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Sculpting an Elven Maiden in ZBrush

Kateryna Hrytsyshyna shared the workflow behind the Shrine Maiden project and explained each step of sculpting 3D miniatures.


Hi, I am Kateryna Hrytsyshyna, a 3D Sculptor based in Ukraine. I got into 3D art accidentally 6 years ago: there was a 3D game project that needed a model, and I tried to do it myself and never left since. In these 6 years, I have tried a few branches in 3D: hard surface modeling for game dev, furniture for interior visualizations, VFX in Houdini for movies, and I finally stopped on 3D sculpting for figures and miniatures as my favorite one.

For the last three years, I have been doing this for freelance or contract jobs. During this time, I have made more than a hundred miniatures and figures. Regular and fast sculpting gave me some perks in developing skills. Usually, I prefer tutorials on YouTube to learn (except for Houdini, which was too hard to learn by myself.)

Once, I got a request for miniature sculpting, and I really liked that type of project. My favorite thing in 3D has always been sculpting, it gives you the opportunity to just sculpt, no retopology needed, no UVs and textures, you focus on the main skill and develop it faster.

Also, I am in love with seeing my works in physical form, when you can touch them and turn them in your hand. To me, 3D printing has become both my work and a hobby. I have worked on some Patreon projects, where each month a company releases a pack of prepared miniatures which people can print on their 3D printers, paint, and use for tabletop games. Now, I'm working at Broken Anvil Miniatures.

The Sculpting Workflow

My workflow always has similar steps:

  1. Pose
  2. Clothing, face, weapon blockout
  3. Details

I discuss each step with the customer because you usually make miniatures already standing in a pose, and you can't change the symmetry as easily as for models in the A pose. Here's more info about each step.

  1. I am a big fan of base meshes for body posing. For miniatures, it is very important to have the right consistent proportions. Usually, a 32mm scale is used, which means bigger hands, head, and feet, all features must be bigger to be visible on a ready print or cast. With the right base mesh, you can make a pose pretty fast, it's important to make it look good from different sides.
  2. For clothing, I usually use Marvelous Designer. After exporting a mesh to ZBrush, I add thickness to it, tweak it for a better look, and add or smooth out folds. Also, clothing can be made in ZBrush from scratch, it all depends on the design. I make hard surface objects in 3ds Max, I am just used to that software because I had to use it in previous jobs. With a face, I try to create a similar mood to the concept art I work with. You need to spend some time studying emotions references to sculpt them right.
  3. Details will look good on a good blockout; in this stage, I add all the other elements I need: hair details, buttons, and other small things. For many of them, I use self-made brushes or I buy them in the ArtStation marketplace, for example, textures, stitches, small bones, scars, and so on. It saves a lot of time.

My favorite brushes are the standard ones (Dam Standard, Move Topological, Clay Buildup, Insert Of Basic Geo Figures) and the famous Orb set. Very often, I use the Sculptris mode, it's just amazing for quick shaping without using DynaMesh and with a smaller polycount.

Usually, you can spend 2-4 full days of work for one miniature, it depends on the design, scale, and the number of details in the concept art. Changing the pose often takes additional 1-2 days because apart from the pose it requires a change of the emotion, costume, or weapon, so you need to repeat the next two steps of the workflow with finished details.

Timing is one of the reasons I like this branch of 3D, you spend less time on one model and have a high variety of designs, so it's much harder to be burned out or bored.

The Shrine Maiden Project

Shrine Maiden is a piece from my work for Broken Anvil, so the idea of her creation wasn't mine. Her main reference was concept art, it was amazing, and I wanted to make it look as good as possible in 3D with all the requirements we have for a miniature.

We can go and look at each step of work I had with her following my usual workflow.

1. In this stage, you can see that I focus just on the pose. Also, I check different sides of it to see if she has a nice silhouette.

The forms are super basic, the hands are not posed yet in this stage because I can change hand position in the future.  

2. I made some props in 3ds Max.

I also started to add basic clothing elements, posing hands, and working on her face.

I continued to work on the clothes and added an umbrella. Here's stage two finalized:

3. This stage can take more time, but if the blockout is right, it will increase the beauty. After finishing all the detailing, the model looks like this.

I used Insert Mesh a lot here. Orb brushes for folds, Extract for making the belts and winding.

Making this model took me four working days, I really like her because I like the theme of the whole model pack.


While you're working on a model, you need to keep in mind all the requirements for 3D printing. Depending on the scale, you need to keep the thickness wide enough to print and not let any voids be present in the model, it can ruin the print in the future. Usually, miniature clothing doesn't have many extruded patterns, so a painter can create their own patterns on the umbrella and the skirt, for example. It's awesome that one miniature can look very different in each painter's hands, and it's a joy to me to see it in color.

For me, the most resultative exercise was speed sculpts, it's when you take a concept and do the maximum work on it in 3-6 hours. Each time it's a new concept. Such a method really improves your vision and skill much faster. I saw a lot of cases when beginner artists were stuck on one training model for too long, sometimes for a year or two, just because they were never satisfied with it, so don't be afraid to move on. Practice makes perfect.

Kateryna Hrytsyshyna, 3D Sculptor

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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