Modeling & Rendering Organic Structures in ZBrush & Photoshop: Branching Coral

Pixologic’s ZBrush and Adobe Photoshop are a popular combination for creating digital illustration. This tutorial is a step by step demonstration of how to create a compelling illustration of a coral colony. Starting from generating a 3D model of a coral polyp, you’ll learn how to build increasingly complex organic structures. You’ll see how the speed of your digital sculpting workflow can be increased by creating custom insert mesh brushes. You’ll learn how to texture, light, and render ZBrush models and how to build a Photohsop composite from render passes generated in ZBrush. This tutorial will inspire you to develop your own illustration process by learning intermediate to advanced ZBrush techniques and Photoshop techniques.


  • Develop an appreciation for coral approaches to modeling branching organic structures
  • Learn how to create a coral polyp model using ZSpheres
  • Understand the uses of insert mesh brushes
  • Learn how to quickly construct complex organic structures
  • Learn how to establish a composition in ZBrush
  • Learn how to paint textures on to a model
  • Learn how to render passes from ZBrush for use in an Adobe Photoshop composite
  • Learn how to create a digital painting in Photoshop from ZBrush renders

Introduction to ZBrush for Scientific Visualization

This tutorial introduces the absolute beginner to using Pixologic’s ZBrush for digital sculpting. You will learn how to navigate the ZBrush interface and how to start a ZBrush sculpting process. The tutorial shows the step by step process for creating a model of a bacterium and a 3D cross section of a human skull. You’ll learn how to import reference imagery to use as a sculpting guide, how to use and edit sculpting brushes, how to use ZSpheres, Dynamesh, and ZRemesher. At the end of the tutorial you should feel confident in your ability to sculpt a model suitable for scientific visualization.


  • ­ Learn how to navigate and customize the ZBrush interface
  • ­ Understand how to sculpt a polygon mesh
  • ­ Learn how to create high resolution details
  • ­ Learn how to create the flagella of a bacterium starting with ZSpheres
  • ­ Understand how to create and import reference imagery
  • ­ Learn how to use Dynamesh to sculpt the forms a human skull
  • ­ Learn how to split a model into separate parts
  • ­ Learn how to create fine details with custom brushes
  • ­ Create a cross section using clipping brushes

Intermediate Scientific Visualization with ZBrush: Drosophila Head

ZBrush is the perfect software choice for creating highly detailed and accurate models of organic structures. In this tutorial, Eric Keller demonstrates his entire process for modeling the head of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster . The tutorial teaches you intermediate and advanced ZBrush modeling techniques with clear explanations of the techniques involved. Brush customization, creative masking, and fibermesh techniques are explored as well as several approaches to using reference imagery. The tutorial includes a discussion of how to optimize the layout of the ZBrush interface.


  • Learn how to collect and import reference images
  • Build the fly head model from a single sphere
  • Learn how to use polygrouping
  • Learn advanced ZSphere techniques
  • Learn how to generate masks to accurately sculpt compound insect eyes.
  • Learn approaches to creating organic details
  • Understand Fibermesh settings for creating realistic hairs
  • Understand rendering in ZBrush

Integrating ZBrush in the Scientific Visualization Pipeline

Learn what digital sculpting with Pixologic’s ZBrush can bring to the art of scientific illustration and visualization. This course provides a broad view of the powerful tools that are part of the ZBrush toolkit. Examples of the many unique ZBrush technologies such as dynamic subdivisions, 2.5 dimensional illustration, ZSpheres, Dynamesh, and ZRemesher are clearly explained and demonstrated to give you a sense of their place in the visualization workflow. Examples of ZBrush models used in illustration, animation, and 3D printing are presented. ZBrush is compared with other competing digital sculpting software packages.


  • Understand what ZBrush does and how it can be used in illustration, animation, and 3D Printing
  • Learn the many technologies that make up the ZBrush toolkit
  • Learn ZBrush terminology
  • Understand 2.5 Dimensional Illustration
  • Learn about the many available digital sculpting software packages

Generating ZBrush Texture & Displacement Maps for Rendering in Maya: Brain Coral

One of the biggest challenges in creating compelling animations for scientific visualization is rendering highly organic detailed structures. This requires an understanding displacement texture map generation and application. In this tutorial you will learn the processes involved in incorporating Pixologic’s ZBrush and Autodesk’s Maya into a scientific animation workflow. The demonstration uses the example of a highly detailed brain coral model. You will learn how to create UV texture coordinates for a model, and how to use ZBrush to generate texture, displacement, and normal maps. You’ll learn how to edit the texture maps in Adobe Photoshop and how to incorporate the maps in an Autodesk Maya 2015 shader network and how to render the model using the mental ray plug in for Maya. The tutorial finishes with discussions on troubleshooting displacement maps and a brief overview of using vector displacement maps.


  • Understand what displacement maps are and how they are useful for rendering detail in Maya
  • Generate UV texture coordinates for ZBrush models
  • Learn how to create and export texture maps using ZBrush plugins
  • Learn how to export models from ZBrush and import them into Maya
  • Learn how to build shader networks in Maya using displacement maps
  • Learn how to render a brain coral model using mental ray for Maya
  • Compare different types of displacement maps including vector displacement maps.