Sculpting Realistic Model of Nipsey Hussle in ZBrush

Kubisi Younis shared the workflow behind the Nipsey Hussle sculpt, explained how the hair was made, and talked about the importance of matching skin details.

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Hi, My name is Kubisi Younis, I'm a lead creature modeller at DNEG Film London. I got into art first as a 2D concept artist but was always fascinated with characters more than environments and such when I was painting or designing, so in 2015, I made the shift to fully become a 3D character artist.

Most of the skills I have are from the 2D practice days, I just added the third dimension to it with practice, but I knew a lot about anatomy, design, color theory, etc., from doing a lot of 2D drawings and illustrations; that helped me a lot when I transitioned to 3D.

I worked on a lot of movies, ads, and game cinematics during the past 7 years. I can't list them all of course, but notably, I can say I worked on The Matrix Resurrection, Justice League, and Thor Ragnarok, to name a few.

Character Sculpting

I used to draw portraits a lot. I was always fascinated with the human face and characters and always played games with very recognizable characters, so I was expected to pursue that once I started digital sculpting.

I wouldn't say I "mastered" ZBrush but I think I got very familiar with this software because of how many hours I spend every day working with ZBrush. I used to work with it daily when I was practicing and building my portfolio, then I started using it at work, so there was not a single day I didn't use ZBrush since 2014, even on weekends working on personal projects or freelance gigs.

The Nipsey Hussle Sculpt

This project was for a life-size realistic silicone bust of Nipsey, The goal was to achieve a 100% accurate representation of his likeness to help the silicone production to get as accurate a result as possible in the final product. I hope I was close to achieving that goal. For the references, I always collect photos of my subjects from different angles and under different lighting scenarios.


Nipsey's face is very interesting, his bone structure and eyes were very fun to sculpt. My workflow is almost the same with every project, I always try to get as much done as possible in symmetry and work only on the big forms. 

I don't care about any details or a correct likeness at all, and when I feel like I'm starting to get at least 70% of the correct proportions and likeness of the subject, I start introducing asymmetry and rough polypaint to see the likeness better. I also started adding FiberMesh because Nipsey's facial hair is playing a very important part in the likeness and character. 

I keep going from there looking at references and trying to match the proportions and likeness from every possible angle, and after a lot of hours, I can get there eventually.

As for skin details, there are a lot of ways to get that done, especially now when scan data is available everywhere, you can get all skin details at your fingertips. I used all methods possible in all the hundreds of portraits I sculpted over the years, from sculpting the details 100% manually to using alpha brushes and scanned displacement maps from SurfaceMimic, Texturing XYZ, and 3dscanstore. The most important thing is to try to match the skin details of the character you're sculpting, so don't use an old man's skin when you're sculpting a young female portrait, for example, and don't use Asian skin details when sculpting an African character, etc.

For the eyes, I always just make a sphere, protrude the cornea part out a little, polypaint on top of that, and then apply a ToyPlastic material to it in ZBrush. It gives me the best results.

The earrings were done quickly in Maya, brought to ZBrush, and I added some MatCaps to make it look as close to a diamond as possible. It's not going to look as realistic as an Arnold or V-Ray render of course, but for a nicer presentation in ZBrush, I just apply these quick MatCaps.


It's a mix between FiberMesh and geo sculpt, the actual hair itself was sculpted by hand, but all the facial hair was done strictly using FiberMesh. For sculpted hair, I always start with extracting a thin layer from the head geometry and sculpt hair clumps on top of it from big to small, all the way to even sculpting single flyaway hairs.

For FiberMesh, it's always exhausting, as you have to keep playing around with the modifiers until you get something decent. There are a lot of cool tutorials on YouTube, it's just impossible to explain in a couple of lines here, unfortunately.

As for the tattoos, it was nothing special at all, I just painted them by hand on top of his face while looking at references, that's why they don't look very realistic, I didn't bother honestly cause it wasn't needed for the job.

There is 0% rendering done for this project, it's all screen grabs from inside ZBrush, maybe the details and the materials used make it look rendered, but it's not.


Since I've done hundreds of portrait sculpts during the past several years, it actually doesn't take that long to finish a sculpt. If I counted the actual hours I spent working on this project, it wouldn't exceed 20-30 hours actually, but you have to take breaks in between and sleep on so your eyes can look at it fresh and discover any problems along the way, especially for likeness.

There weren't many challenges to Nipsey's likeness, to be honest, his face is very recognizable, but I would say FiberMesh and the hair sculpting were the most challenging parts of the project.

My advice for beginning artists is to just try to work on something every day, skills come with practice: the more time you spend inside ZBrush, for example, the more skilled you will be and you'll be on autopilot while sculpting, which leaves your brain to focus only on the creative part.

Another very important piece of advice when it comes to sculpting faces is don't focus on the skin details at all, just always focus first on the major face forms and anatomy, your sculpt will look very bad if it has some nice scan data skin details on it with the zygomatic bone going under the ears for example, so spend more time sculpting faces without skin details at all and then start introducing skin details when your faces begin to look natural without it.

Kubisi Younis, Creature Modeller

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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