Meet the Artist: Zack Petroc



Zack Petroc[/b]
Art Director | Model Supervisor
Unit Eleven

“I went to college to get an education, not a job,” Zack Petroc advises. “A good school will present you with a plethora of opportunities. It’s up to you to sort through them, and make the choices to achieve your goals.” A graduate from the Cleveland Institute of Art in Fine Art, the journey has taken Zack Petroc to become a prominent modeller working in feature film effects. Recently completing a stint as Model Supervisor for ‘Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow’, Zack Petroc believes that artists can carve opportunities for themselves anywhere, “You don’t need to be in a school to find opportunities; it might just take a little more effort to seek them out.”

Zack Petroc’s work on ‘Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow’ had him supervising the models and digital assets, including modelling some of the final models for the film. “Sky Captain was a unique experience,” explains Petroc. “It was the first collaborative project I’ve been involved with that didn’t leave me wanting to work on my own pieces at home at the end of the work day. Kevin and Kerry Conran wanted all the artists involved to feel a sense of ownership in the final film. I think they succeeded.”

“I’d describe my visual style as the contrived offspring that would occur from Matt Barney’s Art making it with a Marvel Comic. I enjoy designing characters and objects relative to specific narratives. When deciding on character or environment traits, I prefer to use the storyline as a means of choosing which designs might be more appropriate for each scenario.”
Petroc’s workflow begins with a sketch on paper, then on to Pixologic ZBrush where he digitally sculpts the models using ZBrush’s intuitive tools. “I begin the form development with an unorganised mesh trying not to worry about the underlying geometry, instead focusing on the formal elements of the sculpt. If it works, I’ll continue to refine the form and create an organized mesh when the design sculpt is complete. If not, I’ll go back to sketching and repeat the process. I use ZBrush, FreeForm, Maya, Silo, and RenderMan.”

"The understanding of human anatomy is crucial for the creation of believable characters. A 3D environment, like ZBrush, is a great medium for experiencing the formal elements of weight, mass, and balance applied to a sculpt as it develops from a basic block-form.”

Contributing back to education, Zack Petroc is releasing a training DVD on modelling human anatomy using ZBrush and Maya. Published by The Gnomon Workshop, the DVD covers the anatomical modelling of a human using the paradigm that ZBrush offers, while maintaining true to the art of sculpture. “I wanted to present an approach to digital sculpting that outlined technical discussions and featured formal techniques like adding life and realism to a character,” explains Petroc. “This DVD lecture covers a Maya to ZBrush workflow but unlike other software training DVDs, it focuses on creative decisions and techniques as opposed to specific tool techniques. I hope it puts the art first.”

“The intended audience for this lecture is everyone wanting to strengthen their understanding of human anatomy and form development. This is the type of lecture I searched for years ago when I was not satisfied with my art, but could not really identify what was missing. My approach was to clarify the true forms of human anatomy. The viewer experiences the form development of the entire figure, from scratch, in an uninterrupted and continuous method.”

“The digital medium is young, and that’s why the majority of pieces created with it display the artistic prowess of a Chicken McNugget,” jests Petroc. “I believe that many of the current software workflows have a tendency to restrict the fluidity of the creative process adding to the staleness of a piece. I know my art suffers from it. There are a handful of artists who are overcoming these issues and I’m still trying to understand how they do it. With tools becoming more intuitive and more people becoming comfortable with them, it’s a matter of time before the potential of the digital medium is fully realized.”

Zack Petroc is now part of Unit Eleven, a small team of artists making feature films. He calls it a “live action Pixar”. His “Digital Sculpting: Human Anatomy” DVD is available from The Gnomon Workshop.

Related Links
Zack Petroc
The Gnomon Workshop

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Hello Zack !
I really enjoy your awesome works and thanx for making the dvd !
i find your workflow to be really fast and you can achieve result of any quality, do you think that this type of workflow will soon completely replace hardcore poly by poly or any modeling?
more questions soon :slight_smile:
Good Luck !




whoops !
sorry !


Hi there Zack, just stopped in to say that I love the work you have done. I also have your Gnomon DVD and it is awesome. Keep up the great work.


Hi zack … you’re amazing ,you have a very diferent way to deal with models, and inspiring works in your portfolio…
I have few questions for you.
1- Can you tell Us a litle bit of your tradiotional’s background ? ( drawing,sculputure…etc…)
2- Do you think that anyone can draw or sculpt ? i mean… do you belive in talented and non-talented person or is just a daaily practise to draw shapes and forms?
3- Can you tell us how it was your experience at fine art school ?
4-Can you tell us some future project ? new dvd’s etc…
… That’s everything … (sorry about my english :\ I’m learning)
keep up your amazing style and we’re waiting for portfolio’s updates… hugs…
Leonardo davi


good work…damn good… particularly charecter posings
could u explain u r charecter modeling workflow in maya

Thanx in advance


Hi Zack.
Your work is an inspiration to me.

I love your design especially those in sky captain. Best of retro !
I had started a short which I wanted to put in retro style or world war era mechanism.I watch sky captain couple of times , each time i seen it i like it more.

I have few question.

  1. Do you have any rules before you start designing or sculpting?

  2. What advice would you give to zbrush beginner,I am an intermediate maya user.

  3. Do you think a single person doing a short will be able to do everything right from designing, modeling, animation to compositing till the last step?
    Do you have any advice for them technically or production pipeline?

  4. Lastly,Visual art or story telling is more important?

Thank you Zack.:slight_smile:


My respect to you Zack! It’s a very privilege to talk with anyone that work in films with this level of precision!
My dream since I was 1 year old :rolleyes: was to work in films world, with the massive contribution of the mind, and over all the heart… With years I started with CG and now I feel that I wanna live making the modeller…or something like this
What is the way for make this work? I have no school, just passion, and here in Italy there aren’t good schools…
Must I make a good modelling, or a short film and send to ILM?
Do u have any suggestions?

Good art man!!!

PS.How do you made that perfect cloth’s folds in your models? Are them zbrushed?


Hi Zack (and everybody)

First, thanks for spending your time here with us. This thread looks very promising :slight_smile:

Well, i’d not want to make a very specific question, but this really does not let me sleep. In the last months we are seeing how Zbrush is consolidating its position as an incredible tool, and well, for me it seems to be a perfect tool (i love modeling and texturing), and more and more often i find myself moving polys and vertex not the way i always did (model, smooth, render), but in the way zbrush will work better with them. I mean, months ago i was modelling wrinkles, holes, muscles, and all those stuff that right now you can do in zbrush with much more control and speed. I´m not worried if something looks too flat or smoothed in my 3d app, because i know for sure that in zbrush i can make it look exactly as i want. I’ll go farther… i do not uvmap/unwrap any poly since several months ago! I do it all in zbrush. (and I work a lot!!)
My question is , Is Zbrush really changing something up there in the big studios or it is just me ? Is really the philosopher’s stone for the modeling and texturing?

Thanks for your answers!

Julio C.


hey there Zack, i was hoping that you might do this, awesome.

Just had one question, im sure im forgetting alot but anyways… How long do you spend on a project. I know everywhere is different but in a general 9-5 work day, say you needed to create one of those female statues (which are amazing by the way), how long would it take you and whats the lonest thing you have ever worked on?

oh and do you rig your characters, maybe to put them in a different pose?

anways those are the only questions i have at this time.




Hey Zack:)

I am really excited that you are here in doing Q&A, your DVD has helped in tremendously in regards to learning how to sculpt and how to understand, balance and refine mass. There is truely nothing like it and you have dome a great service to the digital community- the quality of work will surely improve because of it (mine has).

Some questions:

*Right now you redraw the animation cage topology in zbrush then use it as a template in Maya to reconstruct- I noticed though that you use Silo so have you changed your workflow to include the topology brush now? Can you forsee doing all this in Zbrush when the next release comes out and you can use Zspheres to bulid new loops around the existing mesh?

*How do you see yourself using the new rigging tools in Zbrush coming out? This seems like it will allow the artist to quickly reposition the mesh using Zspheres- seems like a good tool for morph targets etc.

*I find UV mapping to be the one thing that frustrates and slows down the organic digital sculpting process- can you share some thoughts on how you approach it?

*Any chance you can do a tutorial on the iguana animation that you showed @ the Zbrush user group meeting? I saw a clip of it but I would love to see the whole process from laying out the base mesh, refining, uv, texturing, and animating.

Thanks for taking the time to do this!


Hey jack. First I just want to say thanks for coming here to talk to us. The stuff you did was really good. I have a few questions for you.

  1. How long did those take about?
  2. How much did you make on average for working in the sky captain?
  3. What made you want to be a artist?


Hey Zack, I loved your work in Sky Captain, and am continually amazed whenever I see another of your stunningly detailed works somewhere, like on your website. I was wondering two things. First, I’d want to know if you can reccomend any books or media (besides your DVD, which I am planning to buy) on sculpting anatomy? My second question is what would you like to see added or improved in the next major version of ZBRUSH?


Hi Zack,

Could you talk about your time at the Florence Academy? How long you were there and an overview of what you studied? I have a few friends heading there this summer.



Hello Zack!

I just wanted to take the time and thank you for providing such an amazing resource as you have done with your Human Anatomy DVD. It has bumped my skill level way up, which in my opinion speaks volumes of how much your DVD has helped me. I’m indebted to you for that, and coming from a more traditional background where a lot of artists “hide” their secrets I find your willingness to share your knowledge very forthcoming about your character.

Your work is an inspiration, and I’m honored that you took the time to expose the mysteries of sculpting on the computer. Any digital modeler, or even traditional sculptor should see your DVD.

Hopefully you have plans to do another DVD, because I’ll be first in line to buy it!

Take care,

Chad Hamlet

PS: I guess a question wouldn’t hurt.

Being that there is such an amazing way to sculpt with Zbrush, what is your take on putting 3D digital concepts on a demo reel? I know that in the old days Disney, and other studios, wanted to see artists sketches, and life drawings etc… Do you think that the time has come to start adding those types of “sketches” to 3D demo reels?

The reason I ask is I am going to put some on my demo reel. Just a few though, along with more complete models with proper topology which will be the main focus of my demo reel. Personally I think it is a good idea. But I haven’t seen anything like that before, hence my question.



Awesome work! I’m just getting started in Character modeling, and to see work of this quality is very inspiring.

  1. How long have you been modeling and what inspired you to start?
  2. Is there a specific form you enjoy modeling more than others?
  3. How would you rate the quality of a program like Zbrush against something like Maya which is a full service program?
  4. What advice could you offer to someone thats just getting started?
  5. Do you feel the modeling field is extremely competitive?

All I can think of at this point. Again awesome work!


Rick Klein
Full Sail Academy Student


Hi Zack,

There have been a few posts where people have expressed an opinion that using Zbrush is almost like cheating as they claim it’s easy to get great results and that Zbrush is like a magic wand that can make a bad or average artist great. What’s you’re take on this? Also, will you be creating any more DVD’s for Gnomon?



hey Zack, I thought your work was great in sky captain, and remember reading somewhere that you guys used a new modelling tool…kinda like a scanning stylis or something that allowed you to sculpt an a more traditional way. If that’s so, could you give us a little info on what it was like.



Hi Zack - your work is indeed great and inspiring…after watching
your DVD, which is one of the best i bought from gnomon, i remained with a few
unanswered questions about your workflow…so if it’s ok I’ll ask
these questions here…

  1. after you have built a mesh in zbrush and created another one in
    maya, with good topology, you kept subdividing it and using shrinkwrap
    to transfer the detail from the high-res z brush model to the new one…

the question is - do you end up with a dense mesh and leave it as it
is or somehow extract the displacement map and apply it to the original
mesh constructed on top of the zbrush one in maya?

  1. one more question that was given before - if you don’t mind is about the Haptic device and if it’s a good thing to invest - does it really make a difference comparing to a wacom and Zbrush - or it’s good for starting a model and then switching to Zbrush…and does it have a future or it will be soon replaced by other technologies?

Thanks a lot for your contribution to this community

Andrei Coval