ZBrush is a great tool and when combined with Character Creator from Reallusion it can be used to create lots of things from hair and clothing to accessories. A frequent question from new ZBrush users is how to create smooth edged harnesses and belts for use in apps like Character Creator. Most understand the Mask and Extract method but are frustrated at the rough edges it can produce.
From what I have seen the main culprits are a lack of adequate polys and triangulated mesh on the base model used for masking. As CC and iClone characters tend to be lower poly using the GoZ function will transfer a less than desirable mesh which needs to be cleaned up once inside of ZBrush.
In this example I will create a simple leg harness, the same methods apply to belts and other accessories that wrap around parts of the character. If you don’t have GoZ then you can manually export and import to get the same results.
From Character Creator (or use your own mesh) transfer (GoZ) the parts affected by the harness or belt over to ZBrush. In this case, I exported the entire character with clothes so I could have it all there for reference should I decide to make additional items later.
There are a lot of methods that can be used but this particular Mask and Extract is about the simplest I’m aware of so anyone with a decent command of ZBrush should be able to replicate this.
(Left)Original Mesh, (Center) Same Mesh with Faces, (Right) Remeshed for cleaner topography
First I’ll address the mesh issue which, as you can see from the image, does indeed have issues. This will be a leg belt as that seems to be the hot choice for some dystopian based characters. We are going to draw out the harness with our masking brush but take a look at the upper leg mesh. The white character shows how rough it is from optimization. The same character (middle, yellow, and orange) shows the triangulated and sometimes mangled mesh areas. None are suitable for around the leg type of holster. You won’t get anything that looks like a belt because of the mangled mesh.
REMESH - A quick trip through the ZRemesher will solve this to the point we can work with it for masking and get decent lines. While still rough they can be smoothed out with the Smooth brush. I turned Adaptive off and selected Same for polys then held the ALT button while pressing remesh. This produced the pinkish colored mesh with much cleaner lines as you can see in the picture.
Now we can move on to drawing our mask for the harness shape which we will later extract and smooth.
I hold down Control and used the rectangle tool to draw the harness so I could get cleaner lines. Even with this the mask won’t be perfectly smooth at this point. You will see some rough edges but it's good enough to use as we use the Smooth tool later to smooth it all out.
Masked then poly grouped then smoothed with the Smooth Groups brush in the Lightbox (Left Inset) Using the masking rectangle to make the harness.
From there I used the Group Masked/Clear Mask (in Polygoups menu) to change the mask into poly groups. This will have terrible edges that are extremely rough and must be smoothed out with a specific brush.
- Go into the Lightbox->Brushes->Smooth and select the SMOOTH GROUPS brush then answer the prompt that will follow about it being the default smooth brush going forward.
- Dial back the intensity slider to 50 percent or less. You can make the brush big enough to cover the polygroups or make several passes around the edges with a smaller brush. This will smooth out the polygroups and give it a much better outline.
- Go down to the bottom of Subtools to the Extract feature. Set Thick to .002, No Double, No TBorder and extract.
Extracted, Smoothed, UV Mapped then Textured for Reference
- Once you have the mesh extracted use the smooth brush on the edges while the edge mask is still in place that was created when the extract button was used.
- After smoothing, toggle the mask to smooth the larger areas of the extract.
- When finished with that remove the mask completely and clean it a bit more but not too much. Don’t let it lose form.
- Texture so you will have a reference. Doesn’t matter what texture you use at this point as you can change it later.
- Run the UV Map then jump over to the UV Map menu and set Borders to 16. Go to the texture menu below the UV Map menu and create a new texture from polypaint.
Now we are ready to GoZ the leg harness over to the CC3 character (or your app of choice) as an accessory so you can position it if needed. From here you can change the texture or use something like Substance Painter to paint on a belt buckle. You could also put in a buckle while in ZBrush if you need to.
Skin the harness as “other” or whatever fits your needs, and it is complete. This method works for just about any kind of belt or harness and only takes minutes to create once you're familiar with it.
Final Result Skinned to the Leg (iClone7). Could also be an accessory since it's on one limb.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.