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A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

A guide to:

Zbrush Comic Style render! By Pablo Munoz Gomez


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Hello and welcome to another ZBrush guide! In this guide, I’ll try to tap into the fantastic world of comics and borrow bits and pieces of what’s considered a “comic style” to create a reusable Comic Material for render 3D sculptures using ZBrush BPR.

An illustration on its own is rarely referred to as a “comic”, unless is part of a sequence of related images, which are, in most cases, driven by a story. But there are also a lot of different comic styles simply because each artist has his/her own style. So how do we determine those visual clues that suggest our next piece of art is COMIC ART?

In this tutorial you’ll learn: - Various techniques to achieve the “Comic look” in ZBrush; - To create and render a “Comic style” artwork in ZBrush; - How to create your own Comic MatCaps; - Combine materials together for more complex effects; - A bunch of tips and trick related to material creation. •

Resources! I have compiled a bunch of resources with this guide to help you understand certain things or simply to give you a head start in the right direction. Some of the things included in the resource folder might not make sense outside the context of this tutorial, so I encourage you to go through the tutorial and bring up the resources as they get mentioned (in yellow) in the different sections. Afterwards, feel free to use them as you want in your personal projects.

Intro Although defining what a comic style is and what is not, could be a volatile topic of discussion, I will simply use the term to refer to a particular set of visual clues that (in my opinion) suggests an illustration could be part of what’s commonly referred to as a comic book or a graphic novel.

A short answer could be: consistency. In other words, no matter what your style is, if you want to put together a short comic book or an epic graphic novel, consistency will be a strong element that could bind your sequence of images as a whole. Take for example the overpowering dark shadows and stylised anatomy of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, or the beautiful, clean and simple linework of TinTin by Herge. The soft palettes and detailed illustration from Moebius, The bulky and oversized proportions of Rob Liefeld’s art, The psychedelic compositions and colours of Jim Starlin, The dynamic poses and zombie-like characters of Ryan Ottley as well as the complex lines and shadow work of Todd Mcfarlane or Jim Lee. I could go on and on just to mention some of my favourites (and I’m leaving a lot of big names out for the sake of not going over three pages here). I’m sure that you get the idea... In the construction of this tutorial I have used many references of my favourite comic artists and I have identified what I consider to be the key elements that make an illustration an artwork for a comic book. So here are the visual clues and what I will be discussing in this tutorial: OUTLINE AND LINE WEIGHT This is probably the most important one out of the four visual clues. Since most comic books are 2D in nature, Sculpting your character in 3D and getting the right shader to mimic the look and feel of a hand drawn illustration, is essential. We’ll take a detailed look into this further into the tutorial.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez In this particular case, and because we are going to be working in 3D, we have the advantage of quickly and interactively change the direction and intensity of the shadows much more efficiently than if we were just drawing of inking in 2D (more of these in the matcap section). “RESTRICTED” COLOURS AND RIM LIGHTS

DYNAMIC POSES AND PERSPECTIVE This clue or idea is quite obvious. Not only a dynamic pose will make the character look more interesting, but it suggest movement which could make your image a bit more “sequential” even if you are working on a single image. The perspective is not simply a choice of camera angle, but an additional tool that could also add to the dynamism of the image and help to accentuate the mood of the scene (a hero pose usually from a low level perspective aiming upwards, for instance).

In this fourth clue I’m doing a generalisation, but it’s necessary in order to create a couple of specific examples that can be explained in a step by step scenario. Regardless of the colour palette, you can use flat colours or a more sophisticated gradient that defines the volumes better. The reason why I called it “restricted” is because the different hues are usually applied to well defined areas of the characters.

Ok, with this introduction out of the way here is a little bit of the structure of how we are going to tackle this guide:

HARD SHADOWS AND CONTRAST Surely one of the coolest visual clues is the use of hard shadows that are often there to define volumes and the anatomy of the characters. In some cases they shadows are very intense and create an overly contrasted image with a very dramatic lighting, sometimes the shadow itself is the driving force of the whole composition of the image.

First, I will show you some of the different approaches that we can take to achieve the look and feel we want, as well as giving you a rough indication of what are the process involves. Then, I will mention some points that are important to consider when sculpting in 3D if you want to go for this particular “comic style” look. This will lead to a better understanding of the use of ZBrush Matcap materials. Finally I will explain each one of the techniques in greater depth, finishing with a visual step by step guide of how I created the COVER IMAGE for this tutorial in which I make use of the technique previously discussed. For more advanced user, you can quickly scan the tutorial by reading the Green and Orange highlights, if you just want to have a general idea of the tools and methods used.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Let’s get started: Let’s kick this guide off by establishing some of the the methods and/or ZBrush features that we can use to get what we want. Keep in mind that all of the aforementioned features can be combined to make even more complex illustrations. The following diagram showcases my hero character called Kepler, illustrating the result of each one of the methods that I will be explaining in this tutorial. This is just to give you a rough idea of what can be achieved and the tools involved.

looking comic style render within zbrush. You have the advantages of the ZBrush MatCap materials and when combined with other shaders the possibilities are endless! I’m sure you will definitely enjoy this process. Outlines and photoshop finishing: With this approach, you will also have a whole lot of options. We’ll take advantage of the 3D nature of the model and the versatile materials of ZBrush, to produce an very accurate and clean outline that we can use as our linework to shade it in Photoshop, anyway you want! THE IDEA BEHIND THE MATCAP FOR COMIC STYLE (USING TESTING MATCAPS). Now I’m guessing you are as excited as I was when I started testing these techniques, but before jumping into the the action, I want to show you a few things that helped me achieve the look I was going for, instead of settling for a “good enough” result. This is the more technical part of the tutorial but I think it is fundamental to have a basic understanding of the way MatCaps in ZBrush work in order to make it work for you and for what you need, so here we go: MatCap is short for Material Capture and it captures the lighting and reflections of the environment. There are a few ways to create a MatCap but will get into that when we talk about the specific approaches of attaining the comic style.


Lightcap: This is one of the quickest ways to achieve the comic look within ZBrush. It gives you a lot of control on shadows and the way the colours (lights) are blended. Also it has a super fast render time, under 1 second without shadows. ZBrush Matcap: This is an obvious choice, you can quickly create a whole bunch of materials that have the lighting your want embedded in a single image. There are a few limitations that we’ll discuss later on but overall it gives a very decent result and the render time still is under 1 second using BPR.

I believe that you learn best by doing, so let’s try to understand some of the features of a MatCap by jumping into ZBrush and playing around with some of the testing objects. In the resource folder you should have a .obj file called “MatCap_Objects_Tester.obj”. Open ZBrush and import that file, drag it into the canvas and enter the “edit” mode:

Photoshop MatCap: Creating MatCaps within ZBrush is probably one of my favourite methods to experiment with, and when Photoshop is added to the mix, the results are very interesting and precise. Mixing Shaders with MatCaps: In my opinion this is the best possible way to get a really cool


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Nothing fancy here, but I found these objects to be the best simple forms to understand how a matcap interacts with a 3D object. In other words how a simple image is wrapped around a 3D model.

Pay attention to the left row while you slowly rotate the object clicking and draggin up or down like this:

In the same resource folder you should have a material called “RGBY_Testing_MatCap.ZMT”. Go ahead and load it up from the Material thumbnail > load. You’ll see a colourful set of objects like this:

Repeat the rotation but this time keep in an eye on the row at the right. What you’ll see, is that the transition of the colours is smoother on the right and more abrupt on the left. The reason why, is because of the difference in the amount of geometry in the objects.

First thing I would like you to do, is turn the perspective ON and OFF (by pressing P) just so you see that perspective doesn’t affect how the material is displayed. The testing material is a simple MatCap that consist of one channel with an image (the four squares of colour). Essentially, you could click on the image of the material and replace it with whatever photo you want but let’s stick with these colours for now.

This also means that the objects with less geometry or less subdivisions, have less normals. This will be more relevant in the next section when we talk about modeling for comic render. So how is this colourful testing MatCap applicable in anyway? There are a couple of things we can assume: No matter how much we rotate the models, the BLUE and GREEN colours will always stay at the bottom and the RED AND YELLOW at the top. In the same way, YELLOW and GREEN are always right, and BLUE AND RED are always left.

Now frame the objects and snap them to a front view (Hold shift while rotating).

With that in mind, we could also assume that no matter the object you use, at any given angle that it is viewed, the polygon that has normals facing up and right will be YELLOW and the same principle applies for the rest of the colours. Let’s see if that is true with more complex objects, I just loaded my character and applied the MatCap that we’ve been using:


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Let’s load the “RGBYK_Testing_MatCap.ZMT” material and see what happens with our testing objects. All I did was edit the image in the MatCap and add a black dot right in the middle. For the purpose of this tutorial, I am going to refer to the faces with normals pointing directly at the camera as “front normals”.

Ok cool it, looks like it’s true!... There are some faces that I’m sure are facing directly to me (or the camera if you like), and they still have colour.

A couple of interesting things happened to our testing objects, the front normals are now black but the first object at the top left has no black in it. This is purely because the object is a pyramid with only five sides and none of the faces is pointing towards the camera. Here is when MatCaps start to get more complicated because you have to take into account all normals of the objects not just left, right up and down but also front and all the rest in between. The good news is that the image I used in this testing MatCap, is so simple that we can actually detect which parts of a more complex model are facing “the camera” at any given angle. The centre of the image used by the MatCap (where the four colours meet), is actually the point that is facing the camera directly, so in the Kepler character example, these are the areas that have polygons facing the camera.

Rotate the object 180 degrees and things are quite different, the pyramid (now at the top right) is just black because the “base” is a single polygon with front normal.

So now let’s have a look at this testing material applied to the Kepler character:


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Very cool! Although the colours are too saturated and too bright at the moment, things are starting to look more interesting. Let’s have a look at some of the attributes of the material to modify it a bit more, before we move on into the more meaty part of this guide. Load another testing material called RGBYW_Testing_ MatCap.ZMT. This is an exact copy of the previous material, but I just changed the black dot in the centre of the image used by the MatCap to be pure white.

We are now going to take a look at two very important things for our comic look, the first one, is how to get the outlines that describe the volumes of the sculpture and the second one, is how to alter the “range” or depth of the MatCap. Make sure you turn off the polyframe so that the effects is more evident. One way we can achieve the outlines from the MatCap is by tweaking the Cavity Detection and Cavity Transition values (Intensity A and B are also relevant here). Let’s change the Cavity Detection to 1, you’ll see that the colours are less bright and the outlines in the model are pure white. Let’s invert the effect by changing the Cavity Transition to 1:

With cavity detection enabled (value more than 0), Zbrush is rendering the peaks or high points of the object, with the colour in the channel A and the cavities or low points with the colour in the channel called B and its also using these two colours to shade the materials using a 50% of each of these channels, which is why the colours are darker and the white areas look grey (50% white and 50% black - or 50% A channel and 50% B channel). I sculpted a couple of lines with the Dam_Standard brush in this plane to show you the above paragraph in practical terms:

If you move the Cavity Transition slider back to -1 you’ll get the opposite effect. However, it’s important to know, that this attribute is not inverting the A and B colours but rather smoothing or sharpening the transition of the Peaks and the cavities (black and white in this case) so you are actually inverting the transition. Hopefully is not too confusing, but give me another chance to explain it. Imagine that A and B are a simple gradient from White to Black:

If Cavity detection is not enabled, ZBrush will only take into account the A sliders. Great, now we have some black outlines but the colour are still a bit dull. The black or white outlines and the less bright colours are determined by the same attribute, which is the colour I chose for A and B at the bottom of the modifier subpalette.

But is Cavity Detection is enabled, the Cavity Transition will sharpen the transition between A and B:


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

when you invert the values in the Cavity Transition slider you are essentially flipping the effect:

Let’s go back to the testing objects. As I mentioned earlier, the Intensity A and B are also very important here and this is how we are going to change the grey back to white. Turn the Intensity A all the way up (to 5) and Cavity Transition to 1. This is basically our original MatCap but now we have black outlines.

These attributes are mainly to intensify the appearance of cavities or peaks, but the real value for us in this comic tutorial, is that we can change really quickly the area covered by the “front normals” colour in the image of our MatCap. These are some examples at different values and you can actually “flip” the MatCap image if you go to the negative values:

Here are some screenshots with the same values from the above samples but used with Kepler character. You can play around with the Cavity Detection and Cavity Transition values to tweak the amount of lines and the thickness of the outlines. Now that you know that the colour of the outlines are determined by the B channel, you can simply change the B colour to something else to get different outline colours:

We are getting closer! Maybe you are starting to get excited about the possibilities? I know this first part might be a bit tedious but I think we need to tackle some of these basics before getting into the super cool effects. MODELING FOR COMIC RENDER (DEEP INDENTATIONS - SHARP LINES - CONTRAST SHAPES)

Ok, the next thing I want to show you is the Depth A and Depth B. The easiest way to understand the practicality of these attributes, is to see it as a “pinch” (positive values like 3) and “Magnify” (postivie values closer to 0). That ZBrush does to the MatCap image.

One of the things you’ll realise when creating your own Materials, is that sometimes they look great in one model but not so much in a different one. If you create a Comic MatCap material and want to reuse it, chances are that it will look good with a variety of models and using the testing objects provided with this guide will help you get a more consistent result. However, it’s not all about the material, so you might be modeling a really cool character but when you apply your brand new Comic MatCap, you may be disappointed. So this section is about some tips and tricks to make the models more likely to look awesome with the comic style materials. 8

A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

The head in the image on the right, is a quick dynames sketch that looks alright in the MatCap Gray. The model seems clean and there are some organic shapes and a bit of hard surface around the helmet/mask.

To upgrade the look of this head I exaggerated the volumes and indentations a bit more. I also added some alphas and a few lines on the suit; these subtle changes helps to accentuate the contours of the face and create greater contrast between the surfaces.

I took the head and applied one of the MatCaps I made and suddenly, it started to look a bit boring. We are losing some important lines of expression and there is no much contrast:

Here is what’s happening‌ When we take a model and we exaggerate the low and high points or peaks and crevices we are also increasing the normals variations in the model. Take a plane for instance, if we apply the Testing Matcap with the black circle and we snap the view to look at it from the top, we will see the plane is totally black. Since the plane has only one face normal (pointing at the camera in this example) it can only pick a single colour from the Matcap determined by the view angle.

Now, this is the same head with exactly the same material. It looks more defined and more interesting; the differences is purely in the model, not in the render settings or the MatCap attributes.

If we subdivide the plane (more faces, more normals) and we pull some faces, the sculpted area will have normals pointing in directions that matches other point in the image of the MatCap.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

If you have a Matcap with an image that has very thin black outline, and you want to get some black lines within your model, you’ll need to carve deep in the model until the normals are almost 90 degrees from the view angle.

A simple TIP to enhance your models for comic render: Work on your model as you normally would. Once you are happy with it, test your Comic MatCap and see if the model itself needs tweaking the you can simply create a new layer and exaggerate the cavities or crevices you want to be more prominent. Here is Kepler with a gray matcap so you can see the model. Ideally the volumes and lines I exaggerated should make the character look more consistent across different MatCaps:

LIGHTCAP FOR COMIC STYLE RENDER Lightcaps are very powerful. They essentially follow the same principle of MatCaps in that they both intend to capture light information. The main difference is that with LightCaps you can interactively adjust the light and its properties while you create it. With the MatCaps, on the other hand, the light information is baked into a single image, which means that to modify the lighting you’ll have to edit the image. Although this is a very powerful method to achieve a comic style look, it is not my personal favourite. I chose it to be the first in the list to discuss, because it can give you very quick and interesting results, so this might get your creative juices flowing and get you excited enough to make it through the rest of this lengthy guide! Ok, the first thing I’ll get you to do is initialize ZBrush so that we can start fresh. Load the “Testing_Hero_head. ZTL”, drag it into the canvas, enter edit mode and dock the Light palette to the left or right tray. Also, select the SkinShade4, you should have something like this:

You should also have only one light enabled from the Light palette, go ahead and turn it off. Also set the Ambient light to 0 You should see something like this:

Ok, now that we have gone through some basic concepts and a few tips we can start using the different techniques I mentioned at the beginning, to achieve our comic style render.

The reason you can still see the model and some volumes is because the SkinShade 4 has a bit of Ambient. If you open up the Materials palette and then 10

A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

the Modifiers subpalette, you’ll see the first attribute is Ambient and it’s set to 15. Turn it to 0 and now we have a pure black silhouette (I also got rid of the Background gradient).

Now find the LightCap subpalette in the Light palette. We don’t want to alter any MatCap but rather start fresh so select the SkinShade4 material again (keep in mind that the SkinShade is a ZBrush shader not a MatCap). Click on the “New Light” button from the LightCap subpalette. You should see something like this:

Before we start creating our first LightCap, I want you to go to the material palette and click on any MatCap. Great! we just created a light that is letting us see the volume of our object again. Now let’s do a quick overview of some of the attributes we will be using to create the comic effect. THE STRENGTH is quite self explanatory. The higher the value the more light that is diffused from the object. What is going on? We have turned all the lights off! Why are we still seeing the MatCap? Well this is the practical example of some of the things I have been talking about. MatCaps have the lighting information already baked in an image so you can see it even if you don’t have lights in your project. When using MatCaps, the only difference between having a light on or off, is the ability of casting shadows on the model at render time.

THE SHADOW slider determines the opacity of the shadows cast by the selected light in the LightCap. I will turn this attribute to 0 in most cases when creating a comic LightCap. THE APERTURE AND FALLOFF. These two attributes will be the most important ones to create the look we want: THE APERTURE defines how the light is spread over the model, think about it as a super concentrated laser beam when you have lower values or a huge diffused light box when you are in the higher values. THE FALLOFF defines the distance cover by the light in the model. For our purposes, the easiest way to think about it is as a “sharpen / Blur” slider for the area covered by the light. With all this in mind, set strength value to something like 1.3 and the Aperture slider to 60, you should get something like this:


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

From this point you have a two options: 1. Keep playing around with the lighting and add some polypaint to your model so you can start getting some colours into your comic illustration. 2. Use the light sources to colour the model and then create a MatCap from the lightCap.

Now go ahead and change the Falloff slider to 0… voila! The first step towards something cool in this Comic style guide. Finally!

Here is a quick example for option number 1. I just position the light in the angle that I liked and assign some flat colours to the hero head.

Option two it’s a bit more juicy! so let’s see what else we can do.

From the LightCap editor preview image, click and drag the little red dot that appears in the middle (this is your light). With just one light you can create a whole bunch of comic-like style effects:

Keep the polypaint ON so you can see how the lights affect the colour. In the LightCap subpalette, there is a Colour picker next to the blending mode of the light, this allows you to pick a colour for your light source. I’m going to start by creating a bit of shading. I want to have strong sharp shadows but I’d like to see some details and the volumes a bit more. Let’s create the Base for this material: leave the colour in white and tweak the strength, aperture and falloff. I set the values to 1, 120 and 1.2 respectively.

NOTE: If you see a bit of gray between the black and the white areas on your model, this is because we haven’t turned off the Specular slider in the Material modifiers of the SkinShade4. If you want pure black and white, you can just set the specular slider to 0.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Now create a new light from the “New Light” button. You will be able to cycle between the lights using the light index. When you have multiple lights, make sure you select the one you want to change because the attributes are unique to each light you create. The new light will be the specular or highlight but very subtle. With the Strength at 0.15, Aperture at 60 and falloff at 5.

The next step is to get some shadows but instead of enabling them,we are going to use the light itself as a shadow… WHAT? Yes, we’ll use is as a “black light” simply by changing the colour to black and the blending mode to Multiply. Position it where you want, I put mine at the bottom left and got this: I’m sure you are starting to see the value of this method but let’s wrap it up and finish it by adding a few more lights. The next one is another “black light” that I positioned at the bottom and slightly to the right, just to make those sharp shadows a bit more prominent.

Finally, we just need to add a couple of highlights to make the render more interesting. Create another light (the fifth one), and change the colour to something like this bright yellow. Set the blending mode to Replace(normal) and crank up the strength to 20. Play with the aperture and falloff to get a sharp highlight and position the light to the right:

Create one more final light that we’ll use as a secondary light source. This time I set the colour to blue and moved it to the left. Instead changing the strength to 20, I left it at 1 and changed the Exposure to 6 (the exposure multiplies the value of the strength slider… just so you know is there). Cool, so this is, in a nutshell, the idea of creating lightCaps. You can click on the “Create Texture” button to bake the lights into a single image that you can save with a MatCap. Alternatively, if you want to have the ability to further tweak you lights later on, you can save the LightCap and all your lights and attribute will be saved. There is an extra tip that I want to share with you before moving on… You don’t need to have polypaint on your model, you can actually turn the polypaint off and just use the lights to create your colour shading. For example:


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Obviously, you can enhance the render by mixing this method with some of techniques we’ll discuss in the next sections, but I think this can give you a good starting point for your comic style illustrations. This is Kepler with the LightCap image saved into a MatCap and I just tweaked a bit the Modifiers I mentioned before like Cavity Detection and Cavity Transition:

First thing we should do is dock the Material palette to the left or right tray for easy access. Open up the modifiers subpalette and reset all the attributes. (I chose “Chalk” MatCap, also because you only need to reset the cavity transition to 0 and the intensity A to 1). The next step is find your reference image, try to pick something that has all the shades and colours you would like to bake into your new MatCap. I just loaded an illustration of Kepler and added to the spotlight (Texture palette > Select the image > Add to Spotlight). You can turn Spotlight on and off with Shift+Z and enter the spotlight edit mode just by pressing Z. Move your image to the side and your 3D model to the opposite side.

ZBRUSH MATCAPS FOR COMIC STYLE RENDER The next technique I wanted to share with you, adopts the same idea behind the creation of a LightCap but this time we’ll be creating the MatCap image based on an illustration. This time we’ll be editing the image of the MatCap directly as we build it up. This approach is great if you want to create your material based on the style of your favourite comic and I think is one of the fastest ways to construct the look and feel what you want. I’ll start by loading the Kepler character, you can use the testing hero head, load the Kepler_bust.obj or your own model. The process should be exactly the same regardless of the model you use. Select a MatCap that you don’t use much because when we start the MatCap creation, the image used by the MatCap you choose will be overwritten (until you restart ZBrush again). I picked the “Chalk” MatCap.

TIP: If you image has black areas, ZBrush will read it as transparent. An easy fix is to increase the intensity of the image from the spotlight menu. The most important thing to understand, is that the image used by any MatCap, is a capture of the “environment” (lighting, reflections, etc) and the best way to capture a 360 degree image is using a sphere to map all the light interaction points. So what we need to do before anything, is to identify in our reference image the closest thing to a sphere or a rounded surface. This could be a deltoid, a contracted biceps, a close up to the chin or a nose assuming it is a humanoid character, or in this case the head / helmet of the Kepler character which will work great as our reference point.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Ok let’s introduce the MatCap brush! Go to the tool palette, open up the tool menu and select the MatCap brush from the 2.5D brushes section. ZBrush will tell you that your current tool is in edit mode and ask if you want to exit edit mode and switch tools. We need to click on “Switch” because we want to drop our 3D model onto the canvas and start using the MatCap tool / brush.

Because we have chosen only one colour, there shouldn’t be any shading but a flat colour. If you still see some shadows is because the preview shadows are on. I personally don’t mind having them but if you want, you can turn them off from the Render palette > Preview Shadows > Object Shadows slider.

After choosing the first colour, I realised that there is actually a slightly darker blue that should be the primary and the light blue is just a really big specular / highlight so removing a marker (the point created where you click) from the MatCap is quite easy, you just need to sort of remember where you clicked. Hover over the area you clicked to pick your colour and you’ll see a little red square. You can now hold “Alt” and click on it to delete it. (the image in the MatCap or the 3D model will not change until you click on a new colour new marker). Now we are ready to start building our comic MatCap. Begin by finding the colour or tone that is more prominent or that covers the biggest area, in my case, the light blue is a pretty safe choice. Once you have identified the primary colour, click on it (over your reference image) and you’ll see three things happening simultaneously: 1. A small sphere with a little red arrow appears in the canvas.

I clicked on the new colour that I think should be the primary shade and then click again on the lighter blue, but this time I’m going to give the highlight some direction. To do that, click and hold, then drag in the direction you want. You’ll see the little preview sphere updating as you drag the red arrow.

2. The image used by the Chalk MatCap has been overwritten by the colour you chose. 3. The 3D model (that is not editable because we dropped onto the canvas) is filled with the blue colour.

Once you let go (of the click), you should start to see some shading on the model. This is a great way to create all sort of MatCaps, but we want to get the comic look and feel and at the moment, the transition between the colours, is very smooth. The next step is to learn how to get a sharper transition between the colours (moving from diffuse light to a more specular point).


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Click again on your image reference to select another colour. while clicking, drag the mouse to set the direction of the light and before releasing the click, hold Ctrl and keep dragging. When you add Ctrl to the equation, you’ll see how the area with the colour you picked, gets blurred or sharp as you drag from left to right.

Ok, I know it doesn’t look quite right yet, especially in the very smooth areas (like the head and chest of the Kepler character). But don’t give up! this is a great way to achieve some very interesting shading. Once you have used all the markers you need to describe the lighting of your reference image, you can move on to refining the MatCap. First, check the image we have created in the MadCap texture. Just hover over the image input in the material to see how it looks, you might decide you need some extra markers. This is how mine looks:

Since the idea is to make a very defined transition between colours to achieve the comic style, we need to hold Ctrl until we get a very sharp highlight. The problem is that each point you pick on an image is trying to mimic a light source, so the area of the light gets smaller as you make it sharper. You could think about using “Ctrl” as a way to modify the MatCap roughness; Ctrl + drag will change the “surface” between concrete and metal, for instance. Modifying the way the light interacts with the material from diffuse (like in a concrete wall) to very sharp highlight (like in a metal piece).

Definitely not the best, but the way colours are mixed in the actual model is not too bad. This is why is a good practice to create your MatCaps based on the model you are intended to use the materials with. To refine this MatCap, open up the Matcap Maker subpalette (the last one in the Material palette). Here you have a series of attributes that you can tweak to change the look of your MatCap, the first one is: Gloss. This slider can help you sharpen the transitions between the markers or blur them a lot:

All that to say that in order to make a sharp larger area in our MatCap we need to create various small sharp highlights of the same colour:

I followed the same process to create the other colours including the black outline and got to something like this:

Then you have the Refine attribute which I rarely use but you may want to experiment with it. The way I see it, is that it acts as a “burn-saturate” colour slider:


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Next you have intensity, saturation and contrast but these are self explanatory. Since these attributes modify the MatCap image, you could think of them simply as Levels, Hue/Saturation and brightness/contrast in Photoshop:

For instance, the following image has the gloss slider at 0.3 which is quite diffuse:

This other one has a gloss value of 5 where you can start to see a clear definition of the different colours:

Now look what happens if we take the first image with gloss at 0.3 and we increase the specular to 500. The image now looks almost like the one with gloss at 5:

Then there is Backlight, but I haven’t found it to be that useful. I believe is a slider to exaggerate the fresnel effect depending on the samples of your image (if you have a very thin white outline around for example). Now, the specular slider is quite interesting. At first, if you are just playing around with the slider, it might seem that it does the same as the Gloss slider but it’s a different effect. It does blurs and sharpens the transitions between the markers, but it also reduces the radius of each marker sample.

So if we keep the specular at the maximum number (500) and we slowly increase the gloss value, we can see that ZBrush is reducing the diameter of each sample marker. In a way it’s like the Aperture and falloff attributes that we talked about in the LightCap section. So these are the final setting I used in the Matcap Maker to edit the image captured. Before and after:


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

TIP: Keep in mind that while you refine the MatCap from the Matcap Maker subpalette, you can add, remove or edit your existing markers at any point.

Great - I think we’ve made good progress, but the next couple of methods are really going to take the comic style to the next level.

Finally, you can also play with the MatCap falloff curve to create a wide range of very cool and interesting effects, by creating additional point in the curve or using the noise slider:

One last thing, if you want to delete all the markers you have created, go to “Marker” in the top menu and then click on “delete Markers”. PHOTOSHOP MATCAPS FOR COMIC STYLE RENDER I know, I know… the idea of this tutorial is getting the comic style using just ZBrush BPR, so why Photoshop? Well, we are still using ZBrush to render the materials, is just that we’ll take advantages of the precise tools in photoshop to create the MatCaps images before using them in ZBrush. It doesn’t have to be photoshop, most image editing software will be ok to do what we are going to do but I’ll use Photoshop as is the most widely used software for image editing and because it is the one I prefer. I could have started this guide by describing this method, because it allows you to ditch out a large number of options, test various combinations of colours and it just make the models look very cool. But I thought it was necessary to understand the LightCap and MatCap creation process beforehand, because what we’ll do now is essentially the same thing but “blindfolded”. In other words, we will be creating the image for the MatCap but without the interactive feedback that the previous methods offered.

Once you are happy with your MatCap and if you want to save it for later use, simply go to the top of the Material palette and click save, give it a name and you are good to go!

Let’s begin by opening the Photoshop_MatCap_template. PSD that I prepared for you. I use Adobe CC so the file might not open in previous versions of Photoshop but you can create your own template really easily, I just shared the one I use to save you some time. You should be able to see just a couple of layers, a Background and the smart objects that has the image.

TIP: If you want to have your brand new MatCap available every time you start ZBrush, you need to save your MatCap into the startup folder. in windows is something like this: C:\Program Files (x86)\Pixologic\ZBrush 4R7\ZStartup\ Materials


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

If you double click on the smart object, it should open up as a separate document that you can edit, you can add or remove layers and hit Ctrl+ S to save it. When you close after saving, all the changes will be saved into the template (because of the smart object) and you can save a JPEG to import into ZBrush. Within the smart object. you should see a few layers with objects that make the material, these layers can be anything, shapes, photos, hand painted, etc. Only what is inside of the circular area is going to be used by ZBrush to render the material. That is why there is a mask image at the top for your reference which you can turn off before saving (doesn’t make a difference if you leave it on though).

To start, delete or turn off the layers in the smart objects, leaving just the background and the mask. whatever we create in between this layers is going to be our MatCap image. I found that the easiest way to build an image for a MatCap is to work from the back to the front, or from the outline to the inner areas. So we’ll create the first colour that is going to be the dark outline. Create a new layer and let’s create a circle using the Ellipse Tool (u). hold Shift to create a perfect circle. After you create it you can also click Ctrl + T and transform it to put it in place. Fill this with Black, or use your reference image to colour pick the area with the colour you want.

The next layer will be the next colour inwards: The dark purple. I also like to open my reference image as a separate document so I can keep it side by side. With his approach we are going to create the same image we created before with the MatCap creator, but this time we are going to have much more control over the transition of the colours, making very sharp distinctions between them and therefore achieving a better “comic” look:

Using the same process as before, create a smaller purple circler to end up with something like this:

TIP: If you created a shape (using the ellipse tool) you can simple press Ctrl + J to duplicate it and then Ctrl + T to scale and reposition it. Then just change the colour. Save the smart object, close it and save the document as a save a JPEG to the desktop for quick access. Switch back to ZBrush and import the JPEG into the texture of a matcap (I keep using the Chalk MatCap). From the modifiers subpalette, click the texture > import.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

So this is roughly what we should have:

Not super exciting yet, but we can easily see that the outer black ring, is what is giving us some outlines in the model, even when the rest is a flat purple colour. At this point you can decide if you want thicker or thinner outlines and change the size of the inner purple circle to make the outline bigger or smaller:

If you look closely to the reference, the light purple is touching the darker purple on the right hand side and at the bottom, so I tweaked to look like this:

Now let’s add the lighter blue on top. It looks like it’s another horizontally squashed circle and you can also see a little bit of the light purple on the left. Finally we’ll add the tiny bit of green that is a subtle highlight towards the top.

I will leave it as is, because the thickness of that outline colour can be tweaked within ZBrush and we’ll explore the attributes of the MatCap once we finish creating some more colours in Photoshop.

Let’s save the image and test it in ZBrush with our MatCap (just replacing the previous image).

Switch back to photoshop to create the next layer with the blue colour. Looking at the reference, if we concentrate in the rounded areas like the head, the purple colour gets thinner towards the top and bottom, so for the next colour I scaled it non-proportionally to mimic that effect. The next layer could be for the lighter blue or the lighter purple, but it looks like the lighter blue is sitting on top of the lighter purple and since we are working from back to front, the lighter purple seems like the right option. Since I’m using shapes, I can use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to manipulate the point in the ellipse to alter the shape.

Looks pretty decent giving the amount of time you can spend creating this images in Photoshop. It is also looking very close to our reference image and you can quickly tweak any of the colours, the size and shapes of the layers and completely change the MatCap really fast. 20

A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

If you think that the model is looking too “flat” for instance, you can add a tiny bit of shading to define the volumes a bit more:

This is where we explore that method. I will show you what most modifiers do but not in a particular order, we’ll start with the ones that affect the “shape” of the colours: Depth and Orientation. You’ll notice that you have Depth A and Depth B (same goes for most attributes) and that is because you can individually change the way the Raised (A) and Recessed (B) areas look in your MatCap. What Depth does, is visually change the elevation of the surface in your model, basically it does the following without altering the geometry:

I prefer the flat look as it resembles more a comic style, but if you like the above image, all i did was create new white circle, assign some inner shadows and set it to multiply and save a new image:

So let’s change the “outer line” so it cover a larger area in out Comic MatCap, by moving the Depth A to something like 1.5 I think we are getting very close to the particular style we are aiming for. All we did in this section was create an image in Photoshop to use with ZBrush as the MatCap image. This is very helpful to create those precise lines and separation of colors and to achieve the comic style look. However, this is not the most powerful process of this technique, the best part is to modify the attributes of the MatCap once we have a working image like the one we created. We are now going to tweak our material and dig a bit deeper into the modifiers of the MatCap. At this point is good if you are around 70% happy with how the MatCap is looking. Switch back to ZBrush and make sure you have your recently created image loaded in the MatCap you are creating. Also, double check that all modifier sliders are set to default values.

I looks like the colors are being duplicated and overlapping, that is because the Depth B is still at 0. There are a couple of ways to fix this, the easiest is just giving the same value to A and B unless you actually are going for this type of effect.

Remember when I said that we can change the thickness of the outline? We can do that within ZBrush and without drawing a new image with a thicker border in Photoshop.

And the other way is to set the colour of B (at the bottom of the modifiers subpalette) to black and just increase the intensity of A.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

For now we’ll stick with the simpler way and give the same value to A and B whenever we modify a slider. Set the Depth A and B to 1.5 If you use the same values but in the negative numbers, you should get the same effect with the colours upside down:

That might be useful if you want to invert the direction of the light or where the highlights are placed, but I rather not use negative values here and use the Orientation slider instead and you’ll get the same result. Before we move to the orientation slider I should remind you that if you want the opposite effect in the outline of your model, that is a thinner line, you just need to enter smaller values in the Depth sliders like 0.5:

Orientation A and B are basically a control that allow us to rotate the image of the MatCap and therefore the orientation of the light we set up in the image. Let’s say I want the little green highlight moved slightly from the top to the right, all I need to do is put in the orientation sliders a value of 45 (as in 45 degrees).

Now let’s say that I am not a 100% happy with the colours, rather that update the image in Photoshop, I can simple change the Hue of the image changing all the colours at the same time. Find the Hue sliders in the modifiers subpalette and tweak it to your liking (it works in the same way as the Hue/Saturation adjustment in Photoshop:

In fact you can also modify the Saturation and the Intensity of the colour in the same way you would in photoshop. for the following image, I change the Saturation to 0.2 (also for A and B) and the Intensity A to 0.1.

Pretty cool huh? I think I’m happy with this MatCap, You can save the MatCap from the material palette and also save the texture with all the modifications we just did. To do that just click on “create MatCap texture” at the bottom of the modifiers subpalette, and that will save an image to the Texture palette, which you can then export as an image file. I’ll finish up here because I think I have covered a fair chunk of information in this section. we’ll take a look at some of the other attributes in the next chapter as they become more relevant to the technique will be using next.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez


Lets begin by understanding the QuadShader and defining some terminology that I’ll be using quite a bit:

I hope you are still with me! I have covered the basics, sort of… and now we’ll get into more advanced Material creation. I’ll try to avoid repeating some of the things I have already mentioned, so I’ll encourage you to double check the previous sections, in case you are not sure about something that I say in here.

QHADSHADER is a material in ZBrush that has 4 inputs (S1, S2, S3 and S4). There is an in depth explanation about this, in my tutorial on Making a skin material for BPR, we don’t need to be that extensive here, but in case you want to know more you can get the skin tutorial.

In this section, we’ll be multiplying the power of a single MatCap by 4! as we’ll use a QhadShader to build our next comic Material. You will find that there are heaps of application for this technique but for this tutorial I’ll concentrate on generating a comic material that we can use with or without polypaint. THE 4 INPUTS in the QuadShader, are simple channels in which you can insert either a MatCap or another single shader. You can also use the Mixer to define how each one of this inputs or channels interact with each other affecting the overall look of the Material. Now let’s define some terms: SHADER: For this tutorial I’ll refer as shader as any Standard Material from Zbrush MATCAP: We should be clear on this by now, but let’s say that any shader that is driven by an image is called a MatCap. S1, S2, S3 AND S4 are shader inputs, but because they can be part of a QhadShader (which is a shader) it can be a bit messy to explain so we’ll just call them Channel 1, 2, 3 and 4. MATERIAL: At the end of the day, a MatCap or a Shader or a QuadShader, is a material but for the illustrative purposes of this tutorial, I’ll call a Material to something made out of a combination of shaders and MatCaps.

I hope I’m not complicating things too much, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of all this once we start with the practical stuff. The idea is to create a reusable shader that can easily be tweaked to suit a variety of “shading” styles.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

These are all screenshots using the same Material but with some small value changes:

Once you have selected it, you’ll see 4 channels under the modifiers subpalette, click the first one to select it (pressed or orange) and then use the “PasteSH” button. NOTE: The little dots on each channel, are to turn on and off the visibility of that channel. Empty circle means ON and filled dot means OFF. Great, we have our base shader ready to start, but before we can see what it does or how it really looks on our model, we need to turn off all the other channels. The idea with this base shader is to: 1. Create the “first pass” or basic outline of our comic material 2. Remove all or most of the shading and 3. Create a few subtle dark contour lines.

Let’s get started! First, we are going to create the basis of the Material using a shader. Go to the Material palette and select the SkinShade4, this is a very versatile shader and is great for what we want. This also is going to be channel 1 (first from left to right) in our comic material QuadShader, so start by copying the SkinShade4 into the first channel of the Comic Material, here is how:

Creating a quick shadeless material with a black outlines is not hard, we could simply use the technique from the previous section and just build a MatCap. However, the reason I want to use a shader like SkinShade4 is because it will give us the option to do some simple shading or speculars later on if we want. Go ahead and turn the Ambient and the Specular sliders all the way down to 0. Doing this, will get rid of any ambient lighting and specular colour, leaving us with just the diffuse to tweak.

With the SkinShade4 selected, under the modifiers subpalette, you have two buttons: “CopySH” and “PasteSH”. click on CopySH to copy all the modifiers of the shader. Now we need to find the QuadShader under the Standard Materials in the Materials palette.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

At this point, I like to turn on the polypaint of the model or simply select any colour other than black or white. The idea is that this shader should not affect the colour so that we can use it on any other model with any polypoint. In other words we are creating a material for the “linework”.

Now there are some Modifiers in this SkinShade4 that we don’t really want to have ON. Change Colorize diffuse, colorize specular, AnisotropicDiffuse and AnisotropicSpecular, switching all to 0. Also reduce High Dynamic Range to 1.

With that curve shape, you should get something that looks like the image below, with some sharp and subtle black outlines but you can also see a bit of the volumes.

We can still see some shadows that help define the volumes, but those have nothing to do with the Material we are building. the shadows you can see are simply “Preview Shadows” and you can control them from the Render palette, under the Preview Shadows subpalette. I turned the DeepSahdow off and the ObjShadow to 0:

Cool, I think this is very exciting because we managed to create this with only one Modifier of a simple shader. Since we are using a shader and not a MatCap, this also means that we can affect the outlines or shadows just by changing the light position! wohooo! look at this:

We end up with a very basic material that it’s basically controlled by the diffuse amount and the diffuse curve alone. We’ll leave the Diffuse slider to 100 but the Diffuse Curve is what does the magic trick. Play around with the curve but we are roughly looking for this shape:

Not only that, we can change the light colour, intensity and the ambient light to quickly modify our comic look. think about the possibilities! and we are only 25% done with our Comic Material.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

For our second channel (S2) we are going to use a MatCap. You can use any MatCap because we will modify it anyway, but I think the FlatSketch01 is already pretty close to what we need. Following the process of “CopySH” and “PasteSH” from the first shader, bring the FlatSketch01 into the second channel (S2) of our QhadShader material.

CAVITY TRANSITION: This is obviously linked to the Cavity Detection slider, but it deals with how sharp or soft the transition is between the raised areas and the crevices. This modifier will greatly affect the look of the shader because it allows the input of either positive or negative values (This will also serve as an “invert” function for our purposes).

Turn off the first shader (S1) so that you can only see the contribution of the shader 2. The idea with this second shader is, to create the “volume lines” that describe the shapes and masses in your character. I’d say that the FlatSketch01 does a pretty good job but it can be further refined. Start by turning the opacity to 100 to make sure we see what this shader does at a 100%. We are going to tweak the Cavity Detection and Cavity Transition to create the lines based on the crevices, peaks or hard edges of our model. Let’s just do a quick overview of what these modifiers do: CAVITY DETECTION: Essentially, this slider defines how strong or how much “contrast” there is between the raised areas and the crevices or cavities. For the purpose of what we are trying to achieve, its almost like using Levels in Photoshop to contrast the lines of a sketch. As soon as you turn this slider ON (any value other than 0), you are enabling all the “B” sliders. I have already mentioned these in the last section when I talked about Depth A and B and Orientation so let’s just sum it up like this: If the Cavity Detection equals to 0, any “B” slider is irrelevant as it won’t have any affect.

TIP: You can benefit from the “B” sliders without having to see the cavities. You can make the Cavity Detection = 1 (this enables the “B” sliders) and change the Cavity Transition to 0 (which keeps the “B” sliders ON but without seeing any cavities. Hopefully that is not too confusing. Basically what we need to know about these sliders to create our comic material, is that the Cavity Detections will gives us lines in deep areas and that the Cavity Transition will determine the sharpness of those lines (also invert them). Before we tweak those setting, change the colour B to black and leave the colour A in white. We are not going to use the Intensity A and B that are right below the Cavity Transition so change them to 0, instead we’ll use the Intensity A slider at 1, located towards the bottom of the Modifiers subpalette. The difference is that the first two deal with the Texture input of the MatCap and the second two refer to the intensity of the colours we picked for A and B (this will make more sense in a few paragraphs).


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

We also need to get rid of the texture image used by the FlatSketch01 shader so select the texture input and then select “Texture Off” from the quick pick popup. Ok, all we need to do now, is set the Intensity A to 1 to get 100% of the A colour. Then you can play with the Cavity Detection and Cavity Transition sliders to to find a nice balance between A (White colour for the raised areas) and B (black colour for our cavities). Here are some examples with their settings:

We basically want a good balance of white for the raised areas, close to pure black for the crevices (our volume lines) and gray as an in-between for all the flat or smooth areas. At this point, this is as exciting as the ZBrush default sketch shaders could be, but there is a difference: We have set up the rest of the modifiers, to just add a couple of extra steps and watch the magic happens! Ready to be amazed by the power of ZBrush?

And the final values I end up using:

Turn the Intensity A to 3 (the first one right below Cavity Transition). Nothing happens… still no magic. That is simply because as I mentioned before, this Intensity sliders are very important for a MatCap, but our shader right now, is not really a MatCap in that we haven’t added any Image. Go ahead and click on the Texture input, and select the Texture 28 (the one that looks like white Marble). YES!!!! THIS IS IT! this is what we are looking for but how?

You don’t necessarily have to use the settings I used. Since you have a different model, the material will look slightly different than how it looks in the Kepler character. Either way you should aim for something that look a bit like this using the test head or test objects:


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Well, once we add the texture we have an actual MatCap again driven by the texture. The texture is replacing everything that we set up to be gray when we tweak the Cavity sliders. leaving the raise areas white and noticeable (colour A) and the cavities black (colour B) everything in between is governed by the texture. This is super cool because ultimately, we can add any texture here, to create any type of MatCap, and we’ll retain the “Volume Lines”:

You might have noticed in the previous examples, that the colour information from the texture input is mixed with the Gray colour which makes the colours look dull. This can be fixed by tweaking the intensity A, but we want the comic look so we won’t worry about that in this tutorial. Cool, all we have left is turn ON our base shader (S1) and see how it looks.

TIP: you can shift+Click a subpalette to open it while keeping another one open. I see the mixer as the blending modes of layers in photoshop but on steroids… Not only you can decide the blending mode for your material, but you can also assign where and how it is applied. It’s like having blending mode and masking all in one place. We want to keep all the Volume Lines we achieve with the MatCap S2 but we want to also have the functionality of the Base Shader S1, that reacts to the light position and has nice sharp shadows. So go ahead and set the blending mode to Multiply in the Mixer, to keep all the dark values and render the white colour transparent.

Hummmm it doesn’t look quite right… you can see the volume lights from the S2 but there are very weak and changing the intensity doesn’t do anything. I don’t know how familiar you are with Photoshop, but you might have encountered this problem when you have a couple of layers with different blending modes and you merge them together? suddenly the effects you had on your image change completely. In a simplified way, this is what is happening but is a super easy fix, just turn on the button called “Black” next to the blending mode drop down. This will tell ZBrush to apply this MatCap (the S2) as if there was a black surface underneath it. all good now:

OH WHAT! all the hard work gone!.... no, it is still there but we haven’t told ZBrush how to mix S1 with S2 so we are just getting both at the same time with the same contribution. All we need to do, is open up the Mixer subpalette to define how we want the Matcap in S2 to be mixed with the Base Shader in S1. Make sure you are in the MatCap (S2) and open the Mixer.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Finally, turn on your polypaint or change the Main Colour swatch to something other than white or black.

It looks good but it’s a bit dark in some areas. So to render outlines is working great, but if you want to use a colour or polypaint with this shader you should tweak it a bit further. You can play with the intensity A (remember we changed it to 3 which is a lot) and with the Cavity sliders to find a nice balance. You could also turn the Ambient slider from channel 1 (S1) all the way to a 100 and you could also swap Texture 28 with MagicTexture.jpg from the tutorial resource folder which is just a plain white texture: Perfect we are 50% there. Turn the polypaint off and set the Main colour Swatch to white again.

Looks like we need an outline right? don’t worry - it won’t take us much longer to finish this Comic Material, we have covered most of the theory so the next steps are very easy and good for revision. The next MatCap we are going to create is a simple contour line to add it to our super comic Material (QuadShader). Feel free to use any technique we have talked about to create this new MatCap, we just need something in black and white that looks a bit like this (I made this image in photoshop): Pick a MatCap from the Material palette. I’ll stick with the Chalk MatCap I have been using as example. Copy and Paste the MatCap into the fourth channel (S4) of our QuadShader. Make sure you add it to the fourth channel because we want the third one free, for an extra effect and the order of the channels, does matter. Turn off the channels S1 and S2 and replace the MatCap image in the S4 with the one you created or use the one I provided with the Resources: Simple_Black_ outline.jpg.

Now go to Document and click on the Document background colour to choose a white colour (click and drag the cursor to a white area from the interface).


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

This image gives us a very nice outline straightaway and due to the very defined crevices in the Kepler character, we are also getting some extra volume lines. All we need to do here is define how thick or thin we want the outline to be, and if you remember, we can control that with the Depth A and B. since you are going to do it one at a time, you’ll witness another display of awesomeness when you make Depth A and Depth B different values:

All we have left to do for this MatCap S4 is to tell ZBrush how to blend it with the rest and we are done. I set the blending mode identical to the previous MatCap: Multiply and “black” enabled.

I’m very happy with how this is looking, but I wanted to add a little extra option to the comic material. we’ll use the third channel (S3) for that and it will be another very simple MatCap.

NOTE : If you don’t see the effect of “double shading” happening, make sure your MatCap settings are reset to default, remember this is why I chose the Chalk MatCap to start with). I’m sure you are already getting many ideas with this so far but we’ll keep this MatCap as a simple outline for now. However, we are building a template material that can be reused in many ways, so is good that you know the capability is there. This is my outline MatCap and the setting I end up using:

You can actually copy the S4 into the S3 since all we are going to do is change the MatCap image and tweak the setting just a bit.

The image we are after is something like this:

I made it in photoshop so you can create your own or use the one in the resources Long_shadows_rim_light.jpg. This image in the MatCap, will create some nice contrast shadows and a thin white rim light. Add the image to the MatCap we copied to channel 3 (S3) and turn the rest of the channels off.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

The cool thing about having this extra MatCap, is that we are getting some cool shadows and a rim light at the same time. At any point, we can change the Depth A and B and the Orientation A and B to achieve different types of shading. I call this MatCap “the ink” and you can use it in combination with the other channels or on it own:

Also one more thing. Remember that the MatCap in S3 and S4 are just MatCaps so try plug in different images to experiment… that is the fun part:

Set the blending mode to Multiply and turn “Black” ON. Turn the rest of the channels ON, this is what I got:

OUTLINES FOR PHOTOSHOP FINISHING. This technique is probably not worth a full chapter in this tutorial, and from all the methods I have described, it relies a lot on your painting and illustration skills within photoshop. However, I think it deserves a mention as we can use ZBrush as our main tool of creation and then use Photoshop to render the illustration:

The reason why I put it in the third channel (S3) and not the fourth one (S4), is because “the ink” shader has a dark ring that works as black outline already but there is also a little white outline or “rim light” that you can use. Once you turn the Outline MatCap on (S4) it will override the “Rim light” so you get two types of outlines very quickly just by turning ON and OFF the fourth channel. Ok, this was a very lengthy section but I hope I managed to illustrate some important concepts and that you now have the necessary tools to make your own Comic Materials. One more thing I would like to show you before moving on to the next section of the tutorial, is an obvious but often overlooked modifier.

Using the multipurpose super Comic Material we created in the previous section, I tweaked the shader and MatCaps (primarily S2 and S4) to get some clean outlines and make a render. I saved the render and opened it in photoshop, I also created a new layer and place it under the ZBrush render. Setting the render layer to multiply, I can enjoy all the painting and drawing tools to create the shading of the character.

THE OPACITY SLIDER: Changing the value of this slider on the different shaders and MatCaps from your Material, you can add a whole bunch of other effects.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Here is a very quick step by step visual guide:

5. Light suggestion and other details.

1. Fill layer with base colour:

6. More colour variations to contrast the mask/helmet. 2. Apply some initial shading:

7. Exaggerating the shadow areas. 3. Colour variations:

8. Enhancing the lighting with soft gradients. 4. Continue with colour variations to help the design.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

9. Backlight or Rim light added.

13. Final touches and curves tweaking.

10. Scratches, Crosshatching and little details. We’ll talk a bit more about setting up the document a bit later on and also about BPR render passes and how to use them. MULTIPLE MATERIALS IN ONE OBJECT

11. Energy string FX.

Let’s talk a bit more about materials, about how we can apply them to our models or just to part of them. So far we have created MatCaps and a complex material that give use very cool results, this next chapter will take our shading complexity to the next level. Although the technique we’ll be using is super simple, if you combine it with previous methods you’ll get very interesting results like this:

12. Enhancing and tweaking lighting from the energy string.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

Basically we’ll be doing some polypaint, but instead of using colour information only, we are going to paint with MatCaps. Since the MatCaps we are going to use, already have colour information you’ll end up with a very complex looking image. To begin, turn on Colorize on ther the Polypaint subpalette and choose the Standard Brush. Now, make sure that the switches at the top of the UI for Rgb and Zadd are off and turn the M on:

With this settings, the Standard brush will paint but only using the material (M) information and nothing else. If you want to be very precise I’d recommend you mask out some areas before painting and when you are happy with the unmasked area, paint with the desired material. To mask simply hold Ctrl and draw over the model. TIP. you can Ctrl + click on the canvas to invert the mask, Ctrl + Drag in the canvas to clear the mask. You can also hold Ctrl and click over the mask to blur it and hold Ctrl + Alt and click the mask to sharpen the edges.

At this point, before I get rid of the mask, I want to apply a different MatCap to the softer areas of the suit. All I need to do is invert the mask and load/select a new MatCap and filled the areas.

You can go crazy with the different MatCaps, but try to create a balance with the colours you choose so that they enhance the design instead of breaking it:

Ok, so I spent a couple of minutes masking out the “conductive” areas in the suit of Kepler and I want to give them a green bright colour. All we need to do is load the desired MatCap or image in the current MatCap and paint the unmasked areas. Feel free to use any of the MatCaps I shared in the resource folder Comic Materials.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

This is just one way in which you can use the MatCaps in your model, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a MatCap, you can save 3 or 4 versions of the multipurpose super comic material we made in section 9 and apply them to different parts of your model. Then you can simply tweaks the setting to create variations for each part that you applied the Materials to. This will produce an effect similar to having different line values and various depths of outlines!

There are two approaches that I found to be very effective: 1. Sculpted details or deep crevices. 2. Polypaint using alphas. The first method is very good if you want certain scratches to always be visible and react to chances in the MatCaps and light.

The second option is probably less time consuming and can give you great results. The disadvantage is that the little details that you add will stick with the model, so if you rotate or change the angle they might not look ideal. This is something that I would do after choosing a final angle for render or strategically paint with the alphas in places that will look good from most angles.

I hope all this keeps you motivated to do awesome stuff! In the next section I’ll explain a super effective and super simple technique to bring your renders closer to the comic look with some crosshatching and “ink” effects.

The only thing I’ll say about the first approach is that the Dam_Standard and Pinch brush work great and is just a matter of patience sculpting the details.

CROSSHATCHING ALPHAS AND POLYPAINT After posting a few WIPs online while I was working on this tutorial one of the most common questions I got was about how to do the cross hatching effect. So that is why I decided to dedicate a whole section to it, even though the techniques I used are extremely simple.

With the other approach, choose the color of the outlines of your Material (I’ll assume is black). choose The standard Brush and pick the DragRect from the stroke menu.


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

I have created and compiled a series of cross hatching alphas for you to use in the resources folder, but feel free to create your own. Click on the alpha thumbnail and load any alpha you want.

In essence, it is a control that changes the angle of vision of the camera therefore flattening or exaggerating the perspective:

Make sure you turn the Rgb on and the M off in the top menu (assuming you haven’t changed it from the previous chapter). We want to only paint the colours not the material. Now all you need to do, is click and drag over the model to project the cross hatching and other line effects.

You will find this extremely useful when you start to render different angles of your character/scene to tell your story. Setting up the document is really a matter of defining how big you want the output image to be, the dimensions and the quality of the render. I usually start by resizing the document to something like 3000px x 2000px from the Document Palette. then just drag your tool back into the canvas. I also like to set the SPix (sub pixel) slider to the maximum 7 to get a better quality anti-aliasing. Pretty simple right? you can also use the alphas with Zadd or Zsub to actually sculpt the effects and that way you can get the best of both worlds (not my favourite but you can do it if you want). CAMERA ANGLE AND DOCUMENT SETUP We are coming to an end in this lengthy guide but there are two or three things I would like to mention before I let you go to create great comics. I reserved these last sections to talk a bit about setting up the document for rendering and post-rendering effects.

TIP: Pressing the “AAHalf” will zoom the document to half of its current size to show a very clean preview, closer to what you will get once you render your image. RENDERING Although, “rendering” is a key word in the name of this guide, we haven’t discussed it much. The only reason why this section is so small in comparison with the other chapters, is because we barely need to render to achieve the comic look! the preview is almost good enough in most cases. So why render, if what we see is pretty much what we get?

First, let’s talk about the Camera Angle of View, which you can find in the Draw palette. This is a single slider that can dramatically change the render of our models but it could be overlooked sometimes.

Well for a couple of reason: Using BPR render we can take advantage of all the passes that can be generated from a single click: Mask, Depth, Shadows, AO, SSS, etc. These are extremely useful if you want to compose or edit your image later on in Photoshop. 36

A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

As part of the advantages of rendering a few passes, we can also apply filters and adjustments based on those passes, to enhance the comic look or to change it completely.

You can choose a blending mode for each filter individually and play with the sliders to determine how the filters is masked and applied to the entire document. These are my favourite filters to use in rendering comic style:

Let’s say we want to render this Kepler character and do a bit of post-rendering effects. Open up the Render palette, expand the Render Properties and BPR Render Pass sub palettes.

NOISE: This is great to get a more “papery” look and give some texture to the colours.

In the Render Properties you can select which passes you want to generate. I generally turn on Shadows and AO occlusion but in this comic style, I prefer to create the shadows using a MatCap like we did on the Comic Material S3 MatCap. Hit the BPR button to create all of your passes. Render shouldn’t take long but it will depend on the settings you set for each pass, once is finished you can export each pass to a PSD file and use them in Photoshop to compose your image.

SHARPEN: It helps to sharpen the transition between the colours and define the outlines a bit better.

NOTE: If you want a bit more in-depth explanation on rendering passes you can download the guide to ZBrush skin material & BPR rendering or the Wet Clay and rendering tutorial. FILTERS AND ADJUSTMENTS Finally, we have the BPR filters and adjustments. I just wanted to mention briefly these extra tools that ZBrush offers because they can modify your render quite a bit to make it look very interesting. There are up to 27 types of effects you can add to 12 filters. To use them, turn on the selected one (similar to how we turn on and off the channels in the QuadShader material), and select the type of filter from the first drop down menu.

ADDITIVE: I find this filter useful to create an extra sense of depth. Driven by the Depth slider and a bit of radius you can create a foggy render.

PAINT: With this filter you can add an extra bit of shading 37

A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

or gradient across the whole model. particularly useful when used with the cavity and depth slider.

And here is a version using all the filters:

REFLECT SELF: This filter produces an effect that is weird enough to be interesting and useful in some cases, experiment with it and you might find yourself using it more than you think.

last but not least we have the Adjustments at the bottom of the render palette. This are pretty much like using curves in Photoshop and can modify the whole look of your render quite a bit. It is tempting to change the values a lot because of the cool results you can get, but I suggest to keep the changes here very subtle.

NEGATIVE: Not a “must have” filter but through experimenting I found a good use for it. Setting it to overlay, changing the colour to black and maskin its effect by fresnel you can add some shadows to the model like a broad Ambient Occlusion.


This is just a quick alternative, but you’ll get better results if you render an actual AO pass and multiply it on top of the render image.

That’s it! This turned out to be a long tutorial but I think we have covered the essential bits. I hope I have shed a light on my process of creating comic style renders with ZBrush BPR and that you have learnt something. I hope you can share with me some of the things you make with the help of this tutorial, I would love to see what you come up with. If you have a question, feel free to ask me on my facebook page. I do get a few emails but I’ll try answer as many as I can if I feel I can help. Feel free to share this tutorial with anyone you want, I just ask you to please share the download link, purely so I can keep track on how it is being received and to get feedback so I can continue to improve and refine the next guide!


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez

I invite you to like my facebook page where I generally post updates on new projects I’m working on, including tutorials and resources. You can also follow me on twitter @pablander and now I’m starting to like instagram so we’ll give that a try too: Pablander. Looking forward to seeing what you create! All the best, Pablo Munoz G. PD: My new website is almost ready, I’ll be posting updates soon on my facebook page. If you enjoy this guide I’m sure you will like what’s coming! it’s going to be epic! As I promised, here is a quick visual step by step guide on how I created the cover for this tutorial:


A guide to: Zbrush Comic Style render!

By Pablo Munoz Gomez


Zbrush comic style render  
Zbrush comic style render