[Artist in Residence] The Mermaid Queen


(Jonah Gilbert) #1

Hello Sketchfab community!

Thanks for visiting my thread! I am Jonah Gilbert and I will be going through my process and create a mermaid low poly along with a 3D printable figure.

I have been working in games and toys for a couple years. Some of my work can be found at Kingdom Death, McFarlane Toys (Walking Dead & Game of Thrones), Skylanders Imaginators and Neverwinter Nights Online just to name a few. You can also find some of my work on https://www.instagram.com/theartofjonah/ and http://iononemillion.deviantart.com/

I am all about learning and getting to know more artists everywhere to exchange art knowledge and interests. Please feel free to ask me anything at anytime and well as give me feedback!

Onto the good stuff!

So I will be creating a Mermaid from scratch. To start I usually go through my hoarder unorganized ref folders for pictures to catch my eye or search other art sites of just good mermaid and see what ideas I can come up with. I usually don't tie myself down to only Mermaid ref or things that are so literal to a Mermaid. I can find cool designs and colors looking at things like cars, insects really anything. If it catches my eye I will toss it into a Mermaid folder. Some of the things I will look for is a pose, facial expressions, over all design and colors. So to start I have an example of what my Mermaid ref boils down combined into one image. I will deviate from this and find more ref along the way and change my mind. So this will be a wild boy adventure into how I make some of my personal characters from scratch!

(Bart) #2

(Paulchambers3d) #3

Welcome aboard Jonah!


Welcome! Looking forward to see what the process will be like!

(Jonah Gilbert) #5


The Concept:

Quick update on my progress for everyone. This is how I initially start a project from scratch past the reference. I will either do a base sculpt in Zbrush and find my basic shapes or sometimes start with a quick 2D concept sketch. I find the pros with concept sculpting in Zbrush is that you can see all around your character at all times and make sure things look good from every angle, the cons are that it take way more effort and time. With a 2D image you can usually just jot down an idea with little time and effort. You don't even have to draw well as long as the idea makes sense to you enough to see it with your eyes and not just in your head. This also helps with not forgetting the vision you had for your sculpt. I usually will do both and go back and forth drawing over screen shots of my Zbrush sculpt.

With the Mermaid I have the basic drawing idea laid out and what I think I might use for the colors after looking at some saltwater fish for color ref. I added jewels to show some sort of royalty and more sillouhette changing shapes to make her look a little more complicated which to me can read as a more important mermaid. This is all just the first pass on the idea and I am sure it will change from here and maybe I'll decide to make major changes as I go. Usually after the Zbrush block out phase I will drastically change shapes and even whole parts. I work very organically with my personal work and if something doesn't feel right I will change it or even removed things I liked at this stage. At the end of this project is it entirely possible that I will have a completely different looking mermaid.

Next update I will be back with a sculpt block out of her and her parts!

If you have any questions about my process please let me know. And please Crit and Comment!

Other Methods of how I concept.

(Jonah Gilbert) #6

Round 2!

Sculpt Block:

At this point I will start my sculpt in zbrush. I usually start with zspheres and dynamesh them pretty low to block out parts. I'm only concerned with the overall shape at this point. As you can also see I added elements from my initial concept but then took them off in the more refined version as it looked not that great to me in 3d. It also helps to squint at what I doing from time to time just to see the over all shapes and how they work together. I will still go back and forth from a 2d sketch and draw over screen shots of the Zbrush sculpt.

The next picture is basically more refined. I sculpted out the hair at the bind pose even though it will not look like this posed just to get the feeling of the face as I'm sculpting it. It helps a bunch for me to have all the elements there especially on the head to get the face to where I want it. Color will be the next step into really nailing the look to the face I want. If I decide to add more jewels and fins Ill just repeat the previous block out step and just see if it works or you can do a draw over for the more complex shapes that take too long to sculpt.

On a side note I don't use many brushes. i primarily use the Standard, Move, Clay (not Clay Tubes), Orb Crack, H Polish, Dam Standard and Clay Tubes.

Next Post Will be Color block in! As always please Crit and Comment!

(Paulchambers3d) #7

Wow. That's a big jump. Looks great. Would love to see more about how you got there from the sketch!

(Jonah Gilbert) #9

More Detail how I go from the Sketch to the block out.

I go about sculpting from a concept 1 of 2 ways. A more trace overlay called Spotlight in Zbrush way and a side by side method similar to drawing a still life or live model. The first method is less organic but way easier to see what's right or wrong, this helps when you have to be exact and have very little artist interpretation on the sculpt. The side by side method is a lot more free allowing happy mistakes while also training you to identify what is right and wrong with looking back and forth between the concept and your sculpture to catch what is off. I will explain how I go about both methods that you can try for yourself.

Zbrush Spotlight Method

The zbrush Spotlight method. This is the direct approach to making very little mistakes and checking more in detail what it correct and not correct.

Step 1: In the top dropdown in Zbrush you will see a Texture Tab Click that

Step 2: In that you will click Import. This is where you will select your concept to overlay over your sculpture.

Step 3: Sometimes the Texture tab will need to be re selected and you will now see your concept image in a little square right under where you clicked to import your concept.

Step 4:When you click on your concept image you will see the bottom squares turn on and you will be able click the Add to Spotlight button.

Step 5:Your image is now added to Spotlight. It should automatically pop up and you will see the menu wheel for Spotlight. If Spotlight doesn't activate then the shortcut is Shift-Z. Shift-Z is to toggle Spotlight on and off. When you have Spotlight open you can now click Z to turn off and on the Spotlight menu wheel. Clicking the central circle will allow you to drag the wheel around the interface.

Step 6: You can place the image wherever you'd like on the interface and over your model adjusting the size and opacity to fit your sculpt to help you see whats off.

Experiment with some of the menu options to see what works for you!

Side By Side Method:

This is what I usually do now. I find it helps me force my brain to figure out what wrong and right between the sculpt and concept and other reference images. It will help to have 2 monitors but if not then I would make a small space on the side of my one screen to to add all my needed images. I will usually have my concept along with anatomy and pose refs in this space. It's really just a space that you can use for whatever reference you need at any time. The downside is It's a lot harder to see what's wrong, I either look back and forth a mega ton or come back later and usually my brain will refresh and when I compare the images and what is wrong will usually pop a lot more. Here is what my monitor set up looks like most of the time.

(Jonah Gilbert) #10

Some sculpting Tip and Tricks!

So far to this point I've used a couple tricks I have learned from good peers and artists that help a ton to stay in zbrush more instead of jumping from Max or Maya to zbrush and back and forth. Doing that might be faster and cleaner but it usually ruins my flow and in the end takes me a lot longer to finish a project. But, to each their own!

So I will be writing a run down on some of her parts and how I made them:

The Hair:

The first thing with hair, like many things you make in cg you have to ask yourself, what it will be used for and how close will it be seen. Sometimes you will need more complicated ways to produce hair for something like a VRay render like those in movies or maybe something chunky for toys or prints. No use in killing yourself creating individual hairs if no one will see it. For this sculpture, she will be low poly and printed so I will go over both methods. For now this is just for the block out and it is the method I use for sculpting toys.

Step 1: I usually start with by appending a sphere or using the CurveTool brush to generate the general shape. For this we will use the CurveTube Brush

Step 2: I then push and pull the sphere with the Move Brush a lot with Dyne Meshing the overall shape when I start to get artifacting from pulling it too much.

Step 3: I will then dynamesh the hair shape a little higher or subdivide it if i'm happy with the overall shape in order to Cut into it with the Orb_Crack Brush to generate my over all hair flow. Or, I will use the Clay Brush to do the same thing but will build volume. I will go back and for with this until I have the hair I want. Just a quick tip: When you press ALT and use a brush you will be using the OPPOSITE of that brushes direction. So like with the Orbs_Crack Brush you will pull the cut out instead of cutting in when you press and hold ALT while you make your strokes.

Step 4: For more strands, I will usually just repeat all the steps but with a little more attention to the move brush to get more movement with the smaller strands.

Sculpting the face:

This is the funnest part for me, although it is always the hardest! If you have the time, starting with a sphere is the best option so that you can practice your facial anatomy. I try not to fall into the habit of having a pre made head. A lot of the toughest parts to the head for me are the fundamental components. I will usually use realistic facial references instead of referring to comics or other art for the start of the head. This process is always messy and pretty frustrating until the face "clicks" for me. I will sometimes go through many faces and hate it until find something I like.

Step 1: Start form a sphere and set the Dynamesh to a low number. Just like how we did the hair, use push and pull and begin to pull the skull shapes out to get the proportions you want for your head. I use a skull first as ref because that's the most basic shape to the head and you don't get all cluttered and confused with all the facial features. I also make proportion cuts as to where the eyes, the nose and the mouth go.

Step 2: Using the same push and pull method, I will refine the brow region along with the chin, cheeks and nose.

Step 3: I will add in separate eye balls so that I can sculpt around easily. Next, I cut the mouth shape out and figure out how wide I'd like the mouth hole to be. Then, I bring the nose out more to get the general feel for the nose size.

Step 4: I am adding in "eye lashes" (this is just to block out the over all shape) and adding in the lips, nostrils and eye lids.

Step 5: This is the funnest part for me, I will usually be zooming in and out of the model as I work with more detail in the lips eyes and the rest of the face. I will find ref of high resolution photos of the parts I want. I don't just get any lips, I find the specific ones I want as for the eyes and nose. Again it helps to look at real people for this. Keep detailing as you go, be careful because this is the part where it's hard to finish. The last 10% of polish is 80% of my total time I spend on the face.

Making Parts with Masking and Extraction Method:

This might be a little more complicated but I will try to make it make sense. Refer to the image uploaded below for a visual step by step. This is a neat trick a good buddy of mine taught me. It helps wonders, especially if you can draw shapes easier than push and pull them. It depends on the parts you're creating but, after you see this process you might know what parts this technique would be good for in your own projects.

Step 1: Append a 3D Plane into your scene.

Step 2: Subdivide the 3D Plane until you can get the resolution of the mask that you want.

Step 3: Draw your shape as a mask onto the plane

Step 4: I duplicate this mesh just incase you might not like the shape you created with the mask after you cut it out of the 3D plane. This part can cause a crash if you try to undo the extraction. In the Tool drop down menu you can select Mask and Sharpen the mask to get a better cut out.

Step 5: Go to Geometry in the Tool drop down menu and when you are at the highest SDiv lvl for your shape click Del Lower. You can't have SDiv lvls if you want to use the split option. To extract the mask from the mesh you go to Split in the Subtool Menu and hit Split Unmasked Parts. You can then duplicate your new shapes subtool for the next step to add thickness.

Step 6: In the Tools Drop down in Subtool you can now go to Split and Hit Split Unmasked Points. You just cut out your shape!

Step 7: Duplicate your cut out shape and lets get ready to add thickness!

Step 8: In the Tools Drop down you will click the Morph Target button and in that hit the StoreMT. This is going to remember your subtools shape and location when you hit the StoreMT button and then when you make your changes it will remember the end to that process as well. I don't know how it works but I just use it for this thickness cut out method. So basically, it is remembering your before and after of and changes you made to that subtool.

Step 9: Move your Subtool cut out shape the distance you want from the other Subtool that you duplicated and check the distance between the 2 and make sure you have the desired distance which will be your thickness.You're only using the subtool as a guide to see how far away your Morphed Target subtool is.

Step 10: When you are happy with the distance, you will go back into the Morph Target menu and click CreateDiff Mesh. This will create a mesh. Usually, I will have to go into the Tool Drop Down and click the display properties and click Flip to see my shape normals corrected. Now it is ready to manipulate even further. This seems like a ton of steps but once you do it enough its pretty easy, quick and REALLY helpful for things you want to cut out.

(Jonah Gilbert) #11


Here the polypainted Zbrush sculpt blockout! The colors help me with towards the final look. Things look so different as a colorless sculpt vs colored. I think that the eyes have a lot to do with it. At this point I just make sure everything's in order before I make my last pass with her before posing and retopo for her low poly. As you can see I still change things from my original concept but now at the end my window for changing things easily gets smaller. Next up ill be her final clean bind pose version along with a blockout of her pose for print!

I will have a breakdown of how I go about Polypainting a Model in Zbrush soon! Along with how I go about making more parts.


Wow, this is looking really great. Loving the color scheme so much :smiley:

(Jonah Gilbert) #13


(Jonah Gilbert) #14


For this color block out I will explain some simple tips and tricks I use to get the most out of a quick coloring. Zbrush can be a little difficult to paint with since you don't have things like layers or multiply that will make painting a lot more flexible. Some of the issues with Zbrush is if you do something for example, have your skin painted and wanted to add blood, now you want the blood to be green instead of rea it's a little harder to do without layers. You will most of the time have to erase that entire area just to redo the skin that was under the blood. So I have to be ready to rip apart my colors at anytime if I don't like them and usually start all over again.

For this coloring tutorial I will just go over basics and adding a little makeup and some skin variation.

Before I get into painting I will go over how I set my brushes up to paint. For this tutorial I just use the Standard brush. I start with just a "Direct Painting" approach by turning off the Zadd as to not sculpt while I paint and turn on the RGB. I will use 100% opacity for laying down the flats and basic colors. For things like the eyeshadow that has some skin showing through, I will bring the opacity down really low and build on it until i have the desired effect.

The "Build Up Paint" Approach is for things like adding in subtle skin variations like red and yellow parts of the skin. I will also use this for shoulders, elbows, knees and other part of the body that collects reddish skin tones. It's pretty much use the "Direct Painting" approach but I switch out the alpha for the basic fuzzy round one and I switch out the drawing style From Dots to DragRect. I will also drop the opacity to 10 and build slightly squinting while I do it as not not flood the face with red making it look like makeup. And remember to make sure your ZAdd is off and your RGB is one to paint.

Step 1 :Using a paint friendly material is the first thing I do. Most materials in ZBrush has some sort of color already so I will sue something pretty close to pure white. Be a little careful when using materials in ZBrush for there are more factors in the materials itself that can affect how bright or dark your colors will be. For this I used Zbro_Paint (http://luckilytip.blogspot.kr/search/label/Matcap?&max-results=3).

Step 2: I start with the eyes since to me they will largely influence how I make the rest of the face. If i want a mean face I make mean eyes and the rest seems easier to make the mean elements of the face. I then drop the base flat color for the face. For this I use a medium tone, no highlights or dark areas yet and I will gradually build up from there later with darker and lighter colors. For Right now I focus on the color that dominates majority of the face. Just like sculpting I start with big parts first then get into the details.

Step 3: I will usually have reference of some sort of make up tutorials out there or even good make up adds and take parts that I like and may work on my character. For this I went with some heavier make up and added the eye shadow, eyeliner and some lipstick. There are so many colors and variations out there so it's good practice to see why people wear certain kinds of make up for certain looks.

Step 4: This is just adding more detail to the makeup and skin. I add some eyebrow color, some make up eye accent highlights around the tear duct, and popped out the teeth with some white.

Step 5: This is pretty much me using the "Build up brush method" to finish off the face. I will do things like darken the nostrils and the mouth crease. I will then add in some lipstick highlights as well as some eye lid highlights. Now when you are okay with the main flesh color you can then add come red into the chin and cheeks being really careful not to make it appear too red, I like to squint when I do this to avoid overdoing it. I will add a little yellow on the forehead and around the face where it meets the hair I will hit it will a little dark value to pop the front of the face out a little more

This is a pretty straight forward approach to how I color without using things like texture maps, texture brushed for color or overlaying images and extracting their exact color that way. Since i want a more cartoony feel I kept it simple.

(Simon Kratz) #15

Nice progress! I love how much you start coloring in ZBrush already! I prefer doing most of it in Photoshop and just set material IDs in ZBrush but it's really inspiring to see how much people can do in just ZBrush! :smiley:

(Jonah Gilbert) #16

Thanks! Coloring in ZBrush is pretty quick and powerful. I also like coloring thing in Photoshop over grey models but I also like my sculpture to be painted from every angle. There are also tricks ill show for quickly painting cavities to give your painting that extra pop. Thanks again!

(Chaitanyak) #17

hmm this is interesting..
i like the hair build up and face shading guides :slight_smile: will use it

overall seems great,
the necklace pendant seems a bit chunky(unless your still refining it)
maybe make it as thin/thick as the wrist bands?

or more gemstone like bevels..

or the larger pieces encrusted with smaller stuff

(Jonah Gilbert) #18

Thanks so much for the crit! yes I agree! It is pretty thick. I had the mindset of printing her but I will thin it out for presentation purpose for sure. Good eye!

(Jonah Gilbert) #19


Almost at the end!

This is a fun part for me! Posing is something that I struggle with pushing and even with "safe" poses (poses that aren't super dynamic) I still have so much to learn with the squash and stretch of flesh and fat. There are a couple ways to pose a character with things like Transpose Master which poses your entire model all at the lowest level and then there is my way. i usually with just use transpose and move each piece by hand using the transpose tool. I will usually resculpt parts to fit the new pose or just sculpt and create the parts on the pose only. Something like a tight shirt is something I will usually just create on the posed figure only and not on the bind pose. Creating something and then spending so much time breaking it and resculpting wastes too much time for me and id rather take the traditional sculpting approach. The hair is the biggest part that was fixed after the pose.

I also did a couple of faces to try and get a better feel of her and sorta just like my default face the most. If you guys have any suggestion please let me know!

I will be back with Pose tips and tricks on how I go about posing characters in ZBrush.

(Jonah Gilbert) #20

Here is the WIP Mermaid Queen! Working out the print details as well as wrapping her up for presentation. I will have a break down on some pose tips soon as well as tips and tricks for printing!

(Kieranmckay) #21

Sweet! looking awesome man!
I love the expressions you did, especially the third one.