Thursday, 3 March 2011

Painting in ZBrush

These days Pixologic's ZBrush is legendary across many creative fields for its high resolution digital sculpting capabilities and as this image (left) by Tsvetomir Georgiev shows, many artists are doing incredible things with it. However, ZBrush, started out as a painting app with a twist. Instead of using pixels, the basic unit of digital graphics whose parameters are in 2 dimensional x and y (width and height,) ZBrush used pixols, which also record the depth of each unit (z.) What this basically meant was that you could paint with 2d colour using xy coordinates, but you could also record depth like relief sculpting. Natural media apps do give us impasto effects but ZBrush's pixols are like impasto on steroids.
Now, I made myself many promises this year, some of which I realise won't be kept due to time constraints, but I am determined to spend more time in ZBrush as part of an overall skills brush-up, so I thought I'd start right at the beginning, painting with pixols.

This image began with a plain sky background and gradually got built up in layers using a combination of tools including impasto brushes and full 3D cubes/spheres which were added to the canvas then smudged into shape. I often start doodles with trees and eventually this turned into a dead tree in a high location, which in turn spawned the idea of putting an eagle's nest in among the branches. What I love about painting in ZBrush is the responsiveness. This image is 5000 pixels wide which equates to A3, 420mm wide. Many apps struggle with depth effects at print sizes but ZBrush was designed from day one to utilise every drop of processing power for its real time 3rd dimension, so it skips along barely missing a beat.

The Accidental Tourist
The high location in Eyrie reminded me of a recent excursion to the Nevis Range which in turn reminded me I kept wanting to start a series of paintings called 'Accidental Tourist,' because I have a million shots of the back of my wife walking into some stunning scenery. Here I happened to catch her being a tourist which seemed appropriate. We were standing on Aonach Mor, looking over to Ben Nevis in the background.
ZBrush allows us to alter both the colour intensity and depth intensity independent of each other which, without getting technical, basically means you can create some lovely underpainting effects by reducing the colour opacity while still applying the impasto stroke. The grass sort of reminds me of the square brush technique utilised so spectacularly by The Glasgow Boys, who in turn were much influenced by french painters like Jules Bastien - Lepage.
It is quite interesting to note the difference in style between the two images where Eyrie obviously does not use reference, but Accidental Tourist does. I like and dislike things about both of them, but in general I get more from trying to make illustrations without much reference. This, however, does tend to brutally expose one's shortcomings! But then again, that is the point of the exercise along with having the courage to show work in all its imperfection so that posterity can judge how we progress.
I also wanted to learn about making sequential movies of an image being created so with any luck a youtube video will get embedded below.

Marvellous. You can also see an animated gif here. Actually ZBrush can automatically record this creation process but I don't know how to use that yet! Click on images to enlarge.