How to Use ZBrush and Maya to Create 2D Portraits

An interview with South Korean 3D artist Seungnam Yang on transforming his subjects into 2D portraits using ZBrush and Maya.

Seungnam Yang is a successful 3D artist in Seoul, South Korea, and often spends his time turning favorite actors and characters into 2D portraits using Maya and ZBrush.

After watching the hit series Arcane, the Netflix series based on the League of Legends video game, he created a detailed 2D portrait of Jinx, a beautiful but notorious character with a complicated backstory.

We talked with Yang—who plays League of Legends a lot—about his workflow, the Jinx portrait, and what he does as a commercial character artist.

PremiumBeat: How did you get into 3D character modeling?

Seungnam Yang: I majored in design at university, but the professor told me I had no talent. That’s what I thought, too, so I tried to find a special skill that I could focus on during a vacation break. That’s when I found 3D modeling and formed a 3D club with my friends.

I quickly became immersed in 3D and thought that I was better at it than I had been with design. I think it’s also enjoyable to share works with others and see how artists express ourselves differently.

PB: When did you start using ZBrush?

SY: I started using ZBrush with 4R7. At the time, I was making portraits for my portfolio of Ninja Turtles and Buzz Lightyear.

Before that, I was only using Maya, but I learned ZBrush in school and thought it was much more intuitive for modeling than traditional software. It feels like playing with clay.

PB: How is your personal character work different from what you do professionally?

SY: The personal work fills me up creatively. I’m able to make what I really want to make, which makes me so happy. I can’t stop making 3D characters and, as technology advances, I am constantly studying.

One Punch Man is my favorite cartoon and has been a great inspiration. I’ve been working on realistic versions of Saitama, the main character in the series, and one of them has my face. I’m also working on heroes and monsters from One Punch Man.

Character from the series One Punch Man
Image via Seungnam Yang.

PB: What inspired you to create Jinx’s portrait, and what was your process?

SY: I’m a huge League of Legends fan, and she’s very attractive. So, I decided to make a portrait of her when I had a break between projects. I’m also working on other characters, like Genos and Vi.

For faces and bodies, I usually purchase HD heads from 3D outlets, and then I modify the hairstyles in ZBrush. ZBrush is a powerful tool for texturing and correcting parts of things that I don’t want. I use Substance Painter a lot for texturing clothes and props.

Portrait of the character Jinx
Image via Seungnam Yang.

PB: How do clients find you?

SY: They usually contact me through ArtStation. But, if I find out a project that I really want to participate in, I apply directly. I also get work sometimes through recommendations from colleagues.

PB: Tell us more about your commercial work?

SY: I usually make characters for commercial work, both in-game characters and the ones for cinematics. I watch a lot of tutorials to improve my skills, mainly the character tutorials by the artist J. Hill. His YouTube channel has helped me a lot.

PB: Could you walk us through your usual workflow?

SY: I’m constantly changing my workflow. New tools are being developed all the time, and good scan data is coming out, so my workflow changes quite a bit. At the beginning of a project, I think about what I want to make and often get inspiration from movies and cartoons. Sometimes, I start with only one photo.

Once the concept is set, I collect references. My style often mixes a real person with a cartoon character, so I collect as many photos of actors’ and models’ faces as possible. Then, I organize them so I can easily see them all in one place.

Closeup of rows of a character's eyes
Image via Seungnam Yang.

Modeling of faces starts in ZBrush, and I use DynaMesh to make it as similar as possible. I project the MetaHuman mesh onto my model using ZWrap. I will often use a MetaHuman mesh because it’s much faster.

I don’t think there’s anything special about my way of working, but I do try to use new programs and methods for different tasks.

When the projection is complete, I extract the texture and create the hair using XGen after the first rendering. Clothes are made with Marvelous Designer with detailing in ZBrush.

GIF of the same character animated in front of four different backgrounds
Image via Seungnam Yang.

PB: What advice would you give artists who are just learning to use ZBrush?

SY: You might find ZBrush a little strange and difficult when you first start using it. But, if you continue to use it, you will be able to enjoy sculpting, and it will be fun. That’s really important.

Just do a little bit every day and stick with it.

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Cover image via Seungnam Yang.

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