Mini Specialisation Project – Digital Sculpting

Picking My Mini Specialisation

When it came to my mini specialisation I was completely lost at first. I originally had no idea what I wanted to do, and I quickly cast it aside as I was already working on other projects and I was naive. As the weeks went on however I quickly realised that there is heaps of things to do, and I then had the problem of wanting to do too many things. My first choice for the specialisation project was to practice another 3D pipeline with high poly modelling and normal map textures thrown into the mix. I was going to be creating the beast cutter from the From Software game Bloodborne. I was fairly interested in this as a project however I quickly got carried away with my Obstacle Course and that followed with more interest into other things to specialise in, more specifically simulations, particle effects and sculpting.

After I watched the Blur animation/fx reel I was pretty excited to do some simulations and figure out how it all works, and hopefully make some cool renders. I bookmarked all the tutorials I would need to dedicate myself to simulations, and then like a true master, never went back to them -.-. Fast forward a few weeks later and there are only a few weeks left until everything I have been working on (and haven’t been working on) is due, and that means I had to stop neglecting this project. I decided that the simulations, while cool and interesting, would probably take too much of a time investment (as I still wanted to focus on other assessment more) so I decided to have a look at the other two I was interested in. Both particle effects and sculpting piqued my interest because I saw how much fun fellow animators were having with it. At first I was going to give particle effects a go, as one of those animators had done an awesome write up on the progress of his specialisation and it looked really fun. It was pretty clear that he had put a lot of effort into this though, so along with simulations I decided it would be something I could do in my free time when no other work is pressuring me. This left me with my final decision, 3D sculpting.

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Sculpting is a near essential part of the 3D production pipeline, especially so when it is an organic model. Box modelling methods are effective, but it gets to a point where it is just not feasible/effective to manually pull polygons to make intricate shapes, and that is where sculpting software comes into play. I knew that one day I would have to delve into sculpting more, and while I may not have dedicated enough time this time around to sculpt, it is definitely something I will play and practice with when I have the free time. This kind of software would be more important for me to learn as I am very interested in organic/character models, and that means that I will almost always need the detail that sculpting provides. 3D Sculpting mixes the digital and traditional sculpting worlds together, bringing you a workflow very similar to clay models, however provides you with all the ease of access and tools you would ever need thanks to it being digital. There are three programs that I have found to be arguably better than the rest of those out there on the market, and each have their own pros and cons. These three programs are: Blender, Mudbox and Zbrush.

What Is Sculpting, And What Is It Used For?

Sculpting in its fundamentals is painting, carving and adding intricate details to a high polygon mesh in order to create a realistic/stylized model that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to create with box modelling or other techniques within a technical package. I’d argue that every single modeler should at least have basic knowledge of how a sculpting program works and how to use one if necessary. The extra details that can be added are ridiculous and it can all be done efficiently as well. You can use a program such as xNormal (most technical packages such as 3DS Max will have a way of doing this aswell) to bake down a high poly model (sculpted model) onto your low poly, giving you what is called a normal map. This normal map allows you to see the details of the sculpt, but on a game ready low polygon asset.

The sculpting itself is generally done through the use of pressure sensitivity touch pads, the most well known tablets are Wacom tablets. This is a much more artistic approach and is very similar to sculpting clay, as you are brushing in details. A good example of this is the image below, where you can see details such as clothing creases and where the sleeves are rolled up. A large amount of this model would have been sculpted, I would even argue that the whole thing has been sculpted, as there is an immense amount of detail everywhere, from the ripped textures on the pants to the seams of the shirt and even the spiraling twist of the rope.


There are a lot of uses for digital sculpting, the most common one being the use of normal maps I mentioned before. Overall sculpting is a pretty big tool every 3D artist should learn, as one day (if not already) it will become the leading way to create 3D models.

Types of 3D Sculpting Software

Everyone has their own preferences and it is an apples and oranges kind of comparison, however out of these three it is a pretty popular opinion that Zbrush is the best software for 3D sculpting. This of course doesn’t come without a hefty price tag, one that a lot of artists simply can’t afford, so this is why I will be discussing the benefits of each of the three software, and which one I will be using and why. There are other amazing sculpting software out there such as 3Dcoat, and also awesome normal map painter such as Quixel Suite and Substance Painter, however I won’t be going discussing these pieces of software as the first three mentioned piqued my interest the most.


Blender on its own is an amazing piece of software and acts more like a technical package such as Maya or 3DS Max, however Blender has the benefit of having a pretty solid sculpting add on to it. This is great, as not only is Blender a completely free to use piece of software, it also has all the modelling techniques you’d want from a technical package and a sculpting tool at the same time. However, because it is both it is a bit of a generalist tool, and while I have seen some amazing sculpts come from Blender (the wolf from the slide show above), overall it seems to be that the other two popular pieces of software do sculpting better. It comes down to the fact that Blender has less options and brushes than the other two, and while it works fundamentally the same it doesn’t have as easy as a workflow that the other two provide.

One pro to add to the list though is that Blender can handle a lot of polygons, with one guy managing to reach forty-five million polygons and still being able to sculpt, and this was an early two thousand and nine version of Blender. I’m sure he played with settings a bit, or it might possibly even be fake, either way it is still an impressive feat for a free software.


The first of the big players in the sculpting debate is Mudbox. When it comes down to professional level sculpting programs, Zbrush is commonly regarded as better. However if its for beginner sculpts that just want to learn and have fun, and already know a technical package such as Maya or 3DS Max, then Mudbox is your go to. Mudbox has a familiar UI layout and all the fundamentals you’d need to be able to sculpt well. In Mudbox the workflow is usually that you bring in a base mesh that you might have created in 3DS Max and then sculpt from that mesh. Thankfully this integration is fairly easy as they are all programs made by Autodesk. Mudbox also has awesome re topology software so you can make a low poly model easily after you have sculpted your high polygon model (although in most cases you will already have the low poly made).Another thing that Mudbox has that it is really good at is its painting tools, allowing for you to paint directly onto the 3D model and in across multiple channels as well, which allows for good paint blending. On top of all this Mudbox also has a lot of flexibility when it comes to baking maps, and out matches the other software in this aspect.

However unlike Blender Mudbox isn’t free, and if you were wanting it annually it would cost you eighty dollars, with the price being more cost efficient the more years you want to subscribe for. This is a bit of a con in some aspects as Autodesk has moved to a subscription only service instead of being able to buy the software like you used to be able to. Overall ignoring the price, Mudbox is a high contender for the best sculpting program, and thanks to its student license it will be the piece of software I will be going with.


ZBrush, the sculpting software used by almost all the professionals, and for good reason. Straight up this piece of software is amazing and so much more powerful than the rest. The company boasts the software being able to hand up to one billion polygons thanks to its HD geometry. It is a very system friendly program and runs beautifully on even lower spec rigs thanks to its great memory handling, which allows you to sculpt whatever your imagination can think of (“Pixologic :: ZBrush :: Features”, 2016). With the use of its mesh creation options which are ZSpheres, ShadowBox and DynaMesh you are able to build your meshes into whatever you need, with ShadowBox being best for hard-surface models, and ZSpheres for organic. Zbrush also has a huge number of custom brushes which allow you to achieve all sorts of details and a re-topology tool called ZRemesher so that you can retopologise your awesome sculpt into a low polygon model, ready for maps to be applied to it.

Where ZBrush goes wrong however is its user interface. It’s user interface is good and modern, however for beginners it is a steep learning curve, so it is very difficult for people to get used to and good at ZBrush. However in saying that once you get good with this piece of software it seems like a better option than all the rest. Much like Mudbox, ZBrush also has a price tag attached to it and it is a hefty price of just over one thousand dollars. Unlike Autodesk’s Mudbox however you don’t need to subscribe, and once you have bought ZBrush it’s yours for good. There are still updated versions that you need to repurchase, so it could be considered similar to Mudbox in that aspect. The price and user interface usually deter anyone that isn’t a professional  and already proficient in sculpting. Here is a really good article on the differences and pros and cons to ZBrush and Mudbox.

Alessandro Baldasseroni Sculpt

In summary I have decided to use the 3D sculpting software Mudbox. While the other two I discussed are good, I can’t afford ZBrush and Blender would take a while to relearn as it is a whole complete technical package. I will have an update blog soon discussing what went well and what I learnt throughout my small time playing around in Mudbox.


Header Image – Retrieved from Create3DCharacters


Alessandro Baldasseroni, zbrush sculpts…. (2016). Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

Blender versus Mudbox? You decide. [Archive] – Blender Artists Community. (2016). Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

Cartoon Harley Quinn sculpting in zbrush for 3d printing. (2016). Andrew Krivulya. Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

Do I Need to Know How to Sculpt as a 3D Modeler?. (2016). Digital-Tutors Blog. Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

Mudbox or ZBrush?. (2016). polycount. Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

Mudbox or ZBrush?. (2016). Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

N San. (2016). ArtStation. Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

Pixologic :: ZBrush :: Features. (2016). Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

Sand Dragon 3D Art by Tony Camehl – zbrushtuts. (2016). zbrushtuts. Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

Taylor, J. (2016). MUDBOX vs zBRUSH: what should a beginner learn?. METHOD: J. Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

Werewolf – BlenderNation. (2016). BlenderNation. Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

ZBrush or Mudbox: Sculpting Showdown. (2016). Digital-Tutors Blog. Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

zBrush or Mudbox?. (2016). polycount. Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

Zbrush Tutorial – Sculpting Beard and Hair by Nilberto Tawata – zbrushtuts. (2016). zbrushtuts. Retrieved 12 December 2016, from

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