Sue Jang
Issue: April 1, 2010


PRODUCT: Pixologic ZBrush 3.5R3


PRICING: Single user license $595
- ZSphere for blocking out the basic shape or anatomy of a character
- Surface Noise generates procedural rough-surface displacement for rocks or concrete
- Tolerates high-polygon count for detailed 3D sculpting

I’ve been using the Pixologic ZBrush application since V.2.0, back when the alpha brush could only be applied after the geometry had been dropped in the 2D mode. When Pixologic introduced ZBrush V3.0, it was a huge leap from its previous version. While other 3D sculpting apps like Autodesk Mudbox provided a quick and intuitive workflow, its lack of features, like texture painting, caused it to remain just a 3D sculpting tool. ZBrush 3.5R3, however, can be used as part of a pipeline with other 3D apps, in addition to being used for making a piece of art from start to finish.


There are a couple of newly implemented features in ZBrush 3.5R3 that deserve special attention. One of these new features is ZSphere sketching. ZSphere was introduced in ZBrush 3, which let you quickly draw a base mesh to sculpt on — saving 3D animators from having to import a base mesh from a third-party 3D application, depending on the type of project you are working on. In ZBrush 3.5 ZSphere now has additional options that let you paint mesh on top of your ZSphere. With this ability, you can make a skeleton or armature and paint the mesh with ZSketch. Also, a nice thing about this ZSketch tool is that you can re-pose the ZSphere armature or skeleton at anytime and the ZSketch mesh will deform accordingly to the ZSphere armature.
While the notion of skinning your 3D geometry to a skeleton and re-posing it at any given time sounds very appealing, the current version of ZBrush 3.5 has its limitations. First, the workflow is a little tricky in the sense that the ZSketch mesh disappears when the EditSketch button in the ZSketch option is untoggled. In ZSketch, you can enable the ShowSketch button, which turns Z-Sketch mesh semi-transparent, facilitating the selection of the ZSphere armature for reposing. However, to toggle the Show-Sketch button, the EditSketch button must be untoggled first. This makes the ZSketch mesh disappear from the screen until you toggle the ShowSketch button, which I find inconvenient and confusing. [Note from Pixologic: The EditSketch button is actually the On/Off button to put yourself in ZSketch mode or take yourself out of a ZSketch mode. This is why the sketch will disappear, because you are turning sketch mode off. However, This is why there is the Bind button in the ZSketch sub-palette. If you turn this button on, now you can see your sketch and then move the underlying ZSphere armature for posing and your ZSketch will react to the movements. The key feature to know about this button once it is turned on, you will be able to click the EditSketch button on/off and none of the ZSketch will disappear. The ShowSketch is for when you wish to add ZSpheres to the underlying ZSphere armature that the artist would use to build the ZSketch on.]
Another issue in the ZSketch option is that you can only use these tools as an initial blocking tool. Meaning, if you have added fine details to your ZSketch mesh and at one point you reposition its armature, the geometry will lose all the fine detail in the ZSketch Mesh. So it is better to be absolutely sure about the position of your character before adding the details. [Here, Pixologic recommends blocking out your mesh with the ZSketch and then turning that skin into a Unified Skin, which will be a mesh that you can now subdivide up to sculpt your detail with the newest brushes.]
Surface Noise is another great feature in V.3.5R3. It’s ideal for generating procedural rough-surface displacement for rocks or concrete, for example, with a click of a button. The only downside is that in order to transfer the procedural displacement to the actual mesh itself, the geometry needs to have sufficient subdivsions to achieve maximum detail. ZBrush is great in its ability to tolerate a high polygon count for detailed 3D sculpting. However, depending on the type of object you are modeling, there are times you might not have sufficient memory in your system to increase the subdivision. That is where the new HD sculpting comes in handy. The way it works is that you subdivide your geometry up to its max level within the comfortable range. Then when you are ready to add fine details, like skin pores, or to do polypainting, you can enable the DivideHD option under the Geometry HD tab. Within this tab you can virtually subdivide your geometry a couple times without affecting the physical polycount, preparing the geometry for high definition detailing. The way to do that is to point your cursor to the area of your model where you want to add HD detail and hit “A” on your keyboard. This will highlight the area where you can now go in and polypaint or add fine details with the alpha brush. The great thing about it is that the HD subdivision lets you generate HD displacement maps, normal maps and textures maps without increasing the physical polycount of your 3D model.
Last but not least, the new UV Master plug-in for ZBrush V.3.5 lets you create a clean UV layout with a simple click of a button. In addition, UV Master has different methods of UV unwrapping. Firstly, using polygroups: this option will create UV islands by existing polygroups. The Control Painting mode will allow users to provide extra information, such as a poly-painted line over geometry, which will determine the UV seam. The UV Master plug-in also gives you control over flattened UV coordinates. Density Painting lets you proportionately scale up the desired section where you wish to have more pixel space for detailed texture work. The result and workflow of UV Master is stunning.


Pixologic strives to build tools specifically for the artist. Since ZBrush made the huge leap from V.2, it continues to develop and implement new tools to speed up 3D sculpting and help artists focus on artistry without being limited by technical difficulties. With 3.5R3, ZBrush will solidify itself as an important part of our pipeline.

Sue Jang is a 3D Designer at UVPhactory ( in New York City.