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Making a Chair Diorama in ZBrush, Marmoset & Blender

Oday Abu zaeed told us about creating a stylized chair diorama in ZBrush, Substance, and Blender and talked about the 3-step lighting setup in Marmoset Toolbag.


I am Oday Abu zaeed, an Egyptian 3D Artist currently based in Cairo. I work as a Game Artist at Instinct Games Studio. As for my studies, my background is purely geeky, as I hold a degree in Computer Science specialized in 3D Computational Geometry. My previous project isn't really a well-known one, just a couple of local TV animated series, and games I work on now are yet to be released in the near future.

Nocte Lucernis Project

I started Nocte Lucernis as a stylized study, as I am currently working on my skills in stylized art. Mainly, I was inspired by this Silke Van Der Smissen work.

I was aiming to get close to Clash of Clans cinematics' style, particularly Lost & Crowned.

So, I made a reference sheet that helped me a lot with the detailing.

Modeling and Sculpting

My main software were Blender and ZBrush for all my sculpting. I mainly used Trim and Planner brushes for most of the details.

For the chair's leather, I created the pattern in Substance Designer and exported only the height and converted it to alpha in ZBrush, and used it with the standard brushes.

For details like the candles, I used Clay and Standard brushes and a good music playlist (mostly Coldplay) to get me in the mood for keeping sculpting.

I hardly had to think about the stylized aspect, as the reference sheet I made helped me a lot.

Retopology and Unwrapping

I hate retopology! That said, I try to avoid retopology as much as I can, so I keep my base model as low and as clean as possible but sometimes that is not enough so in these dreadful times I rely on InstaMesh or, if it should be cleaner and optimized for a game, I use Blender for all my retopology needs. Blender is not an ideal choice but there is a bunch of add-ons that can really help.

For the UV I used Blender and it’s more than enough for me. I tried to keep Textile Density to 7px/cm which is not too much but was enough, so I ended up with 2 4K texture sets and 3 2K texture sets.


I was trying to have the feel of hand-painted texture in the close-ups, so I used SD to generate Gouache Brush Strokes and used it in Substance Painter.

As for the color palette, same as the Clash of Clans cinematic, I used a saturated one with colorful hues with red or orange as the dominant.

For complex materials like wood and wax, I relied heavily on Curvature Map to make a color variation and the surface details.

Lighting and Rendering

I assembled the diorama in Marmoset Toolbag using RTX settings. I was inspired by Albert Valls' Project about object compositions.

The light setup was broken down into 3 sections:

1. I chose a dim HDRI Light in Marmoset Toolbag and added an Accent Blush Light from the top.

2. The Fill light to lessen the shadows a bit.

3. And finally, the candlelight.

For the animation of the candles, I used a Toolbag plugin called Video Importer and with an Emission Channel emitting a loop video of candle flame from YouTube.

For post-production, I used nothing fancy, just a bit of sharpness and a bit of contrast, and some color grading in Photoshop and AfterEffect.


To be honest, the whole project was challenging. I haven’t done any stylized art before, so I kept struggling on every step with sculpting, sometimes I had to overdo everything, so sometimes it was back and forth on different steps.

In terms of texturing, it was a bit tricky to get the hand-painted feeling, and I don’t think I actually did get it.

It took me nearly 3 weeks, while working on my daily job, to finish it.

Oday Abu zaeed, 3D Props Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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