How important is Zbrush to games?


Dynamesh is a cool recent addition to ZBrush and I think that you will see it used more in the game pipeline. I’m currently working on a character (part human, part animal) that began with a base mesh in Maya for the body and separate meshes for the tail, horns, etc. I can “fuse” the separate meshes in ZBrush using Dynamesh easily. Dynamesh allows you to “experiment” with shapes in a way that was difficult before (but note that in a studio pipeline you will follow the concept given to you). But the high resolution sculpt must be made into a game mesh (with proper topology based on poly count budgets and animation deformation).

Many character artists use TopoGun for retopologizing--it has some great new features (I also have 3DCoat). I will sometimes bake polypainting (TopoGun, XNormal, and other programs allow polypainted pixel baking) before UVing. I don't know of too many game character artists that retopologize in ZBrush. I never UV in ZBrush (but sometimes I will "slop" on some quick UVs for polygroup selection purposes for easier sculpting of fingers, etc.).

The recent insert mesh and curves insert mesh brushes in ZBrush will probably get used more in game art (for pockets, belting, etc.), but sometimes it is just quicker to model in Maya or Max. Sculpting folds in clothing is a lot easier in ZBrush.

Hard surface character artists will typically not use ZBrush as much as organic character artists (mainly to do some hard surface "shaping," although I know some artists are using it more for hard surface stuff lately). I prefer using TopoGun, 3D-Coat, or curve-lofting in Maya/Max instead of ZBrush "extractions" to make armor or other accessories (it is hard to get nice edge flow with extraction and if you have to retopo you might as well just use TopoGun, 3D-Coat, or similar program).

A mobile games studio near me uses ZBrush for a few things in their pipeline, but as noted by others, not a lot.


Don’t forget that ZBrush is also a really nice texturing program, with polypaint, spotlight and the noisemaker plugin. I pretty much use it for all my texturing needs these days.



ZBrush is still the standard for sculpting but many companies use Mudbox for texturing, since the latter is more geared towards previewing GL/DirectX realtime previews. Naughty Dog, for example, uses both. I hate using polypaint, not because of the UVless workflow but just because it’s not as fluid as Mudbox for painting. But I’d never sculpt in Mudbox. It’s awful for sculpting compared to ZBrush.


Interesting, I’ve not used Mudbox. Before I used ZBrush I used another painting app and I find ZBrush a lot more fluid than that so I guess it depends on what you are used to. I’m not working with assets for games typically though, usually it’s for rendered animation.

I actually like the UV-free workflow, it feels very organic to me to be able to just throw some paint or project some photos on a rough model to get a feel for where it’s going without having to deal with UVs and it can be handy sometimes if you need to transfer textures to a new mesh with different UVs and that kind of thing. Generally if I want to work on a flat version of the texture I’ll just save out a UV snapshot from Maya and then work in Photoshop, of course that’s not going to give live preview but usually at that stage I’m just making minor tweaks or fixes.

There’s no perfect app of course but I really have fun using ZBrush and find it enjoyable to work with. The best aspect of it for me is that it lets you focus on the art side to begin without dealing with too much technical stuff, then once the client buys off on the model/textures you can deal with topology, UVs etc without losing any of your work.



ya, polypainting makes sense if you want to work in a UV-less state but once you want to start painting glossiness or add an illuminance effect for game assets, ZBrush hits a wall and you need to use a better painter like Mudbox, Mari, Bodypaint, etc. Even Photoshop Extended builds more complex shaders. You can get interesting faux-Fresnel and illustration effects in ZBrush with passes and comping but that’s not very useful for building game assets other than still image icons and stuff.


Thanks, good to know. I have Bodypaint here and do use it occasionally but I find generally it feels a little sluggish compared to polypaint for general painting usage.



ya I couldn’t get into it either. I am pretty happy with Mudbox as a painter. Mari is faster but more difficult to work with since stuff has to reside in the paint buffer before being baked down. So there’s a gap between what’s on your mesh and what’s in the buffer. That’s pretty limiting


I’d be interested to know how this is limiting. Many of the artists I speak actually like having the paint in the buffer and being able to edit, warp and reposition the pixels before committing.

One interesting thing to note is that the preview you get isn’t just a simple overlay, it is doing a live projection, so spec works like spec, bump like bump etc. The live projection is pixel accurate too, if you zoom the model before painting you’ll see the pixels you’ve painted at the correct resolution, ditto with resizing textures before projecting.


Also worth looking at is Modo. You can edit you mesh to fix mistakes while the uvs update to reflect the changes. Also Modo can paint normal maps in real time which is kinda badass :slight_smile:


I’m interested in knowing this as well :slight_smile: I see it as a benefit, for the same reasons you mentioned. We don’ have Mari at my current job, and I am really missing it :frowning:


I find it quite fast, and the ability to paint in render view is very useful. Having said that, I’m trying to do as much painting in ZBrush as possible so as to concentrate my learning on it and get a better hang of it faster.


Why would you like to be efficient in PP in ZB?
I would love to be able to do my painting in ZB, but I feel I am lacking the amount of control other applications have. Is there something I have missed? What is it that makes ZB your preferred painting package? :slight_smile:


Well in my case it’s because it’s the one I own. Better PP than nothing. :smiley:


Zbrush for game texturing isn’t that convincing for me. I use Bodypaint, and it feels outdated. I think Mari is the way to go with texturing.
Zbrush for sculpting, Topogun for retopology, Mari for texturing. For normal maps I don’t know what’s the standard.


That’s interesting. I also think using shadowbox in Zbrush can be of a great help if you model something complex like a car. Will it speed-up the process starting from a Zbrush sculpt? I think it may be possible.
About accessories, if you need to build something precise, then starting in the main package seems more reasonable. Though I’d still use Zbrush for defining the main form and then using retopology to build it over as a starting point. But if it needs to have a zbrush look, and you need to get normal mapping from those parts, it may be better using Zbrush.
It seems you could use this approach for some accessories: using zbrush to define the main outline of the model, then retopo it, then precisely model accessories, and then modify it fast in zbrush for a needed look. And then subdivide and extract the normal or displacement maps.


Is there a video that demonstrates this? I keep hearing about it but never been able to find an example anywhere. Sound too good to be true


Getting textured stuff out of modo and set-up in a shader in another program like Maya is a total pain in the arse. I haven’t touched 601, but plenty of UV transfer problems, misreading of various file information going from modo to Maya has caused plenty of headaches for me. I feel like I should own half of the Alieve company for all the money I’ve spent on headache meds from them. I think MudBox is going to be the best painting solution for most people working with other AD software moving forward.


As far as tasks outside of texture painting and hard surface modeling ZBrush is industry standard. You won’t find a decent character artist or any other artist that builds/designs organic models that doesn’t know how to use ZBrush.


I wouldn’t say ZBrush is my favourite painting package. It’s just that I have a very good grasp of Photoshop and Bodypaint and I need to concentrate on getting better at ZBrush faster than I am at present.


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