Professional Services
Order outsourcing

Making an Old Man's Face Sculpt in ZBrush & Maya

Rico Buehler has told us about the Old Man Study project made at Vertex School, shared the sculpting workflow in ZBrush, and explained how the character's skin and eyes were set up.


My name is Rico Buehler. I'm currently a student at Ryan Kingslien's Vertex School, pursuing a career as a 3D modeler specializing in characters.

I decided to learn 2D art four years ago. While mainly focusing on 2D, I still practiced 3D as a hobby on and off, starting with modding, then taking classes and teaching myself whenever I had the time. A good friend of mine attended Vertex School, and I could not believe the transformation she had made. She also landed a job as an Environment Artist not long after graduating.

In April this year, I finally decided to join Vertex School to start a career as a 3D Character Modeler and use my 2D knowledge to complement my 3D characters.

Old Man Face Study

Our goal with the head study was to capture likenesses and practice proper facial anatomy and sculpting techniques. Our approach was to work with a basemesh and jump from big to medium to small, as illustrated in the image above. It is imperative to keep these stages in mind because when I originally started working on the head, I felt accomplished and done after the "big" stage.

Ryan encouraged us to sculpt older men and use a 3D-scanned model as a reference because using someone else's sculpted model would mean we would also copy their mistakes. I went full in and decided to go for a senior man to challenge myself compared to the smooth faces I had become used to sculpting. 

I was fortunate enough to get feedback from Ryan Kingslien. His sculpting method was very different from what I saw on popular YouTube channels. He had a very traditional sculpting approach and even made his very own "rake" brush, which I have only seen used in traditional sculpting and never in digital sculpting. 

Some traditional methods included sculpting along the form and then perpendicular to the form. Sculpting along the form is excellent when establishing the main structure. The beauty of sculpting perpendicular after sculpting along the form is that one can start bringing out individual muscle groups. I used a Damian Standard brush to separate features on the head, and the before-mentioned method made considerable differences in the result. You can get Ryan's brushes for free on his Gumroad.

Setting Up the Skin

For the wrinkles, I modeled them in the "medium" and "small" stages using the Clay Buildup and Damian Standard brushes and occasionally the HPolish brush and Smooth brush once areas became too lumpy. To get that extra detail, Ryan advised us to use industry-standard methods, in this case, ZWrap, to project detail from an existing 3D scan, with all maps included, onto our sculpted head. 

The plus side is that you can get photorealistic skin almost immediately. The downside is that the only way to change complexion is through hue and levels modification in programs like Photoshop.

The image below shows the same head with a different head scan. I initially tried this texture but decided it didn't fit my sculpture because it got rid of most wrinkles and didn't look like the age of the reference I used.

Imperfections can occur during the projecting stage. I later fixed them in programs like Photoshop by using the Clone-Stamp tool, as well as the brush blending modes lighten and darken if you don't want to affect or bleed into certain areas. It is possible to change the complexion and tone of the skin by changing the levels and hue in Photoshop under image -> adjustments, as well as adding any other adjustments in Substance 3D Painter.

Working on Eyes

I did the eyes by modeling a pupil, an eyeball that excluded the pupil entirely by having a hole in its place, and another eyeball. This sclera is a sphere with a bump used for specularity.

  • The pupil is a black Albedo Map because it won't get affected by any light.
  • The eyeball, excluding the pupil, is where we have all the essential maps.
  • The sclera is used with specularity to illustrate the wetness of the entire eyeball. The bump at the iris makes the eye look more realistic.


I did the rendering in Maya with Arnold by using Vertex School's lookdev choices. Every studio has unique lookdev settings, and Vertex School requires us to learn the whole process of setting everything up. The setup is precise and has to be mimicked to the T. The entire head took four weeks to make.

My biggest challenge was exporting the displacement map from ZBrush into Maya. It is excellent that ZBrush uses 16-bit float because it can store a lot of information without me having to go to other programs to export the same map. Still, the settings need to be clarified by the user in the export under multi-map exporter.

Maya's Arnold has a distinct cinematic renderer, which is excellent if you are trying to go for a realistic look that one would see in a movie


My Vertex mentors were essential in making this head. Anatomical flaws that needed correcting, sculpting techniques, rendering, and lookdev were some of the guidances that were crucial to reach the result. Overall, my experience with Vertex School has been enjoyable, and the work is challenging but rewarding. Here are some pieces I've done only in the first term:

Vertex School encouraged us to work with character arts students in groups. We learned tremendous amounts from each other, and we actively worked together to solve any problems that occurred. Shout out to Andres Labato and Alex Swanson, among others.

Rico Buehler, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

Join discussion

Comments 0

    You might also like

    We need your consent

    We use cookies on this website to make your browsing experience better. By using the site you agree to our use of cookies.Learn more