Tutorial : "Making of Skullhead Mobster"
by Harsh Borah, Vancouver, Canada

I got inspired for this character when I saw a sketch somebody did in my life drawing teacher Stephen's sketchbook. It just clicked me and I thought of making it in CG. As always for my any project, I started off collecting some real life reference images and doing some research on how a human would look if his face skin is dried into the skull. Also I wanted to show the sheer power and confidence on his face. So what came in my mind was mobster. So I thought of mixing both the ideas and make him as a Mobster. Here are some images I collected for inspiration.

Modelling the Skullhead

I started off with box modelling the head in Maya. I paid attention to the bone structure humans have, and also how the muscle flows. Then thought of how if skin dried, would look on the face. But I had to maintain the basic form of the human head. Then I modeled the basic polygon mesh for his clothes and hands. I wanted him to be in relaxed position and not in very T-Pose, because its always better to model the character in the closest pose your final render will be. So that you don't have to fight with rigging to reach you character from one extreme pose to another. I try to keep my polycage fairly simple and lowpoly, then export it into zbrush as .obj format and do a lot of tweaking and then import it back in Maya.


1. Its better if you install MJ Polytools before jumping into modeling, as its very handy for modeling and has been a great help for all Maya modelers.

2. I always model my characters using Smooth Proxy, so that I can work on my lowpoly half and see my smooth half as how it is going to be when smoothed.


At this stage I unwrap the complete model and arrange it properly, keeping my texturing needs in mind. So that I don't face any problems later while he is rigged or when I will be texturing him. Also note that it is important to unwrap your model before getting into Zbrush detailing. I mostly use Wings3D and planar mapping in Maya for unwrapping the models. Then export uvs at higher resolution of 4000 pix.


I made a simple bone setup in Maya to give him a pose. Rigging with lowpoly is better as while weighting you don't have to worry about heavy mesh and can work with it easily. Also to note, I always make animated frame so that I have basic T-pose in first frame and final pose in like 15th frame or so. This is good so as to interact with zbrush. As if done this way, I can export t-pose in zbrush, work on details and then re-export the final pose again to zbrush, and all the details done on t-pose will automatically transfer to posed model. This comes in very handy and you can go back and forth. I also smooth my model this time to see if all the deformations are good and if needs a change; i change it on lowpoly model.


1. For you final pose, always save your tpose keyframe and then another keyframe for desired pose.

2. Do all your modelling before rigging, as its very difficult to do any modeling changes once the model has been weighted properly.

Mesh detailing, Displacement and Bump maps in Zbrush

Now comes the fun part. Beforehand I plan everything out. This is very important part of detailing. I plan how much detail is needed from displacements so that it would affect contours and how much from bump maps for fine detailing like skin wrinkles and pores. I export my posed lowpoly mesh to zbrush part by part and first start detailing displacements. Once done with displacements, I load the bump viewer material in zbrush and start painting finer details in projection mode. Note there are few settings you have to keep in mind for Maya and zbrush to impost the mesh before and while detailing.

Some things you need to keep in mind before exporting from Maya are :

1. There should be no overlapping in the UV's.

2. Try to make you model all quads. Ignore triangles and there should be NO n-gons in your model.

3. There should be no holes in your model. Though it works sometimes but try to ignore it.

4. All the uvs should be in 0-1 space of UV editor window.

Some things u need to keep in mind while importing your mesh in zbrush are:

1. Always check uvs overlapping in texture check.

2. Store your lowpoly mesh as morph target if you intend to export displacement maps.

Here are few renders I achieved using zbrush detailing and then rendering in Maya with a very basic light setup.

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