The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King image

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King How Weta Digital implemented ZBrush in their production pipeline on The Lord of the Rings™: Return of the King.

Providing flexibility, speed and innovations in high-resolution sculpting, ZBrush helped Weta Digital's modeling team save money and time by building digital maquettes in place of scanned physical sculptures. We had the opportunity to ask Weta's Tibor Madjar and Dave Cardwell about their experiences with ZBrush, and how they implemented ZBrush into their production pipeline on Newline Cinema's The Lord of the Rings™: Return of the King.

My name is Tibor Madjar from Toronto, Canada and I am presently a Lead Character/Creature Modeler at Weta Digital in New Zealand. I would also like to share with you that I have recently become a father to an adorable little girl, Maia.

Bay Raitt introduced ZBrush to me. I tried to sculpt a sphere using ZBrush and the Wacom pen, and it instantly felt good and natural.

ZBrush gave me the ability to apply detail to my models with great control, and also to export this detail as a 16 bit displacement map.

ZBrush is invaluable to my workflow.

ZBrush was used in modeling surface detail on the Return of the King cg Rohan horse. I created depth maps from a scan, and combined this with the stencil tool to recreate a realistic looking Rohan horse. ZBrush was also used to fine tune the form of the horse model, and add muscle detail.

In the case of the ROTK "King of the Dead" model, I received a beautifully designed and detailed head model from Weta Workshop. This model had skin and loose rotting flesh on its surface but since it was a cast, it could not carry all the detail of the approved design. ZBrush was a good tool for me to recreate all the lost detail involved in the skin, teeth and also with the building of the underlying head skeleton.

“ZBrush gave me the ability to apply detail to my models with great control... ZBrush is invaluable to my workflow.”
– Timbor Madjar

I am listing a few among others: The most important new feature in ZBrush is the ability to handle up to eight million polygons.

Bi-directional subdivision surface, with the ability to extract 16 bit displacement maps. While working on the detailed surface, the low-resolution poly cage automatically updates (or vice versa). This way, after I have finished detailing my model there is no need to realign my low- and high-resolution model for the displacement map extraction.

When I am satisfied with my model, I can get the maps within seconds. Sometimes a single poly mesh needs over a hundred texture maps. The displacement extraction process supports this with great control (map size based on surface area, etc...), and I am able to generate multiple maps for a single model.

I can use these maps with my low-resolution model in the application I am planning to animate and render. A set of new brush tools (smooth, pinch, directional brush etc...) gives me great sculpting control over the surface.

Creating or importing selection groups, with the ability to hide/show them. This feature helped me to easily access any part of my models (between fingers, upper/lower lip etc...). Since the hidden part of the model doesn't get updated, there is an instant speed increase with very dense meshes. Although I have to admit that ZBrush can handle a 2 million polygon mesh with ease, there really is no need to hide parts.

I find myself using the unsubdivide function to recreate a low-resolution mesh more and more often. For example, if I had a subdivided detailed high-resolution polygon mesh, I can unsubdivide this mesh in ZBrush to recreate a low-resolution surface (the detailed high-resolution mesh is still linked to it) then I can export the low-resolution mesh and also the detail as a 16 bit displacement map. The mirror function is great. If I import a model which has a detailed left leg, then I can mirror this detail to the right leg.

Previously, surface detail was mostly created by using scanned clay models or painted textures. The first option can be very expensive, the second would be much cheaper but it could sacrifice the fine control needed over the surface. ZBrush is a good alternative to create scan quality surface detail fast with great control. Since I am modifying the mesh directly, I get instant feedback on how the model looks like.

Yes, especially if the production needs to mimic reality. Realistic objects rarely have the perfectly smooth surface that a rendered subdivision surface would produce. Even a few minutes of ZBrush work on the model can drastically improve the end result.

Absolutely. After using ZBrush, it would be hard to go back to old workflows and workarounds.

ZBrush opened up new modeling directions. I find myself learning about wrinkle flow, skin surface detail etc... These are new and exciting territories to explore as a character/creature modeler.

I would like to thank the Pixologic team for being so responsive in supporting the users needs.

I have an Art and Industrial Design background but have also had fun doing Commercial work and Games. My wife and I currently are part of the team at Weta Digital.

Actually I had my first experience a few years ago while on a job at Mercedes in California. Got a kick out of some of the Head tutorial scripts and the speed at which you could deform geometry.

Then towards the end of production of Two Towers Tibor, Andrew Camenish, myself and a few others were over at Bay Raitt's place. On screen Bay had a sphere of a few thousand polys and he was able to turn it into a brain with veins popping out in just a few seconds! It just felt wonderful to pushing this amount of Geo. in real time.

We had just spent the last few months working on the Ents and we were thinking, thousands of polys ... move them around like silly putty.... hmmmm. This is cool!

Later, on winter break I flew into LA to visit friends. I had never met the Pixologic team so I decided to pay them a visit if I could, while in town. They were really kind and invited me in for a meeting, even though they had no idea who I was. My wife was with me in the meeting with Jaime Labelle from Pixologic.

I introduced myself and said something like, hello I love your software, it's really nice but, we need to talk. They didn't boot me out of their office and we had a nice conversation about what would be great for ZBrush to be able to do.

When I got back to New Zealand Tibor, Andrew and I began to work on lists of items we thought Z would need to be more production-friendly. We had many many phone calls back and fourth with Ofer Alon and Jaime Labelle over the following months about ZBrush. It was great. After several private ZBrush Beta's that the Models team used on ROTK, Pixologic released a public Beta for general testing and additional input from other artists. It was great for us users and hopefully for ZBrush.

“I love the fact that you can work at any level of SubDivision and have changes on the current level impact the other levels.”
– Dave Cardwell

Using brush-based tools directly on a SubDiv surface and having the ability to export just the Cage.

I love the fact that you can work at any level of SubDivision and have changes on the current level impact the other levels. This is great when you're detailing your mesh and then need to make gross changes or even smooth out bones, muscle detail at lower level, but still keep any skin wrinkles at higher levels!

Things like using imported models and images to sculpt the geo. The list goes on; it's like digital clay.

ZBrush has dramatically increased the range and quality of what I can produce digitally. Whether I'm using it to build creatures from the ground up or just creating details Its been a valuable tool to my workflow.

Projection Master. With Projection Master I can sculpt a mesh with millions of polys in real time. Other software out there chokes on these types of meshes.

Like Tibor said, surface detail. In the life cycle of your digital creature, consider just the surface detailing that needs to happen. You can break a model down in terms of its details. Low Frequency (your cage), Medium Frequency and High Frequency (typically painted by Texture Painters) detail. Unfortunately, all too often CG models end up with just Low Freq and High Freq detail. Everything looks like balloon characters with scratches and bumps just painted on. ZBrush allows you to model in that Med Freq detail. Its the cool stuff that turns that CG balloon guy into something more believable.

Of course. It fits in well with just about any pipe. You get fantastic results fast whether painting or sculpting.

Yes. We are using it. Can't say more. :)

ZBrush is above all, fun. ZBrush really feels great! Even if you're not serious about 3D, give ZBrush a try. You will have fun with it. Ofer Alon and the rest of Pixologic team have brought something fresh to the CG world and I'm very thankful that they have.



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