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Stylized Troll Fighter Made with ZBrush & Marmoset Toolbag

Gianluca Squillace has shared some tips on how to make a Troll Fighter by using ZBrush and Marmoset Toolbag. The artist also gave a piece of advice on the steps that can be skipped in order to save time and get the character done quickly.


Hey! I'm Gianluca Squillace, a 3D Character Artist from Milan, Italy. I've been working in the game industry for about 8 years. 
I work as a freelance Character Artist for an outsourcing studio in Rome. Besides, I teach ZBrush, Maya, and Substance 3D Painter at IED (European Institute of Design) in Milan, the same university where I took my first steps in the 3D industry. I thoroughly enjoy collaborating with talented students and providing support and guidance. 

In addition, I have never ceased working on my personal projects, which opened many doors for me and led to exciting freelance opportunities contributing to my current job position.


I have always been passionate about the Blizzard and Riot Games' styles, so I decided to work on a character inspired by them and I chose a Troll. It allowed me to experiment with new tools.

I wanted an extremely aggressive and proud character, so I started by gathering various references (one, in particular, was used as the main reference for pose and silhouette), collecting helpful data for creating the props and the color palette.

Below are some of the pictures archived and organized with PureRef

I think this step is crucial because it establishes the correct guidelines necessary to achieve the final result.


The sculpting process is always an enjoyable step, especially with this kind of character. The model was fully created in ZBrush. I started with a rough blockout of the main character elements (head, body, arms, etc.) and since there were bulky props, I also sketched those out to obtain the main shape. During this step, it was easy to get lost in the details, that's why you should focus only on the volumes and leave the cleaning for later.

The silhouette is a very important detail for enhancing the overall character. I often switch to a fully black flat color to make sure I'm heading in the right direction. Always remember to maintain a low-poly model with good topology, as it will make it easier to modify the main shapes. I typically create a low-poly version with active Dynamic Subdivision for each piece and only collapse it when it's necessary for micro details. 

Below are some of the steps that led me from blockout to the final sculpt:

Since the character was sculpted directly in the pose, it was very useful to work on certain props in a separate tool. It allowed me to work in symmetry and then position them on the model later. The use of ZBrush's Stager command also gave me an opportunity to save and work with two different poses of an object and switch it when necessary. I worked with a lot of different brushes, below are some used for this project: 

In addition to the usual Move, Clay, ZModeler, DamStandard, TrimDynamic, and others, I used the Orb Brushes from Michael Vicente (a must-have for all the digital sculptors, in my opinion), The Gio Brush from Pablo Munoz Gomez, and the Shane Olson Brushes


I decided to work directly on the high-poly model, opting for polypaint in ZBrush for this project. I extracted the color palette from the references that I used for each individual element (skin, hair, props, etc.). I recommend using Adobe Color, a website that allows you to easily extract color palettes from pictures. After that, I started with some flat base colors and then proceeded to add color variations.

Below are some painting steps:

Gradients are truly important during the coloring phase, as they allow us to have excellent color variations, and with contrasts, it's possible to lead the viewer's gaze to specific areas. It was truly a fun step, especially choosing patterns and decorations typical for the troll clan. Here is the final polypaint in ZBrush:


I used Marmoset Toolbag 4 to create all the renders. It allowed me to achieve a nice real-time result and utilize various render passes for the compositing stage. First of all, you need to import your model from ZBrush to Marmoset Toolbag 4. Since I chose to color using polypaint, it was important to ensure that the material was modified to display the vertex color and not just the albedo. This is because this model doesn't have UVs and textures, as shown in the following image.

I began with a simple three-point lighting setup, consisting of a key light, a cold fill light, and a strong rim light. This setup was quite useful in separating the character from the dark background that I chose. 
Below are some of the render pass extractors from Marmoset Toolbag 4:

In addition to the lights, I always work by exporting the following passes:

  • Ambient Occlusion (AO): This pass is essential for the final rendering. It can be colored to create a warm or cold mood, or the color can be varied based on the material it's applied to.
  • ID Mask: This pass is extremely useful in the compositing step. It allows for easy selection of different elements of the model and modification of them separately.
  • Subsurface Scattering (SSS): I used this pass on the skin area and slightly on the hair, making use of the ID mask for quick selection.

Finally, I added some hand-painted highlights and shadows directly in Photoshop. This is the final result after the compositing stage:

Final Words

Of course, in this case, skipping various steps like topology, UV mapping, and textures makes this type of character quick to create (it took around 20 hours in total). However, it's much more limited compared to a complete character in the entire production workflow. But I believe it's perfect for training with new tools and personal projects. I think the most challenging aspect of creating a character from a 2D concept in three-quarters view is consistently thinking in three dimensions. It's quite easy to misjudge poses and proportions when solely relying on the 2D representation. I wanted a character that could function well from different viewpoints, not just the front, and that would allow me to export a nice turnaround. 

I really hope this guide can help you with your projects. Remember to save the Toolbag file to easily reuse this scene for all your future characters! On my ArtStation page, you can find additional pictures and videos. If you have any questions, feel free to reach me on my social media accounts. Thank you!

Gianluca Squillace, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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Comments 1

  • Cielecki Iwo

    Hi, can i ask what material are you used for sculpting?


    Cielecki Iwo

    ·9 months ago·

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