New Year

It’s getting close to midnight on New Year’s Eve. Looking back on the work I’ve done this year I can see a big improvement over my previous work. And the past couple of months have been some of the best of it. I’m pretty happy I must admit.

Just at the moment I’m revisiting the ZBrush tutorials by Madeline Scott Spencer. I picked up a lot of clues from Nate Stephens, and will no doubt spend some more time on his tutorials later. I want to make sure I’m totally up to speed before the workshop starts, and I think Madeline’s tutes are more comprehensive, more aimed at beginners.

I need to produce more complex work. The only piece that has taken more than a day is the one I did for Scott Brisbane’s workshop. Well, I probably spent more than a day on some of the photogrammetry pieces too, but everything I’ve initiated has been a quick and simple job. And it shows. In 2017 I need to take my work more seriously.



I’ve been struggling with a fundamental problem concerning stonework, namely that unless it is polished it has a fine grained roughness. Very hard to add in ZBrush without having an insane poly count.

I looked at Substance Designer a while back and noticed that most of their materials use multiple normal maps. So, I created a noise image in PS, converted it to a normal map in xNormal, and used a colour combiner node in Vue to add it to the normal map I had baked from the high res sculpt. Result is shown above – much better than what I had before. Very happy.

Final Version


Reworked the larger stones, generally better result. ZBrush crashed a few times, when I tried to apply some noise. However I found a helpful video on YT that told me to rename an obscure file in an obscure directory, and all was well. How do people ever discover such things.

Actually the stones are not all that great. The roundness and generally rough surface is not in keeping with the very regular cut shapes. Lots of practice needed to get stones looking good. At least the sculpting and normal map process is working well.

So to recap – model and UV unwrap a low poly mesh in Blender, export as obj. Import into ZBrush, maybe make some basic shape changes (move tool), export again. Subdivide to a million polys or so, sculpt, export as obj. Use xNormal to bake a normal map from high to low poly version. Import the low poly version into Vue and apply normal map to the material.

Just for the Record


In case I forget some time…

I mad a smaller stone block, a couple of which have been inserted into the wall here. Just a tad more realistic looking I’d say. Reason is the high poly model I baked the normal from was about 2 million polys, whereas for the other stones it was only about 100K. And the low poly was 10K, whereas for the larger stones it was only 1K. Not sure if the resolution of the low-poly meshes matters too much, but I’m betting that the resolution of the high-poly ones does. Even the crude sculpting with the clay tubes brush and the standard brush with a spotty alpha is giving quite a nice result at the right res.

Stone Wall


I’ve been putting off  doing a stone wall for some time now, mainly because it’s quite a bit of work, but time to bite the bullet I guess. This is just an indication – I’ll need several different sized stones to look more realistic. The texture here (sculpted in ZBrush and normal mapped to a lower res object) isn’t so hot either, but I’ve just started on this kind of thing. I should improve eventually.

I’ve reached a point with my art where I’m confident that I can produce decent work if I put in the time. And that I’ll improve if I put in the time. Putting in the time is something I’ve been doing a lot of over the years. so hopefully I can keep doing that. I don’t think I’ve got anything to prove any more. Just get on with it.


ZBrush can create normal maps apparently, but the process is far from intuitive and I remember Jonathan (Photogrammetry tutor) mention flipped this and flipped that. So, best I stick to what I know.

  • create model in Blender and unwrap
  • export as obj
  • import into ZBrush, duplicate, work on high-poly version, export as obj
  • use xNormal to bake normal map from high to low
  • import low-poly into Vue (and save as vob).

Using the ZBrush to Blender or Vue bridge is all very well, but looks like I’m going to need the objs anyway for normal mapping. I could do the normal mapping in Blender, and use GoB, but I still need an obj to import into Vue. Perhaps one day I’ll work out how to normal map in ZBrush, but I won’t hold my breath.

Garden Path


So here’s the result. Vue actually does struggle with the geo. I’ll have to explore creating normal maps in ZBrush. I’m trying to minimize the number of different steps (and apps) I use to create a finished result.

I’m very happy with this one. It’s not that great but then it’s only a few hours work, and a lot of that was fiddling around with the software. I feel that I’ve got a handle on the whole process, and some of my recent work isn’t half bad.

On the Other Hand…


There’s also a GoZ bridge from ZBrush to Vue. So I blocked in this charming garden scene in Vue, and exported the closest slab to ZBrush for a little treatment. Not sure if I can use normal maps this way, but Vue might be able to handle the geo where Blender can’t. Some experimentation required. Of course if I save the slab as a Vue object then all the others could simply be instances. That’s probably the way to go.

No doubt this garden could do with some improvement. I’ll see what I can do. This is just a block  in after all.

Pipeline (Again)


My rock slab got up about 7 million polys in ZBrush, and Blender was struggling. Especially as I have a scene that will require about a dozen of them. So normal mapping seemed the only option, but trying to bake a normal map to a new cube of about the right size didn’t work too well.

Then I remembered how we solved this problem in the Photogrammetry workshop I did a few months ago. Duplicate the object and run ZRemesher on it to produce a lower poly version, which is not too high to UV unwrap pretty easily. Then bake the normals to that. So here I have a couple of slabs (in Vue), each about 24,000 polys, normal mapped. Not great, but not too bad, and quite manageable.



I’m doing a tutorial by Nate Stephens, mostly using ZBrush for environment creation. I managed to get GoZ working (or GoB as it’s generally called when transferring to Blender). Took a while to set it up properly, and I had to reinstall ZBrush because some needed files were missing. Still, it saves a lot of hassle exporting and importing objs into both apps. Model in Blender, press a button and it opens in Zbrush. Do some sculpting, push a button and the updated model appears back in Blender. Magic.

So here I’ve been distressing the edges of a stone slab, aka cuboid. I’m linking to the cube so there’s only one model to work on for all four slabs along the top. Nate is a game artist so tends to work efficiently.

I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with ZBrush at last. Every piece that falls into place makes it easier for the next piece to fit in. Troubleshooting problems is becoming easier too. Hope it stands me in good stead when the workshop starts, if I decide to go ahead with it.