The process behind the tutorial: Rendering a comic style illustration within ZBrush.

Developing a process to recreate the look and feel of a “comic illustration” was really fun. But if you are like me, you know that getting the exact look you are aiming for, could be quite frustrating sometimes. So what I did with this tutorial was to narrowed down the tools and processes I needed to use in order to mimic the visual style of a comic-style artwork.

Once you understand some basic principles, creating things like ZBrush comic MatCaps is almost addictive!


Rendering 3D objects with a 2D look is nothing new, in fact there are plenty of tutorials or breakdowns on how to reproduce the comic style in a 3D application. I didn’t really have a clear idea of where I was going when I started doing the render tests, but I through research, and I found a couple of very interesting techniques with stunning results. Unfortunately they weren’t very relevant to what I was trying to do in ZBrush, as they were relying on a more sophisticated render engine.

I have some experience working with ZBrush BPR and I have been fascinated with it since it was introduced, so I decided to try to get something looking good within ZBrush, while keeping the process relatively simple. The techniques of achieving the look of comic-style are described in the eBook tutorial, this is post is more about the process of how I develop the technique/process.

As Baba Brinkman would say: “Performance, feedback, revision”

This is essentially the structure behind any type of tutorial that I’ve done in the past. If you follow me on facebook or twitter you know what I mean, it is a pretty simple model but I think is very effective. I started with this tutorial by doing some simple tests and render out some images that I posted in facebook and ZBrush Central. This was the performance.


Sometimes you might not be entirely prepared for the first “performance” but you have to do it, otherwise you won’t get to the most important stage of the process: the feedback. Fortunately the ZBrush community is a fantastic resource of constructive criticism. Mix that with the honest opinion of other artist and friends and you have a pretty good recipe to get into the revision stage and to be able to “cook” something better.

I took all the comments and feedback on board and continued with the revision. I kept tweaking and changing things in the process and even found new uses for tools that I have been using for ages.

That lead me to do another “performance” to start the cycle again. I made this fanart image of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy that was rendered all within ZBrush (definitely one of my favourite comic characters):


I was very happy to see all the positive feedback so I spend some time refining some steps of the process to make sure I could share a step by step guide. This is a quick timelapse of Hellboy’s modeling process:

And here is a little video showing the power of ZBrush in action:

It’s almost good enough to just set the camera and do a screenshot of the whole thing. One of the advantage of actually using BPR is the option to render all kind of passes. This is another version of Hellboy’s fanart using the same render passes that I got from rendering the previous image.


Third round and making it more personal

I was getting comfortable with the process I had but I wanted to test the consistency of the materials, so I created my own character:


I posted the above image and asked for help to name it and to find him a power. I got some very cool ideas and I end up naming him Kepler. Working on this character I also found more uses for the comic materials and processes I was developing so I did some other tests like this:


It looked alright at the moment I made it but It looks like I was starting to deviate from the original idea. After this bad performance, I got feedback and went into the final revision stage.

I concentrated on creating the tutorial to share some of the tools that had been using, but mostly to build a reusable shader / material that, with a bit of tweaking, could be used on any model to render the comic style with ZBrush BPR.

This is a little teaser I created before I published the tutorial showing a number combinations that can be achieved with just one material.

After much testing and fun playing with various tools in ZBrush, I created a single Comic Material that was doing what I needed to do: Render a 3D object with the look and feel of a 2D illustration. From there the creative process and production of new illustrations was really easy.

This is a quick composition with some screenshots (exporting zbrush document) using the Kepler character. They were all taken from the same project and I used the ZBrush layers to make the different poses for the character.


I also worked on other techniques that I describe on the tutorial but the real fun start when you experiment and begin combining them all:


Finally, I made some cover illustration for the tutorial that are 80% to 90% all done in ZBrush, using Photoshop to add some details, compose the render with a simple background and tweak the curves.  


This is just one of the many ways that this type of illustration can be achieved. The Material I shared with the tutorial is not a magic one so you might want to edit and change it to make it work for your models. You could also use ZBrush to start the process and to take advantage of all the 3D tools and then move to Photoshop, for instance, and do some digital painting:


I will do a follow up to this tutorial on facebook, Instagram and twitter because there are a couple of other tips that are super cool but didn’t make it in the tutorial.

If you haven’t downloaded the tutorial, you can get it from here:

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