 4 / Freedom has arrived
We all know that posing a character in ZBrush is perfectly possible but can be quite time-consuming and effort-intensive, making it a tedious task to create a set of multiple poses for the same character.
Thanks to CC4, AccuRig, and the Character Creator Pose Tools plugin, we now have seamless communication with ZBrush. Making small changes or creating completely new poses becomes not only incredibly fast but also enjoyable.
In addition to manually posing our figure, we can utilize ActorCore, an extensive library of pre-made movements ready to use in CC4. In our case, we’ll use some animations from this library, and the best part is that we can capture specific frames from the animation to create unique and dynamic poses. We can save those exact frames and create our own library of poses within CC4.
We’re going to use the animation as a general base for our pose, selecting that exact moment we want to immortalize. Then, we make adjustments using the pose editor. I believe it’s worth highlighting how easy it is to pose the hands, moving each phalanx in a quick and super intuitive way. We can even save hand gestures to use them in future poses or directly use any of the ones available in the library to streamline the process.
RETURN TO zbrush
First of all, let’s create a quick base to place the character on. I always try to make the bases tell a story that goes beyond what the character itself conveys, but in this case, we’ll keep it simple just for playing around.
Once we’ve finished the poses, it’s time to bring them all into our ZBrush project—yes, you heard it right, all of them in the same project. We apply the pose, select all the elements, go to plugins, and within ZBrush Pose Link, we choose to send the current pose. Automatically, the plugin starts analyzing the correspondence between the elements in CC4 and the subtools. It’s crucial that none of the subtool names have been changed and that they are exactly the same as in CC4.
All the subtools deform and move to the correct position automatically, allowing us to proceed with the next poses. What’s actually happening behind the scenes is that each pose corresponds to a ZBrush layer created for each subtool, where all the changes are stored. The different poses are displayed in this layer rack, and we can rename them. Clicking on each pose activates its respective layer, showing the changes.
We can individually edit each pose, not only to position it correctly but also to make adjustments to the anatomy or minor changes in the position of accessories. Each of these changes is stored individually for each pose.
Once we save the file as a project, when we open it in a subsequent session, it might seem like we’ve lost the poses. However, we can see that the layer information remains active, and by clicking the refresh button for the pose list, we can have all the poses available again. In the layers panel, we can observe that each subtool has a layer with a name corresponding to the pose, and it will automatically activate when we select the linked pose.
This is the result of our work… Once the figure was posed in Pose A, I think the process of generating the 4 poses and trying out at least ten more that I eventually discarded didn’t take me more than an hour. Additionally, I also created a bust based on one of the figures I already had. Next step: Printing.
Now, we only need to prepare the figures for printing. First, we’ll add thickness to the flaps since, as we mentioned before, physics in CC4 requires us to apply them as flat accessories. Once we add the thickness, we apply the texture, and it’s ready.
Next, I’ll ensure that the entire figure is a solid mesh and that there are no gaps between the different subtools. I’ll convert each subtool into a single polygroup, merge all the subtools into a single mesh using “Remesh by Union,” and then separate the pieces using polygroups. I’ll close any holes that may have remained, and now we can create the joints. Once the joints are created, we’ll slightly inflate the subtools with the male joint and create the final pieces using Boolean operations. We’ll perform decimation to reduce the polygon count and facilitate the transfer to the slicer without any issues. We’ll add a solid defining the scale for all the figures and export them as STL files.
We are going to use Chitubox to add supports and slice the pieces for printing. Whenever possible, I try to add the supports manually. It’s a super boring job, but it ensures that the pieces have fewer marks when removing the supports and that they are only where they are really needed. In case I’m not concerned about marks when removing the supports from the piece, I add automatic supports. Once the printing is finished, we remove the pieces from the printing plate, glue them together with cyanoacrylate, and that’s it!!
This is the final result of the pieces already printed. I have printed the figures at what would be the standard 75 mm size, which is considerably larger than the figures for tabletop games, but it’s a size that many painters demand.
That’s all from me. As I mentioned at the beginning, this workflow can completely change the game when it comes to creating sets or even armies for board games or wargames. One of the things that held me back as an artist was that in previous versions of Character Creator, we were dependent on the topology of the base mesh. But now, with ZBrush+AccuRIG+CC4, we have all the freedom in the world to create our creatures, pose them, and continue creating variations.
Undoubtedly, ZBrush+AccuRIG+CC4 is a fantastic formula for increasing productivity while maintaining complete freedom and creativity.
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