Tuesday, May 24, 2016

On the Z-Axis

I first saw a demonstration of ZBrush during the Insomania workshop in San Francisco. Someone had a laptop and an unusual control device that looked like an advanced silver and black paddle controller for an Atari 2600. As artist used the tool to digitally sculpt on a demonic head, he explained how the process was a lot like painting in Photoshop, except that the brushstrokes could add or subtract from the model surface.

Years later, I had a recent graduate audit my digital drawing and painting course at Dominican University who was already very well-versed in the ins and outs of ZBrush. It was another opportunity for me to get my feet wet with the program but I was already overloaded with my MFA coursework and teaching part-time at two schools. How could I possibly find time to learn another program?

The first ZBrush (organic modelling) course offered at AAU ran during my final semester. I convinced myself that a semester of Autodesk Maya with an experienced instructor might give me a better 3D foundation that I could then take into ZBrush. Maya turned out to be way more than I could handle at the time, but surprisingly, I was able to use some of what I learned on some concept work for Faroukh Virani's sci-fi short "Vimana". To date, I am still haunted by a deep yearning to master UV mapping, rigging, building controls, setting up a turntable, and pulling off a basic walk cycle.

Enter a generous perk of teaching at City College of San Francisco. The vast libraries of online video tutorials got me back into exploring 3D with Maya's nicer cousing, Blender. I even managed to rough out models of a few of my childhood vehicle creations like the Bladestreaker, Double Dodger and the Green Axe Eruptor. However, I knew that ZBrush would get me where I wanted to go with my work much faster. After finding an offer with a modest academic discount, I placed the order and started with the tutorials included with the installation disk. The first hurdle was learning how to navigate the interface. The second even bigger hurdle was wrapping my head around the difference between the tools, brushes, projects and the canvas.
A ZSphere sketch with Adaptive Skin applied

A recent study using ZSpheres

A layered sculpt based on the Julie.ztl model
 So far, it has taken a lot of repetition and review of several basic concepts for me to be able to start building things with more confidence. Ryan Kittleson's essential training videos gave me a good foundation for using tools and brushes. I am currently working my way through another series where Kittleson develops a racing android from an existing model.
A creature sketch using ZSpheres
While a lot of these studies have been fun, I find that it is really easy to forget about design and get lost in details or overusing some tools. That said, there should be a happy medium between sketching things out by hand and doing so in ZBrush with a similar level of thought and spontaneity.

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