An in-depth overview of the ZBrush 2018 release and its features.
The Pixologic team has delivered again! This new version of ZBrush 2018 is packed with awesome new features and improvements to existing processes. As part of the BETA testing group, I had the opportunity to play with the new tools from an early stage and I can confirm that… they are awesome!
Similar to what I did for the release of ZBrush 4R8 last year, I’ve put together another introductory guide for this version of ZBrush 2018 to show you the new additions, share the way I am using the new tools and showcasing some of the things I made while testing.
This guide is not a step-by-step tutorial but you can expect some practical examples and various tricks based on my experience with the BETA build of ZBrush 2018. Ok, so here is a list of (most) features and based on my experience I divided into 3 categories: ‘game changers’, ‘fantastic additions’ and ‘thanks for the tweaks’.
Clicking on the text from the list above will scroll the page to the selected feature.
Remember how you felt when you discovered Dynamesh? Well, this is the next best thing! With this new feature, you have ‘localised’ tessellation… It’s like having the Dynamesh feature only at the tip of your brush (not exactly but this is a good way to understand it). This feature gives you absolute freedom to sculpt. When you enable this feature you get more polygons where you need them and the amount of added polygons is determined by the brush size.
So in other words, the smaller the brush, the more polygons that will be added letting you sculpt very fine details without compromising the polycount of the entire mesh (what Dynamesh does):
Similarly, the larger the brush size, the fewer polygons that will be created (Decimation). So you can quite literally, remove details really fast by increasing the brush size and smoothing the area:
Sculptris Pro might sound familiar and that is because it takes the best features of the standalone Sculptris software and seamlessly integrates them into ZBrush. The integration into ZBrush 2018 also means that the functionality is also a bit more advanced, as in it allows you to have more control over the behavior of the brushes and the settings of the SubDivisions. So we’ll probably have to talk about those settings first…
Now, before I throw you into the deep end of the pool, let’s have a bit of a play with this new functionality and two brushes that I think are very relevant and incredibly powerful when Sculptris Pro is enabled:
For me, the Spiral brush was cool gimmicky brush but I only used it in very specific scenarios. Now that we have the Sculptris Pro feature, this is one of my favourite tools to explore shapes and create interesting designs. You don’t have to worry about Dynameshing every time that the spiral start to ‘break’ the geometry. Sculptris Pro tries to add polygons as you affect the model so you can keep the creative juices flowing:
And here is an image I did during the BETA testing time following the same approach as the video above, but with some polypaint and keyshot render. (this was inspired by Joseph Drust skulls, make sure you check the one in the BETA gallery):
The SnakeHook brush also becomes more relevant than ever! I used to think about the snake hook brush as an extension of the Move Elastic that had heaps of uses when combined with Dynamesh. Now, with Sculptris Pro, this is my favourite tool to extend the mesh and quickly create new parts without having to re-Dynamesh. Also, if you create characters, I’m sure you can relate to the frustration of working on things like fingers with Dynamesh, because they could get ‘mushed’ together when you run the Dynamesh process (depending on resolution and space between the fingers). Well… Sculptris Pro has your back:
Ok, no let’s talk about the settings of Sculptris Pro. I’m going to spare you from technicalities and share with you the way I understand these settings, so bear with me… (open the Sculptris Pro subpalette from the Stroke Palette).
This setting basically determines the size of the polygons when subdividing. Since the subdivision is dynamically changing with the size of the brush, the size of the polygons determined by the SubDivide slider, are proportional to the brush size. Maybe not the best explanation, but don’t worry, this was confusing for me too at first… Here is another way to view it: The SubDivide size determines the size of the polygons that ‘fit’ into the brush cursor (brush size), so when you use the brush, ZBrush will aim to add that many polygons.
Note that in the image above, in the five examples the brush size is the same. When you change the brush size, ZBrush will try to ‘fit’ the same amount of polygons regardless of the size, so the polygons size will scale up and down with the size of your brush… resulting in a change of polygon density and therefore giving you more or less points to add details:
The UnDivide Ratio is really about the effect of the smooth brush. This is how I understand this attribute: The slider ranges from a value of 1 which will ‘undivide’ almost the same as it ‘divides’, and a value of 3 which will ‘UnDivide’ with polygons 3 times bigger than what is specified by the SubDivide slider. Here is an example with the SubDivision slider at 1 and smoothing the surface with the UnDivide slider at 1, 2 and 3 (respectively from left to right in the GIF below).
This switch is very handy. Just a few paragraphs ago when I introduce you to Sculptris Pro, I said: “the amount of added polygons is determined by the brush size.” Well, this switch being enabled, is what make that statement true, but if you turn it off, the density of polygons won’t change as you scale the brush size (in other words, it ‘won’t adapt’ to the size):
This is extremely useful when using Sculptris Pro. you can turn it off and use only the SubDivide slider to control the tessellation mount while you sculpt. You could think about this workflow as progressively increasing Dynamesh resolution where the effect is dictated only by the brush:
Right, this is an interesting one. By default, this switch should be ON which makes everything works in the way that I’ve been describing this feature. However, if you turn it off, your essentially telling ZBrush that you want to disconnect the effect of the SubDivide Slider from the UnDivide Slider. There is a simple case that helped me understand this feature. So go ahead and follow the steps in the tabs below and let’s see if it helps you as well:
Select a cube3D and turn it into a polymesh 3D. With the default settings in Sculptris Pro, draw a few lines (make sure you have Polyframe enabled to see the changes).
Hold shift and smooth half of the lines you made before.
Hold shift and smooth other areas of the cube to simply add more polygons.
Now turn off Combine to break the connection between SubDivide and UnDivide. Hold shift and smooth the other half of the lines you previously made. You should be able to see the effect straight away, but…
The most obvious effect is if you try to smooth an area that wasn’t affected by the Sculptris Pro effect. You’ll realise that the smooth brush is behaving as it normally would and it only UnDivide the SubDivided areas based on the value set in the ‘UnDivide slider’ (instead of adding geometry), in an effort to smooth areas with large polygons.
I know these features look a bit technical and can be viewed as ‘advanced settings’ so I’d recommend playing around with them to see what they do and how you can use them in your workflow, but 90% of the time, the default settings should be more than enough for most artists.
As if the previous settings weren’t enough, we also have the option to make all the the changes in the Sculptris Pro settings global. The settings under the Stroke Palette > Sculptris Pro, act as the global settings so that all the brushes are governed by the same rules. We can, however, tweak each individual brush and make it behave differently.
To change the Sculptris Pro settings on a ‘per brush basis’, you can go to the brush palette and under the Sculptris Pro subpalette, there is a switch called ‘Use Global’. The global switch is ON by default and is telling ZBrush that the selected brush should use the settings from the stroke palette. If you turn the ‘Use Global’ switch off, the Sculptris Pro settings from the brush palette will become available for that brush.
You also have a switch called ‘Enabled’ which basically turns the Sculptris Pro functionally on or off for each brush. I’ve found this option quite useful when blocking shapes with Sculptris Pro enabled. I use the Clay Build Up brush with Sculptris Pro enabled, and the smooth brush with Sculptris Pro disable:
So far this intro to ZBrush 2018 has been a bit technical, so let’s have some fun with a really cool thing you can do with the smooth brush and Sculptris Pro. Let’s grab a plane and using the SnakeHook brush (with Sculptris Pro enabled), pull the mesh up to create something like this:
Now let’s take the smooth brush and smooth around the middle of the ‘pulled’ section.
This is a fantastic trick to ‘detach’ or ‘break’ the connection between meshes. This is a piece I created during the beta testing using mostly this trick:
If you don’t want to ‘smooth and brake’ the mesh you can hold shift to start smoothing and then let go of the shift while smoothing to access the alternative smoothing algorithm. This alternative smoothing method has an ‘inflate’ effect so it doesn’t break the mesh. To give you an idea of how powerful this new Sculptris Pro feature can be, I created a series of animals from spheres to show that additional polygons were created only where I needed to add more details:
There is a series of 10 time-lapse videos that shows how I created these animals from a single sphere.
Forget about hiding, masking or Zmodeler to get nice polygroups. This new little plugin is going to be the new topic of discussion… especially among hard surface modelers.
The Pixologic guys have done an excellent job, creating and integrating this tool. It makes is really easy to generate usable polygroups out of any mesh, but as I mentioned, for hard surface modeling is Godsend! If you are familiar with my work, you might have noticed I’m not really a hard surface modeler. However, with this new plugin and the booleans system, I’m having a great time creating robots and mech concepts while keeping the design process very fluid and ‘organic’. Here is one of the final renders from ‘The Updaters’ a piece that I put together using the project primitive deformer, Sculptris Pro, and PolygroupIt:
The way it works is also very intuitive. From the ZPlugin Palette, click on the PolygroupIt Subpallete and click PolygroupIt. This will launch a separate (GPU based application) window with your current subtool.
The idea here is to click on an area to create a ‘Seed’ (the little coloured spheres) and extend their reach to fill that region with the polygroup you want. If you are familiar with the Color Range selection tool in Photoshop you can think about this ‘Seeds’ as ‘localized clusters’. Below is an example of how the Photoshop Color Range works:
Working with the ‘Seeds’ is very simple: Click to create a new Seed.
Click once on the seed to select it and bring the ‘Range’ slider
Alt+click on the seed to remove it (as you would with ZSpheres in edit mode).
Click+Drag to move the seed along the surface.
You can also use the tools on the left to enable Symmetry, Shrink or Grow the PolyGroup (cluster) or Extend the reach of all polygroups to fill the entire model.
This is an additional handy feature that allows you to create polygroups based on polypaint (similar to the button ‘From Polypaint’ under the Polygroup subpalette). It automatically assigns a single polygroup to each area segmented by the polypaint line. In other words, you can use polypaint to determine where to ‘cut’ the model for polygroups.
For example, you can take an object that you want to polygroup, and use polypaint to draw lines where you want to separate the polygroups, the line can be thick or thin… it doesn’t matter in this case, because ZBrush will average the middle point between the borders of the line:
This is exactly the same process as ‘PolyGroupIt From Paint’, the only difference is that this option, also allows you to create a polygroup for the line itself:
Here is an asset I made from some simple primitives (a couple of cylinders and torus) and PolygroupIt:
Deformers where introduce in ZBrush 4R8 with the debut of the Gizmo 3D and opened new ways to interact with your models. In this version of ZBrush 2018, the new deformers are pushing the gizmo 3D to a whole new level. Below is a list of the new deformers and among them, there is a KING!
One of the handy things about working with deformers is the Non-destructive workflow (to an extent). I think is important to highlight this functionality, because otherwise, deformers like ‘Scale’, ‘Offset’; or ‘rotate’ might be overlooked. For example, why would you use a deformer to rotate the model? You can do the same action with the controls already in the gizmo 3D or simply from the deformation palette slider…
Yes, you could… but, if you need to go back to the original form or keep tweaking the mesh you might run into headaches. With deformers, you can, apply the effect and be done with them, or you can use the deformer and switch back to gizmo 3D! Here is a quick tip: when the Gizmo 3D gear icon is orange, it means that the current subtool has a deformer that hasn’t been applied so you can always get back in there and tweak it.
Ok now let’s see what the Deformers do. I’ll try to be brief so that this guide doesn’t get too big, but if there is interest in a particular deformer (like I know it will be, with the ‘King of deformers’) I’ll do a separate guide on it.
I love this deformer, it can be super useful in a variety of situations. One really practical use you can find for this deformer is to ‘wrap’ text around a base or a cylinder shape. Maybe to add some inscription at the base of a model that you want to 3D print?
Another of my favourites. I use it in different ways depending on what I’m working on, but it is great to shape tubes or tweak arms when posing a character. With this deformer, you can change the rotation of each point as well as the smoothness of the entire ‘arc’.
This one is new but very self-explanatory. You can take a cube for instance, and use the orange cone in this tool to bevel the edges. You can hover over the controls (cones in the corner) to see what each one of them do.
You can use this deformer to quickly crease the edges of a model. It has only one control, but it lets you interactively change the angle of creasing.
If you have experience with other 3D application, this deformer might be familiar. It is really a lattice deformer that creates a ‘cage’ around the volume of your object. You can determine the number of points you want (from the orange cones) and use those points to tweak the shape of your object.
You can shift + Left click on more than one point to move them at the same time. You can also use Masking tools to ‘mask out’ points that you don’t want to move.
This new deformer is one of my favourites. It might not look like much but it is incredibly useful to create pieces for hard surface modeling really quickly. It uses the same principle and controls as the ‘Deformer’, but it maintains as a straight hard line between the points. LOVE IT!
Another equally impressive tool. It does a similar action to the Deformer Hard, but it creates a really nice curved line between the points. Using this in combination with the ‘Deformer Hard’ and the new ‘Bevel’ you can create very complex pieces very quickly.
This deformer is very self-explanatory, it is ideal to extend your mesh. What is great about it, is that you can control the placement of the extension and even extrude the new section. The yellow cone lets you assign creasing to the new section.
This is a great tool to quickly flatten an area in a specific axis or even push the geometry towards a plane. It is a great option to flatten an area when you don’t want to alter the geometry or polycount.
This deformer is another great addition. It does exactly what you’d expect: it inflates the model, but using this tool, you have control of the effect on each axis. The best part of it, is that you can control the smoothness off the inflate effect using the white cone controller:
This great tool generates cuts through the model. You can compare this with the SliceCurve brush, but with the deformer, you can position the ‘slice’ over your mesh in real time as well as having control over how many slices are generated, in which axis and the space between them.
I combine this three deformers into one section because they are very similar. They perform a simple action, like offsetting the position of the model. With the offset deformer for example, you can pull any of the orange cones to shift the position of the mesh. If you don’t ‘apply’ the deformer, or change the shape of the object, you can come back and tweak the position, rotation or scale.
King of deformers… it basically allows you to project a primitive shape into your object. This is my absolute favourite deformer and it is the most complex of all. Just to give you an idea of how powerful this new tool is, here is a short timelapse of a helmet I made entirely with this deformer (and a tiny bit of the deformer soft at the end).
This is an awesome new deformer to Dynamesh an object and it let’s you control de resolution from the white cone. You can even set the projection and smooth value from the red and blue cones.
Here is something really cool you can do with this deformer. If you split your mesh or break it using the smoothing trick mentioned before with Sculptris Pro, you can bring to separate bits together and use this deformer to combine them back into a single mesh without affecting the rest of the model! amazing.
Same idea as the Remesh by Dynamesh, but with ZRemesher. You can control the polygon target with the white cone, and change it as many times as you need to before applying the deformer.
This deformer I see it as a shortcut to the decimation master plugin. You can use the yellow cones enable the use of polypaint and how much it will influence the decimation. You can also use the purple cone to maintain UVs, and the orange cone to protect borders.
With the RGB cone, like in any other deformer, you can activate symmetry on any axis (or more than one). The white cone is essentially your decimation control.
This deformer is also relatively simple. It has a bunch of controls but they are colour-coded with RGB to represent all the 3D axis, so you can easily skew the model on a very particular angle. I haven’t used this much, but if you are working on a stylised character, you can mask some areas and use this deformer to exaggerates certain areas.
This deformer is absolutely fantastic! It does a very simple thing, but it does it right. You can drag the ‘blue dot’ in any direction to determine the position of the ‘slice’ or ‘cut’ and using the orange slider you can control the width of the slice. My favourite control is the white cone. It allows you to extrude/intrude the sliced area with feedback in ‘real-time’.
The description of this deformer is very similar to the inflate one. It does what you’d expect but with a greater control in terms of where it is applied (axis) and how strong is the effect (white cone). If you move an orange cone in the ‘negative’ direction, you’ll get a sharpening effect instead:
This is literally the same thing as the Smooth slider in the deformation subpalette, but again… that ‘thing’ about a non-destructive workflow:
This deformers is like using the Scale deformer, but using the ‘planes’ of the bounding box as pivot points. In other words, if you have an object sitting on a plane, you can use this deformer to scale it or stretch it in the ‘Y’ from the contact point with the plane:
As you’d expect, this deformer subdivides the model and you can go up and down in ‘levels’ before applying it. Here is an example of how I use it with booleans:
A very simple but powerful tool, I use this to modify larger shapes and play with design options:
This is one of my favourites, because it can be used in many different ways, to twist the mesh obviously, but with many applications. Check out this guide to create a Rope Curve Brush where I use this deformer to twist and untwist the geometry:
Let me reiterate what I said at the beginning of this guide: The SnakeHook brush is now more relevant than ever! So, it makes sense that now ZBrush comes with a few more default SnakeHook brushes:
With this brush and Sculptris Pro, you can create a cactus in seconds:
You might say that the effect of this brush is for a very specific purpose but think about the potential of the brush rather than what it does by default. The effect of the brush is driven by an alpha, so try changing the alpha and explore different shapes!
NOTE: the alpha in this brush will be rotated as you drag the stroke. If you want to try your own custom alpha make sure that the alpha has a clear positive value (white) in the centre of the image for better results.
This is exactly the same as the default SnakeHook brush but it allows you to displace the geometry away from the surface perpendicular to the surface normal. This is a great brush to pull and create new geometry perpendicular to the camera angle for example. Here is a sketchy creature-thing I made while testing this brush:
Something cool you can do with this brush is that you can tweak the influence of the direction from the Brush palette > Modifiers > Brush Modifier slider. By default, this will be at 100 which means that the brush will ‘pull’ geometry perpendicular to the surface normal, but if you change this slider to 0, this brush will behave very much like the standard SnakeHook brush. So, you can play with some values in between, to get a more subtle effect (in direction).
This brush has an ‘inflate’ effect and behaves similarlry to the SnakeHook2. A cool trick with this brush is to pull geometry towards the camera and without letting go of the ‘click’ hold the Alt key to push the geometry backwards.
A couple of very useful features were added to the curve brushes. The elastic and the liquid switches under the Stroke palette > Curve, are a great way to modify your curve brushes after you draw them.
Enabling the Elastic feature allows you to pull from any point on the curve like a rubber band where the influence amount is set by the CurveEdit Radius (the light blue cursor you get when hovering over the curve).
Liquid, on the other hand, gives you a more fluid way to interact and deform the curve. Like the elastic switch, Liquid also adds more geometry to the curve as you pull the points.
There are a couple more of ‘hidden’ features that complement the Elastic and Liquid features really well. I say ‘hidden’ because they don’t have a switch or button, they exist in the Shift and Ctrl keys.
The Shift key helps you smooth the curve as you would any other surface, which is fantastic! To make it work, click on the curve and then press Shift, that will enable the smooth curve function:
The Ctrl key allows you to rotate a portion of your curve and it works in the same way as the smooth feature. Click on the curve, hold Ctrl and drag the cursor to start rotating the curve. The CurveEdit Radius will determine the range of the rotation:
The Sculptris Pro is a really powerful addition, but the freedom of just sculpting details wherever you want comes with a price. When you start using this new tool you’ll soon forget to keep an eye on the polygon count (or at least I did), just because there is really no need until you get to a very high polygon count. So when things start to move a bit slowly, you’ll be checking the polycount again and realise that you are at high polygon count. Here is where the decimation presets come in handy. Just click on one of the preset buttons and keep sculpting (ZPlugin > Decimation Master), there is no need to ‘Pre-Process’ your object:
I’ll start with this one because is a personal favourite. There is now a switch under the Preferences > Edit subpalette, called ‘Draw Transformation Border’. You can now turn this off to get rid of the white outline around the canvas. This might not be anything too special for most people, but I personally hated that white border and now any screenshot comes out nice and clean.
NOTE: This is a change that you’ll have to save in your Custom UI in order to keep it when you re-launch ZBrush 2018. if you want more info on how to customize your ZBrush UI, here is a link to a guide that will help you: Customising ZBrush UI with a purpose.
This one is amazing! I don’t have much space on my “C” drive and I try to keep just my applications in there. All my files are on other drives. ZBrush 2018 now allows you to specify the path, where you want to keep the ‘QuickSave’ files, so I, for instance, have changed it to another 2TB drive that I use for storage and have plenty of space to store those ‘quickSave’ files.
The only caveat is that there is no ‘interface’ for this or a button in the ZBrush UI. You need to change a ‘.txt’ file from the documents folder, but it’s a piece of cake. Here is how you do it: Look for a file called: ZBrushScratchDiskPath.TXT If you are a Windows user, you should see the file in C:\\Users\\Public\\Documents\\ZBrushData2018 and for Mac users, it should be something like /Users/Shared/ZBrushData2018. Open the ‘ZBrushScratchDiskPath.TXT’ file and simply replace the path with the folder that you want and save.
Make sure you write the full path including the ‘letter’ of your drive.
This is a cool feature that might cause some debate. It is a switch that, if enabled, allows you to remember the size you set for each brush. I honestly didn’t like it at first, but once I started diving a bit deeper into the ‘advanced’ settings of Sculptris Pro I found a very good use for this switch. You can set the Smooth brush size to be larger than your current brush for example. I also like to disable Sculptris Pro just on the Inflate brush and keep it as a large brush.
This is another new switch that allows you to turn on or off the Dynamic size on each individual brush. I can see how this feature might be useful, but I can’t think of any scenario where I’d have to disable the Dynamic feature. One option is to disable the dynamic size for the move brush and keep a large size so that you can sculpt areas with the clay brush for instance, and the zoom out and make large proportional changes with the move brush.
This is another brilliant little update that allows you to produce displacement maps from the HD geometry. Basically, if you have a model that has sculpted details in HD geometry when you generate your displacement map, ZBrush will interpret the HD geometry details as the highest subdivision level. This is significant because you’ll be able to produce very detailed displacement maps form your HD geometry.
This is a really nice addition for those who have “strong feelings” about the RedWax material that loads up with ZBrush by default. I honestly didn’t even notice this until later because I’ve been using Joseph’s ZStartup master plugin for a while, so I never deal with the RedWax. To use this new feature, just select the material that you like and press the “Save As Startup Material” and that’s it’:
You can even choose a material that is not in the ZStartup folder. in the example below, I have chosen a sculpting material from the ZBrush Materials FORM pack and it works perfectly fine:
This is just a tweak to the LazySnap. The new default value is 0 which is definitely a good thing… you might not want all your strokes to snap by default with all the brushes.
This is a great update to a very useful feature. I think this might have something to do with the new PolygroupIt plugin but regardless of where it came from, is an awesome tool. If you go to the Tool > Polygroup subpalette, you’ll notice that the button ‘Group By Normals’ now has a little dot on it. Switching this ‘dot’ On or Off allows you to toggle between the old and the new code to perform this action. Let’s first change the MaxAngle slider to a small value like ‘3’ so we can clearly see the effect of this update. I’m going to use a simple mesh with some planes. Now, when the ‘dot’ is ON (of filled) the old code will be used. When the ‘dot’ is OFF (or just an outline) the new code will be used and we’ll get something like the object on the right: Very nice and clean! Fantastic addition!
I’m loving the new features in ZBrush 2018. Sculptris Pro is definitely a game changer for me, it shifts the focus back to sculpting which is the reason I got into ZBrush in the first place and it just opens a range of new possible workflows allowing you to stay in the ‘creative space’ for even longer! (instead of dealing with technical processes). One of the most valuable things I found during my BETA testing time, was that the new features provide me with the space to rethink how I approach sculpting. I don’t necessarily see the new additions as just “new tools”, but as a way to diversify and embrace new workflows. I used to think that with each iteration, ZBrush just kept shortening the gap between art and technology. As tool for the artist, I believe that statement is absolutely true. However, I realised that in my own workflow, ZBrush is instrumental to explore and freely create art without any constraints, but similarly, it is the tool that I use to solve many ‘technical’ issues that I might run into. So the shift in my sculpting approach is more about a shift in mentality: instead of expecting ZBrush to be the tool that creates a bridge between art and technology, I am embracing any technical difficulties and trying to solve them through artistic experimentation.