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Sculpting a Comic Book-Style Batman Bust in ZBrush

Rishikesh Nandlaskar has walked us through the production process behind the Batman sculpt, explained the workflow in ZBrush and Substance 3D Painter, and shared the rendering setup in Arnold.


My name is Rishikesh Nandlaskar, and I am a Senior Creature Modeller at Framestore VFX studio, London.

I had studied Commercial Arts and specialized in illustrations. I started my career in the game industry as a 3D Modeller back in 2003, when mostly digital "box and patch" modelling was the way to model characters and everything else. Sculpting had just started to grow back then. My experience spans from commercials and cinematics for games to eventually settling in VFX for film industry as a Creature Modeler.

I started my VFX career in 2006, working for the Rhythm and Hues studios, where I gained around 8 years of experience, moving on to work in DreamWorks for nearly a year, and then I joined Framestore, and it's been more than 8 years here now. Throughout the years, I have worked on more than 30 movie titles. A couple of them were Oscar winners. But my all-time favourite movies I have worked on were Life of Pi, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, and The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and 3. 

I love to bring concept art to life in 3В and try to keep the essence of the drawings/illustrations created by me or any concept artist. With a busy work schedule, there is very less time for personal work, but that's where the real satisfaction is.

Personal work allows me to enjoy, meditate, keep motivated, and, in the process, it increases my speed and techniques, which I can use in my daily studio work, too. As I get some time on weekends, that's when I try to spend most time practicing ZBrush sculpting. Some projects are presentable, so I post them on my Instagram and ArtStation, and some which don't see the light. I keep them as a learning step to move forward. I call my personal projects "Weekend Sculpting Series", as most of them are worked on during weekends.

I take upon subjects which I feel I can complete in a week or two – portraits, comic hero busts, etc., as sometimes overambitious personal projects go into a never-ending loop. Instead, I like to finish something and learn from it and move onto next. Full-body character projects are on a side burner, and I touch base with them when I get more time.

The Batman Bust

I follow a lot of comic book artists and l love to sculpt comic heroes whenever I get time. This time I chose Mandy War's Batman. My goal was to sculpt the bust in ZBrush and try to get a feel of a 3D sketch and try to maintain the comic look.

I usually start most of my personal sculpting work with a sphere and take it from there. But for this project, I chose to start from a base mesh for the head, as most of the face will be hidden under the mask anyway. So I can focus on sculpting on the remaining face and the bust.

Sculpting the Character

Keeping facial anatomy in mind, I started sculpting, checking the concept art as a reference. I use PureRef to set all my references on the second monitor. Starting with big forms and getting the basic shapes, forms, silhouettes, and proportions right and only when the primary and secondary forms are in place, I move onto adding tertiary details.

Once I get the basic face shape, I duplicate the head sculpt and start using the Clay brush to start revealing the mask on face. This way, I can see the how the Batman mask is fitting on the face. During this process, I mostly use tools like Move, Smooth, Clay, Damien-Standard, Transpose for posing, Masking brushes, and in some areas, I also use ZModeler tools.

The Texturing Workflow

As for texturing, if the model has enough details for its materials in the sculpt itself, then just adding some plain colors with variation is good enough the result I got. I do some PolyPainting in ZBrush, as well as some painting using Substance 3D Painter.

For detailing the leather type look, I just use Slash brushes, Damien-Standard, and some Alphas, which have scratches and dirt. PolyPainting in ZBrush is done over a SkinShade4 material, which ships with the software. Keeping the RGB button on and switching off the add/sculpt, I start to polypaint where needed, and the rest is done in SP. For face texture I used it from 3D Scan Store as a base, then painted over it a bit in Painter to give it a comic-style feel.

Rendering and Lighting

Most of my sculpts are rendered using Arnold in Maya. I used Arnold's Skydome Light and a few Area Lights and placed them in positions which would give me a rough feel of the concept art. This whole process is not linear at all. I sculpt half way and setup render scene in Maya. I also check rough renders, which gives me feedback. Only when I am happy with the basic test renders, I move on to detailing the sculpt in ZBrush and bringing it back to Maya. Once this loop is created, I make a lot of iterations until I am satisfied with the outcome.

My wife, who is an animator, helped me create a turn loop to see the batman from different angles. I then render the sequence with a transparent background so that I can add a different background using After Effects.

For the background, I used the original's background style and hand-painted it in Photoshop to complete the whole spray paint on paper with a rectangular hand-drawn border. This was to give the feel as if Batman is an illustration, but when it turns suddenly, it makes it look like 3D sketch moving, at least that was my thinking behind the final output.


The whole project took me around a couple of weekends – sculpting, painting, rendering, and post-production. I don't spend much time cleaning areas of the sculpt, which would not be seen at all.

For beginners, I would like to suggest spending a lot of time studying anatomy, sketching, and real clay sculpting, which helps to build knowledge and skills. Also, it is important to develop a habit of constructive self-criticism and also get feedback from others and work on the feedback which will help to improve the artwork. I still do keep practicing all these and keep learning as it is a never-ending beautiful journey as an artist.

Especially for beginners, weekend sculpting can be a side burner, the opposite of what I do now, as they will have more time in hand at the beginning as a student or as an intern at the start of the career and time should be well spent in studying forms, shapes, light, and shadow instead of rushing. Weekend sculpting can be treated as warm-ups for bigger projects. I also treat my personal projects, which I do on weekend as warmups. It keeps an artist motivated to learn new techniques and also helps in keeping up to date with all the latest work styles used in the CG industry.

Rishikesh Nandlaskar, Senior Creature Modeler

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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