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Making a Cyborg Using ZBrush, Marvelous Designer & Arnold

Yulia Nikishova shared the workflow of the Cyborg project, showed the brushes used for the mechanical neck, and described the texturing process.


My name is Yulia Nikishova and I am a Character Artist. I have mainly worked on stylized projects, but my current goal is to develop the skills of creating photorealistic characters at the highest level. I am really fascinated by the variety of faces, body shapes, plastics, and everything related to anatomy. I can look at people, portraits, and photographs for hours, highlighting and noting the main structures that make a particular face individual.

I also love looking at concept artists’ work. When I find a concept that fascinates me so much that I want to be part of this work, I decide to reproduce it in 3D to live through every detail drawn by the artist. One such artist is Darren Bartley. His work is just incredible! I chose his "Cyborg" and tried to reproduce the concept as photo-realistically as possible in 3D graphics.

Creating a character in my pipeline always starts with collecting references to reproduce the behavior of folds on clothes as accurately as possible, examples of hard surfaces to create a mechanical neck and face references. I discovered that this concept was probably based on the photo of the actor Klaus Kinski, which gave me more angles to understand the features of his face anatomy. 


Each project starts with a blockout. I sketch out large shapes and find proportions. Face sculpting starts with the base mesh.

To create pores and small details, I used multichannel texture. You can find it here. Using the ZWrap plug-in in ZBrush, I projected displacement maps and the base color onto my geometry. You can find a detailed tutorial here.

Hard Surface

The main task was to come up with a mechanical neck design. In the DynaMesh mode, I sketched out the basic shapes and details of the mechanical neck using masking and the Move tool to push or deepen the elements. The basic brushes I used were ClayBuildup, hPolish, DamStandard, and Move. Once I was satisfied with the overall look, I began to cut each element separately, turning it into a separate DynaMesh.

To polish the details, I separated all the sides into individual polygroups using polypaint.

And here is the final result:


I sewed the jacket in Marvelous Designer, then added folds, zippers, and rivets in ZBrush.

Since this is a personal project, I decided not to waste time on retopology and exported the geometry on the first subdivision. I also exported displacement maps from ZBrush.


I used XGen to create the hair. There are four Descriptions for the whole model: Hair, Eyebrows, Eyelashes, and Fuzz.

I used the aiStandardHair shader for Arnold.


I divided the whole model into several texture sets.

When texturing the skin, I took the Base Color map that I received when projecting the multichannel texture as a base. With the help of the Clone tool, I removed the eyebrows, eyelashes, and the rest of other artifacts. I slightly changed the color so I got a fully detailed base for texturing the skin. On top, I added many more layers for the scar, wreaths, AO, etc. You can learn more about how to texture skin here.

I also drew a Specular map.

There were no special features in the metal texturing: a few scratches and a little dirt, but in general, it wasn’t supposed to look very damaged.


I rendered in Maya with Arnold. The information on how to set up Displacement, Specular maps and other materials can be found in this tutorial. There is a full workflow of creating a character in detail.

The scene is very simple: a plane for the background and some lights.

And here is the result:


This project took me about four weeks. I didn’t cope with all the stages on the first try, I was doing it over and over until I was satisfied with the result. The main thing is not to give up – if you try hard, then everything will turn out fine for sure!

Thank you, 80 Level, for the opportunity to talk about my project and share what I learned while working on it. Good luck to all!

Yulia Nikishova, Character Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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