Compositing ZBrush BPR Passes In Photoshop

Who doesn’t like a bit of compositing?


I often find myself trapped in the black hole of compositing, where you loose track of time and the process of tweaking the contribution of each layer, consumes you… The whole thing becomes an argument with yourself, debating whether a 50% opacity looks better than 55% for instance. I even forget to eat and my eyes get dry, because I don’t blink as much… BUT is great! I love the feeling of refining and image and bring it to its final/presentation stage.

Even if your render engine produces an image that is absolutely spot on, I’d bet you always do a little bit of compositing. Maybe not the whole masking and layering stuff, but surely you spend some time adjusting brightness and contrast, grading, moving around some layers or cropping and resizing, before sharing your epic new image with the world.

I think the secret to enjoy compositing and to produce an interesting image, is in the ability to produce really good masks and create good selections within your compositing document. The good news is that with ZBrush, you can easily render a variety of passes that can be used as masks, it is just a matter knowing what sort of passes you can use and for which part of the compositing process.

Good masking, allows you to be more creative and develop the look and feel you really want for your images. In this tutorial I’ll show you how to use the various BPR (Best Preview Render) passes you can get from ZBrush, as masking tools to build a cool looking image from the ground up using Photoshop.

In my case, I treat every single image that comes from a render engine, as a RAW photograph. Since we are visual people, let me illustrate this idea with a simple photo from my camera before we get to the video.

I took a photo of this guy with my camera in “Auto mode” and a very basic setup:


Now, this is the same photo with a bit of “compositing”:


Software Used


  • Level: Beginner 100%
  • Level: intermediate 65%

Learn how:

  • How to composite various BPR passes in photoshop
  • To use BPR pases as masks
  • To set up a non-destructive workflow
  • How to customise lighting after render
  • How to sharpen details and create DOF
  • How to utilise colour corrections to create mood
  • And a few other tips and tricks

The image below shows the final image I created using this method, if you want to see more of the process and variations of this character in particular, CLICK HERE.

Here are a couple of posts related to this character, that you might find interesting:

I think there is a considerable difference between the two images, and it didn’t take too much time to make the image look more visually pleasing. I tweaked the colours, exposure, contrast cropped and rotate the image a bit. With 3D is the same.

As an example, here is the render of my recent work “Franky” that came straight out of Keyshot vs. the tweaked version with a bit of compositing:

RAW keyshot render of the character "Franky"
Final photoshop compositing of the Keyshot render of the character "Franky"

As you can see, there is not a significant difference between the above two images. If anything, the background is the most noticeable change, when you first look at the two images side by side. However, a combination of adjustments and subtle detail enhancements create a more interesting image.

So what happens if you don’t have a render engine like Keyshot? Perhaps you just want to explore a different style of render, or if maybe you just want to have more control over every part of your image. Well, we can “build” our image from bits and pieces first, and go through the colour correction and adjustment process later. This is the process we are going to explore in this tutorial.

Compositing ZBrush BPR passes in Photoshop:


This is an introduction to the project and a quick overview of the render passes I chose to render and why.

Part 1 – Setup and Basics

In this first part of the tutorial, I’ll walk you step by step through the process of creating the initial shading, lights, shadows and colouring to establish the base image for further enhancements.

Part 2 – Adjustments

In the second part of this compositing tutorial, we’ll take the composition from PART 1, and take it to the next level by adding more interesting lights, contrast and colouring effects.

Part 3 – Refinements

Finally, in PART 3 we’ll take the composition and refine it with the final adjustments. I’ll also show you a couple of additional tricks to sharpen the details of your image and create the lens effect to blur out areas of the model away from the camera (depth of field).

I hope you find this process insightful and somewhat useful. I’d be curious to see what you produce with this technique, so feel free to post your image in the comments below or if you have a question or suggestions, chuck them in there too.


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