In this guide I’ll be covering some of the new additions to ZBrush 2019 (Creative boost)
ZBrush 2019 is out now and it is absolutely fantastic! The upgraded features like Spotlight 2.0 are great and the new features like NPR filters and Snapshot 3D are the kind of tools that you didn’t even know you need it… Honestly, the creative and productivity boost that this new version of ZBrush gives you, is massive!
As part of the BETA testing team, I had the pleasure to play around with the new tools and updated features in ZBrush 2019. So, as I’ve done in the past couple of years, I put together this guide to introduce you to the exciting features of this year’s release as well as share some of my workflows and experience with the new ZBrush so that you can make the most out it!
There are so many things to talk about that this guide could get out of hand rather quickly, so I’ve divided it into two main categories (and two separate posts): Productivity Boost and Creative Boost.
Let’s start with the creative stuff because it is really fun! In this guide I’ll cover: Snapshot 3D and the NPR filters
The first feature to look into is the brand new Snapshot 3D, which is actually an ‘super upgrade’ to the spotlight feature.
The snapshot 3D lets you create meshes out of simple 2D black and white images or alphas. This is something that I personally had no idea I even needed in my workflow, and that is the beauty of this update I think. This new feature will open up a new way to create meshes… and if you are thinking “meh… big deal, I can use masks and the extract function to do that” well, you could be creating an unnecessary limitation to yourself, let me tell you why…
The new Snapshot 3D has two modes (or two ways to interact with the images and meshes): The 2D tool which is Spotlight 2.0 and the 3D tool which is the Snapshot 3D… pretty obvious, I know. Let’s have a look at them in more detail:
This is the new and improved spotlight which allows you to edit and create alphas using the same processes of booleans but applied to 2D images. The way you interact with this tool hasn’t changed, so you can press Shift+Z to turn the spotlight on and off, and once you have it on, you can just press “Z” to enter the edit mode of the spotlight.
Here is a reference for the new tools for this mode:
So with this mode, you can use the most basic geometric shapes to create a very complex alpha. For instance a square, a circle, and a triangle:
This is ridiculously powerful… and YES, you could create a more complex alpha in Illustrator or Photoshop and import it into ZBrush to keep pushing the complexity of the image. Remember that ZBrush interprets black as transparent.
So here is how this new method for creating 2D alphas in ZBrush 2019 works. We now have an icon with to intersecting spheres or circles that represent the Boolean operation for these 2D images. You can move one simple 2D shape on top of another one and press the Union button to merge the images or add one to the other. You can press the Alt key and press this union button to perform the opposite action… in this case subtract one image from the other, and finally, you can hold Shift and Alt at the same time and click on the union icon to create a shape out of the intersection of the images:
You can also use the spotlight presets that come with ZBrush 2019 to start building your 2D shapes. You can go to Lightbox > Spotlight
I’m sure you can see the potential of this, but let me show you some tips and tricks that work really well with this feature.
First, you have ‘snapping’. You can snap the center of the spotlight control to any of the middle points of corners of the image and use them as pivots to perform any other operation. You can also snap one image to the other:
Not only that but the visible mesh you have in your scene is also going to display similar ‘snapping points’ around the bounding box of its volume where you can snap the 2D image to.
You can also use the shift key to move the alpha or 2D shape in a straight line (horizontally or vertically). Something else that is not very obvious but could be really handy, is that you can hold the Ctrl key and click along the green or red lines of the image (Y or X-axis) to scale it non-proportionally.
By the way, the center of the spotlight control is pretty important, this is the thin inner orange circle which you can click and move to snap to the points.
The center is very useful because it will determine the middle point from where ZBrush is going to perform certain actions. For instance, the extent V or extend H operations.
This ‘extend’ options, allows you to extrude the alpha and grow it from the center point of the control:
You can use the flip V and flip H controls to flip the image, but what is even more useful, is to hold the Alt key and click on any of those buttons to ‘mirror and merge’ the image.
Other really useful features on this mode are the title V and tile H which will tile the alpha horizontally or vertically X amount of times.
One of my favorite features of the spotlight 2.0 in ZBrush 2019 is the FRAME option. This is an awesome tool that adds lots of functionality to this feature. With this button you can click and drag over any selected image to turn it into an outline, the longer you drag, the thicker the outline.
Not only that but if you can hold SHIFT to expand the image or hold ALT to contract it. This is extremely useful if, for example, you want to add a bit of curvature to an image with sharp edges… take a simple square with very sharp edges, but holding shift and clicking on the frame tool you’ll get something smoother in the corners:
The new duplicate and delete buttons are pretty self-explanatory, so they just duplicate a selected image or delete it. The duplicate action is something that I found myself using quite a bit to avoid ruining the original images.
One more thing that you can do with this spotlight 2.0, is to literally paint a new alpha within ZBrush. You can select any image and use the intensity tool to remove the alpha (in reality setting everything to pure black which is transparent).
This process will give you an empty image where you can use the paint tool with a white color to draw on the space of this image. To make the drawing part easier, take the center of the control and move it away from the bounding edges of the image.
Once you have painted your new shape, you can make use of any of the other tools that I’ve shown you to fine tune this new shape:
Ok so this is the Spotlight 2.0 in a nutshell but the second mode or new feature that really takes things to the next level is the Snapshot 3D. This whole feature is contained within a single button of the spotlight control.
This little camera icon is pure magic. This is what allows you to take any alpha and turn it into a mesh using the booleans operation. So, you can take an alpha and click on this button to project the alpha as a mesh into the canvas and ZBrush is going to create a brand new subtool. Also, the depth of this new subtool is going to be a perfect match to the depth of the subtool you had selected when you created the mesh from the alpha.
Now, because the action of Snapshot 3D is going to generate a new mesh or subtool out of the alpha, you can hold Alt and click the camera icon to produce a subtraction mesh or shift + alt to produce an intersection mesh:
Here are a few examples of some meshes that I build using the Snapshot3D tool.
As you can see this is a very powerful tool that boosts creativity but also lets you create things really fast so is a massive boost in productivity as well.
Moving on… with ZBrush 2019 we also have the NPR filters (NPR = Non-Photorealistic Renders) and these ones are a real treat. Personally, I think this is one of the most exciting features of this version.
We’ve had filters for a while now, but this time the new additions and the way that they work are going to take illustrations to the next level. Filters are part of the BPR render so you will only see the effect of them after you render.
To enable a filter all you need to do is turn it on from the little dot on the top right corner of the switch. Then you can select the filter you want from the filter menu.
These filters work like layers stacking on on top of each other so the order in which you arrange them does matter (you can use the cut an insert buttons at the top of the filters subpalette to move things around – also copy and paste filters is very handy).
There are a lot of filters to choose from and each one of them has a series of additional settings, so if I were to show you what every filter does, this guide would be extremely long. Instead, I’ll just show you how things work so you can play around with them by yourself
The ‘anatomy’ of a filter is pretty simple actually, but you have a lot of control over what it does and how it is applied to create a complex effect. Here is how I understand them and I think it will help you simplify the concept of filters for you as well:
I think about the filter as 4 sections: Type, mixing, Influence and limit or target:
Type is the actual filter but is easier to think about them as types. You’ll have filters that distort the image like Displace, blur, noise, sharpen, etc. Other types are to tweak color and contrast like Gamma, intensity, colorize, user auto gray, etc. And other types that are overlays like texture overlay, paint overlay, pixelated, etc.
Then you have the mixing, this is very simple and is how the filter blends with the rest and with the properties of the render. The blending is very similar to what photoshop layers blending modes are, so you have things like Multiply that interpret white color as transparent or the opposite: Screen that assumes black color as transparent.
Then we have influence, and this section lets you determine the overall influence of the effect or filter. For example opacity, or the scale in the case of Texture overlay filter.
The ‘fourth section’, limit and target is the real deal. This section has a series of slider where you can determine where the effect of the filter is applied and how it is applied.
For instance, you can limit a noise filter to only affect the background or the area outside the model. To do this, you can take the mask slider and set it to -1 which will tell ZBrush to use the alpha of the render and apply the filter to the negative space (area outside the model).
Once you understand how the filters work, you can start to add one on top of each other to make something really complex and interesting.
Here is an example of a very very rough scene that I put together to test a series of ‘painterly effects’:
The simple BPR render looks pretty underwhelming… and the model is not ‘great’ either. However, you can apply filters to this render view, and completely change the way it looks and feels.
Below are examples of a series of filters that I’ve developed trying to mimic specific painting styles and techniques (keep in mind these are all using the exact same scene and render settings, I’m just changing the filters):
If you want to explore one of these filters a bit more, the new version of ZBrush ships with one of these filters I made for oil painting effect:
To load this or any other filter, click on the lightbox>filter button (or just lightbox and navigate to filters) and double click the set of filters that you want to turn on.
If you load the oil paint filter, you’ll see that I used almost all the available filter slots (12) to create the effect. So you can turn of F8, for example, to remove the ‘texture overlay’ and have a cleaner set of strokes.
You can also turn of F9 to remove the vignette effect or play around with F10 to reduce or increase the sharpness of the stroke bits.
For better results using this filter, is better to have a mesh with polypaint and use a simple SkinShade4 standard material.
Here is an example of a different scene using the ‘Oil Painting’ filter and tweaking the values of the different filters:
The way you save your settings and render properties is also a new thing and it falls more in the ‘Productivity’ category as it saves you a lot of time. However, since we are already in the topic of NPR and filters, I’ll just briefly mention how you can save your filter sets and load them in other projects.
From the Render palette, you can now save and load entire render presets or RenderSets. This is incredibly useful because you can save not only save the filters but all the render properties as well.
For instance, let’s say that you have a series of filters that work really well with certain properties in the shadows or maybe using the AO as a mask. Saving this RenderSets will include all the tweak you did for the shadow pass and the AO as well.
Similarly, you can do the same thing but only for the filters. You can load and save filter sets on their own from the BPR Filter subpalette. Saving from this button will save only the filters, so if you load them into a different project, the render properties will be ignored.
I like to save both the filters and the RenderSets, that way you have the flexibility of what settings to load in other projects.
Another great addition is the FREEZE switch at the top of the Render palette and within the BPR filter subpalette.
This switch allows you to quite literally ‘Freeze’ the render settings or filters when you load a brand new project. This is extremely useful as you can play around with the filters in one simple object, then FREEZE and load a more complex project to keep testing the filters before saving.
The ‘Load from project’ button is another additional button in the render palette that was introduced in ZBrush 2019. This button allows you to load just the render settings or just the BPR filters from other projects.
And since we are already talking about more additions to the render palette, I might as well mention the two new settings added to the Render Properties subpalette:
S Color: This is a colour picker that allows you to select a specific colour for the shadows on your scene/model. Really useful for more stylised renders.
Flat Shadows: This is your best friend when trying to recreate a more 2D illustration render using the filters. With this switch on, ZBrush converts all the shadows on your model to a flat colour with no gradient once the render is done.
The Material palette also got a little handy update, actually the Mixer subpalette to be precise. This is something that is closely related to the NPR filters but I found it invaluable to test the ‘comic’ look of a model in real time without having to render.
The new additions are within the Mixer subpalette as I just mentioned, and are just 3 sliders that have a massive impact on how things are displayed:
Posterize: with this slider, you can determine the number of shades that ZBrush will apply to your model. I found that something between 2 or 4 works really well for most models.
Outline: This slider will apply a contour line or black outline around the edge of the subtools, it’s kind of the slider that lets you have linework for your model with a single click (or ‘slide’). I found that this one is better to keep it at 100 and then tweak the ‘Depth’ as needed
Depth: This slider controls how much depth ZBrush is going to take into account based on the outline or edge of the geometry. If you are familiar with materials, you could think about this slider as a ‘cavity transition’ slider… a smaller value will give you more lines within the model, whereas a large value, will refine the outline to make it very thin.