Sculpting has been traditionally done on rocks chiseled by expert craftsmen. With the advent of digital age, sculpting too is being done on computer screen through specialized software. 3D digital sculpting refers to the process of designing 3D objects by expert artists on the canvas offered by advanced software.

The digitized sculpture is developed over a base model or right from start with a palette of textures and shapes that resemble real life clay and rocky compositions. The basic model is polished and refined with brushes and various software tools that allow tweaking and shaping the shape in desired manner.

Real clay’s appearance is pulled off using intricate polygon meshes which are created using complex mathematical calculations in the background. Like a conventional sculptor, the designer embarks with rough assemblage of meshes and gradually fine tunes the shape with more detailing through increase in the count of polygons.

A successful sculpting project can be completed with a matter of minutes or may consume significant time based on the complexity levels and artist’s skill repertoire.

The Process of Digital Sculpting

Like the manual process, digital sculpting too is done in multiple layers. A base model within 3D modeling software can be the first step towards a compelling design. Creative artists can also start with primitive shapes like cube and then model the same according to imagination.

Various tools available in the software allow modification and manipulation of the geometry of the models or shapes. Pushing, pulling and deformation of the geometrical features cause the sculpture to shape up. Additional geometry can also be inserted to suit the sculpting needs.

Blocking is the initial layer wherein sculpted object’s fundamental features like nose’s shape or muscular curve is defined. Once the silhouette and shape have been finalized, geometry subdivision is done for accommodating further details.

The process requires high processing power, more RAM, huge space on hard disks, and advanced graphics engine. Every subdivision increases the demand on computing resources and render the project slower to render. It is important to work layer wise in the blocking phase to optimize on available resources.

Additional details would be gradually inserted as the project progresses. To add realism to the 3D sculpture, minor imperfections such as scars can be inserted during the blocking phase. Small textural details such as pores can be added on the final subdivision which is the layer carrying maximum detailing.

Clay sculptors use natural textures like foliage and cotton. Similarly, bespoke brushes and textures are used in digital mode for adding detail and realistic feel to the final model.

Digital Sculpting applications

owadays, most television shows and movies use mesmerizing visual effects that are full of 3D sculptures in static or animated modes. In various creative pursuits, digital sculpting is needed.

Concept designs are reworked into 3D sculptured forms during the conception stage. Through this, the direct makes out how the character would behave and finalizes the final appearance and looks. After concept finalization, the digital artist gets down to add more details to the model. Through realistic incorporation of details, captivating characters and ambiences resembling the real world are depicted. After the model is done with, texture is applied to the sculpture and rendering is done.

The digitally sculpted creatures that don’t appear artificial are incorporate in engaging games often. However, before rendering of the characters for the games, the polygon count is reduced to ensure that the characters load optimally fast while the game is in progression. It also reduces the overall size of the game package.

Texture map is highly useful from the perspective of game designers. Through this, the designer can reduce the polygon numbers in the sculpted character without compromising on the level of detailing.

How Modeling Differs from Sculpting?

All 3D applications are essentially powered by 3D models. The quadrangles, triangles and polygons are used for creating and manipulating 3D objects. These polygons are actuated by complex mathematical equations that operate from inside the software.

3D organic models are designed using geometric shapes, vector points and lines aligned in complete symmetry. The various angles in the model have to be meticulously defined for creating harmony among design elements.

The topologizing phase is intuitively taken care of by the controlling of individual polygons and maintaining the integrity of the meshes.

The process of 3D sculpting is highly organic. The sculptor uses brush shaped tools for manipulation of the model’s polygonal meshes. The tools have softer pressure points which allow subtle and intricate work. Hard objects with angles can also be sculpted but it would be easier to do the same using 3D modeling tools.

It should be ideally done for designing organic elements like game characters. With sculpting, the artist can incorporate significant amount of detailing in the subject’s textural map. Due to the inherent complexity of the mesh, the sculpted objects have to be re-topologized prior to using in other applications.

This process is gradually experiencing more automation and as such even beginners can sculpt objects with flair and confidence. The sculpture that would be deployed for animation has to be modeled accordingly. A 3D model would be refined by the sculptor for subtle organic touches. Subsequently, the animator would use the low resolution poly model for animating.

The process would be concluded through the layering of sculpted object over the animated sequence before rendering. The final outcome is achieved without consuming significant amount of processor power and computing resources.

Major 3D Sculpting Software

For achieving realistic 3D designs using organic sculpting, ZBrush is the software that is most popular among designers. The toolset is conducive to intuitive sculpting. The sculpts can be easily integrated with prominent 3D software.

Mudbox is preferred by most beginners. It is easier to gain command over the tools in Mudbox as compared to Zbrush. However, Mudbox is absent of advanced brushes and tool features that are present in the premium version of ZBrush. Mudbox, being a Autodesk product, is compatible with 3DS Max and Maya.

However, for allowing access to the basic tools in ZBrush, an abridged version has been released in the market named Sculptris. This free software has an intuitive user interface and low learning curve. No prior 3D experience is required. The basic toolset allows you to get accustomed to the rudimentary features before making a leap to the more complex ZBrush version. You would never run out of choices, though, if you prefer other platforms for advanced work.

3D sculpting allows optimal expression of the creative quotient of the artists. You can add in incredible amount of detail in the organic model which a conventional 3D modeling software would not allow you to do.