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A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

a guide to

skin material

in zbrush &
single pass bpr

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

for rendering



A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR


by Pablo Munoz Gomez

acne: pimples, blemishes, etc.

I know I have kept you waiting for this tutorial for a while
but I took my time because I wanted to give you guys a
quality tutorial that you can easily follow.
Like my previous two eBooks: Creating dreadlocks with
fibermesh and Wet Clay material; this new tutorial is also
for an intermediate level user. However I do go over
some main things in detail and if you are an experienced
user you can follow the highlighted words and phrases that alone should give you a good understanding of my
Lets get started!

I didnt want to bore you too much with the research
behind this tutorial so I decided to filter the information
into what I consider to be the most relevant bits.

almost invisible pores
Dull and rough
prompt to crack and peel... more wrinkles

Skin types
I have used many skin types in this project as well as
making new skin types by mixing several of the ones I
have made. For practical purposes, I will mention the
two fundamental types: dry and oily.
When working in ZBrush I used to think that dry skin
needed a diffuse shader and for the oily skin I could
just throw a specular shader on top to make it shiny.
Well, in some cases that simple approach could work but
it wont get very realistic results, there are a few other
differences between these types of skin, apart from the
Oily skin is thick, usually has visible large pores and
is often regarded as bad skin because of an excessive
production of sebum (natural skin lubricant), which
causes shininess and pimples. Oily skin is also less
prompt to wrinkles.
Dry skin usually looks tight and is prompt to crack
and peel due to a lack of sebum (lubricant). It also has
a slower cellular renewal process which means that the
cells do not repair as fast, making the epidermis thinner
(more on this later). Also, you can see reddish spots
more clearly.
The above descriptions are concise but the main things
we need to know from each type are:
large pores
less wrinkles

OK, so why is all of this important or relevant to this

tutorial? Well, since the idea is to create a realistic type
of skin (whether it is human or creature skin), taking into
account the characteristics of the skin type will help us
push the believability factor even further. This way we
can avoid things that realistically wont make much sense
in general, for example, modelling an old mans face with
a lot of wrinkles, pimples and skin bumps everywhere
and then applying a very oily shader to it (this would end
up being a mix of the different properties of the two types
of skin and that is not realistic).
Tip: If you are modelling a face with large pores and
skin bumps, they are less likely to be located around the
eyes and neck.

Skin Layers
Chances are you have probably used or heard about

A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

this, especially if you have worked with subsurface
scattering materials. Lets see how knowing these skin
layers will help us with ZBrush BPR render.
There are 3 main layers:
Epidermis: Outer layer - the surface
Dermis: Middle thicker layer - layer of connective tissue
Hypodermis: Inner layer - mostly the fat storage

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

this is a property that in nature, almost all materials

have (to different degrees). The way it works (in a
verysimplifiedway) is that when the rays of light hit
the surfaces of a material, a portion of the rays is
reflected and another portions isabsorbed.
The light rays that areabsorbedby the material, are
distributed inside the object in various directions
before exiting it - this is an easy way to think about
the term scattering and all this, happens under the
surfaces of the object so clearly Sub-Surface is a good
name for it.
The rays of light that exit the object, after being
scattered, are what we see and because they have been
passing through the material, we get a taste of what is
inside the material (sort of). What is inside the skin
material is exactly the same for every person regardless
of their skin colour or the type of their skin. I will super
simplify it for you - just call it is BLOOD.

If you are familiar with renderers such as Mental Ray,

V-ray, Arnol, etc., you probably know that is standard to
have 3 layers or 3 maps like these ones:

Understanding this will make it easier for you to create all

sort of materials with SSS, ranging from a wax statue to
an alien creature with green skin and blue blood, not just
human skin.
Now lets simplify the concept of the 3
Layers of the skin even more. From this point
onwards, and for the purpose of this tutorial,
I will just use two termsInner(Dermis and
hypodermis)andOuter(epidermis)and you can think
of them as the blood inside and the skin surface.
You will get a better grasp of this when we go through
the practical stuff. I just wanted to share a bit of the
theory in the way I assimilate it.

Skin pigmentation
These three maps helped me to create something like
Knowing this is
very useful and
when implemented
correctly, it give
amazing results.
The way that
ZBrush does SSS
is a bit differently
though, so lets see
if I can explain how
SSS works a bit
First lets get
the meaning of
SSS out of the
way. SSS stands
for Sub-Surface
Scattering, and

Skin colour is mainly determined by a substance

called Melanin and basically the more of this substance
that a body produces, the darker the skin will be. Of
course this is the result of natural selection and in a great
deal to protect the body from Ultra Violet rays. The dark
skin protects the body from UV rays much better than
lighter skin.
There is an interesting article that you can read if youre
interested about pigmentation, it is a bit dense but it help
me tounderstanda couple of things:
Zonios, George., Bykowski, Julie., andKollias, Nikiforos.
(2001) Skin Melanin, Hemoglobin, and Light Scattering
Properties can be Quantitatively AssessedIn Vivo
Using Diffuse Reflectance Spectroscopy, Journal of
Investigative Dermatology, 117, 14521457.
For this tutorial, here is what I think is useful: Dark-skin
protects the body better than the light-skin from the
UV rays.

A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

The way I interpret this information in practical terms,
it might be not entirely accurate but, I think it works: the
Melanin substance hels the skin to provides protection
from ultra violet rays so is like a shield. The sun rays
bounce when they hit the surface of the skin, so the
more protection a skin colour has (in darker skin), the
more rays that will bounce; the less protection in the
skin (in lighter skin) the more rays will gothrough. With
this in mind, letssummariesthe key features of each
Dark skin has a stronger shield:
More rays bounce from the surface - more specular
Less rays that can go through - more subtle SSS effect

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

Main features that need to be

reproduced to create a realistic
skin shader
Here I will just quicklysummariesa list of skin features
that I think areessentialto achieve a realistic render.
Diffuse(texture, colour)
Secularity (shiny, oily)
Building up a skin material and setting up a render
in ZBrush is much easier if you treat the characteristics
of the skin as steps of a process, so I would start with
diffuse as step 1, followed by specularity (step 2) and
finally the SSS (step 3). This will make more sense soon
when you get to that part of the tutorial.

I hope I haventconfusedyou or bored you too much by

this point, either way I think the next part of the tutorial
will paint a clearer picture.

About BPR render

ZBrush Gives you the option to render with
Best,Preview, fast and flat. The BPR (Best-Preview
Render) gives the best quality for 3D models (in edit
mode) and this is what we will be using.
Light skin has a weaker shield:
Absorbs more sun rays - more diffused light
More rays that can go through - stronger SSS effect

It is good to know that although the idea of this tutorial

is create a goodlookingsingle pass render, the BPR
render will always render each pass separately (as long
as you turn it on from the BPR passes). You can tweak
your image further after rendering it anyway.
The reason I use BPR over the other methods is that it
gives me a lot of control whencreatingeach pass
and also whenadjustingthe image all within ZBrush.
NOTE: For a lot of the images I create, I definitely like to
tweak the passesseparatelyand do the compositing in
Photoshop (I also enjoy the compositing process a lot).
The single BPR pass, however, gives me a fast and nice
looking render that I can quickly fine tune without leaving
ZBrush. It also allows me to create nice turntables and
dish out multiple angles of a single model very very

A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

Creating the
Skin Material

You are probably familiar with this but lets take a look
at it anyway to understand how this works could help
you enhance the effect of realistic skin with the BPR
single pass.

We are getting closer to the good stuff, so in this section

I will guide you thought my process of creating
materials in ZBrush. If you have read my previous
tutorial on WET CLAY, you might already have an insight
on mywork-flow, thereforethe intro to the materials
section in this tutorial will be brief (you can refer back to
the WET CLAY tutorial if you want, because the process
of creating a material is the same).

The Wax Preview is very cool, I like it because you can

see the effect in real time while you are modelling and
if you know how to tweak it, you could get a very nice
looking skin material with nothing more than this.
However,sometimesthe Wax Preview render could
work against you. I have seen very nice and detailed
sculptures that overuse the effect and end up loosing
contrast and definition.

Bottom line, this will be a step by step tutorial showing

you how I created a very specific thing:A ZBrush
skin shader for single pass render using BestPreview Render. What this means is that this method
will probably give you great results when rendering skin
with ZBrush BPR, but it might not be the ideal material to
use during the modelling phase or to render other type of

In this following section, I will show you some practical

examples of each one of the attributes for the wax
preview render. If you would like to test this yourself as
you read it, make sure you turn it on from the render
properties AND make sure that thestrengthsliderfrom
the materials wax modifier is more than 0.

Why ZBrush Materialsinsteadof

OK, for the skin shader I used a standard ZBrush
material rather than making a skin MatCap for 3 main
1. I wanted full control on the different attributes of
the material (i.e. diffuse andspecular).
2. I wanted the material to react to the light rig I
created. Rememberthat MatCap (Material Capture)
also captures the light so this is not ideal for what we
are after.
3. I used a head model with Polypaint Texture so I
didnt want to affect that with any colour or diffuse
information from a MatCap.

OK, lets take a look at the wax modifiers... Wax (the

real material), is a material that has a very strong SSS
effect. You could potentially say that the stronger the
SSS effect is, the closer the material is to wax. If we
move thestrengthslider down a bit, you can tell that it
is less waxy and it starts to look more like the SSS effect
in the skin; a bit more subtle.
The specular slider allows to add or remove the wax
effect from the highlights, this is quite handy since you
cansubtletyadd a fake SSS to some dark areas and
transitions on your 3D model.

With all the testing that I have done with MatCaps and
Standard Materials I realised that in most cases (and
also depending on what effect you are after), when you
tweaked a MatCap to the point you are happy with and
then you added a colour or texture map, the result was
somehow inconsistent. With a standard material, on the
contrary, if a colourless model looks good with just the
material, when a polypaint layer or texture is applied the
render, will look much better!

Understanding the Wax Preview

Fresnel allowsyou to move the wax effect soit faces

the camera or you can shift it to be angled away from

A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

the camera. Theexponent multiplys the intensity of the


1. I like to work with smalldocument while I create

the shader so I can render it fast; I change my
document size to:1080 w X 720 h and drag the head
tool onto the canvas.

You canalso combinethe Fresnel effectwith the

Radius. The Radius allows you to spread the wax effect
so if you set the value very low you end up with a very
sharp effect.

2. The tool has polypaint which you wont need at this

point, so make sure it is off (not visible) and assign
the model a Quadshader (at the bottom, from the
material library).

The temperature is a nice effect that could be

subtle but powerful. If you aremakinghuman
skin,regardlessof the pigmentation,
thetemperatureshould be hot or red simply because
the blood is red. If you were making a fishy creature
oralienthat has a cold blueblood, you could change
this to be cold and this will help create the effect.

OK, so lets keep it simple. The wax preview will be

useful only after the skin shader is built to add an extra
subtle effect but it wont be the primary feature of the
material. The idea here is that the effect will be achieved
from the material channels and the way the shaders are
mixed, you can therefore have extra control and a more
accurate result.

3. I also like to position the model on an angle that

is not too close or too far (in distance), basically an
angle that I can see the general shape and at the
same time, judge how the shader looks with the
details of the model. I also like to store that view and
Isuggestyou do the same. In case you move the
model, you can come back to the same position. This
will be very handy later, when you are comparing the
effects of the shaders.

Building the skin Material

OK, here is where the real fun begins! In this section I
will show you step by step how I created a simple shader
that, with a little tweaking, could give you very good
results using the BPR.
Open up a new document to start fresh and load the
Pablander_head.ZTL, it should come up in the lowest
subdivision level. If you want, you can use your own
model, but I suggest you follow the tutorial with the
model I shared, just so you can see precisely what I will
show youthroughthe steps and match the results you
will be getting. This first steps do not need to be in
this order but I usually start like this:

Now, before we continue there are a couple of things

you might want to know (in case you dont) about the
QuadShader. First thing you will notice is that it looks
like the model is overexposed,instinctively you maytry
to lower the intensity of the light BUT DONT! The shader
looks like that by default. The 4 slots that make the
shader are ON, so the effect of the shader is being
multiplied by 4. And, the other thing you might notice

A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

is that the attributes of the QuadShader are the same
as the ZBrush default SkinShade4, so why is the
QuadShader more suitable for what we are trying to do?
Well, put it this way: you can tweak the SkinShade4
and get pretty good results already so with the
QuadShader you have 4 times more control. This
will make more sense as we progress. Also to
avoidconfusionI will refer to the QuadShader, from now
on, as Skin Material, because each one of the Slots
inside the Material are actually Shaders.
4. Go ahead and open up the left tray dock in the
Materials palette and expand the modifiers of the
material, turn off the shaders, one at a time, and you
will see the effect getting less and less strong.

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

Turn off all the shadersexceptthe first one, I will

only talk about the shader attributes necessary to
create this skin material but if you want a bit more info
of what each one of the sliders do, check the ZBrush
documentation or my previous tutorial that talks about
the wet clay material.
Set the Ambient slider
between 20 to 25 and the
diffuse all the way to 100.
The idea is that this Shader
1 is going to be the colour/
texture of our material.
Also, for this shader, I
tweaked the diffuse curve to
look like this.
Just click on the curve to
create a point and drag it,
this is a tiny little trick that
will add a little bit of fake
SSS. Basically, you are
editing the fall-off of the shader, so with a curve shaped
like this, you will get less contrast on the detailed areas
of your models. The reason I said is a fake SSS effect, is
because with a fall-off like this you get less shadows
and less shadows could suggest that more light is
passing through, filling the little areas like pores and
bumps and therefore suggesting the SSS effect (very
basic but it all adds up towards the final material).
NOTE: by the same principle, if you invert the shape
of the diffuse curve, you get a velvet type shader
orexaggeratingthe same curve shape you get the
posterise effect. (Ambient set to 0 for these examples):

OK, thats about it for setting up the project. I suggest

you save and lets start building the Skin Material.

Creating the diffuse shader

For the diffuse shader, Ill be
using the first shader of the
material (first from left to right),
the order of the shaders is
important because the way we
are going to mix them.

A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

Lets try to keep things as simple as possible, so the last thing I changed for the diffuse
shader was the specular: I gave it 2 points in the specular slider and tweaked the curve to
be smoother:
I also like the specular colour to always be white. To do this, I changed the colorise
specular slider to be 100 and selected white for the specular colour. Finally, I added a bit
to the high dynamic range modifier.
You might notice that the model looks overexposed, almost as white as it was when you first
applied the Quadshader. Dont panic, this is intentional, turn on the polypaint by clicking
on Colorise. Youll see that the texture looks OK on the model. Leave it on for now, and
we just need to tweak a couple more of sliders that Ive found to be very useful, but are
not that popular.
They are the Anisotropic Diffuse and the Anisotropic Specular, you can easily achieve the same velvet effect
I mentioned earlier by changing this attribute because what it does, is shift the effect of the diffuse (or specular)
shaderacrossthe model. So, 0 means there is no effect and 100 means iscompletelyinverted, I left the
Anisotropic Diffuse at 0.28 and the Anisotropic Specular at 0.19.

You wont see much difference by changing the specular

slider because we only added 2 points to the slider, so it
will be very subtle.
Thats it for the first shader, 3 more to go. If you hit BPR
right now you should get something like this:

This is exactly what we need to see at this point,

almost a flat texture with not a lot of shadows and
very few contrast areas. Kind of an in-between a
contrasted diffuse shader and acompletelyflat shader.

Creating the Specular shader

I mentioned earlier the main features I think
arenecessaryto reproduce the realistic skin, so the next
one on the list is specularity and for the purpose of this
tutorial, I will try to create a generic specular. What I
mean by that, is that it will be in the middle of dry skin

A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

type and oily skin type (this way you can save a generic material that is easier to tweak depending on the nature of
your future projects).
The specular or shininess of the skin is achieve by adding a specular shader to our current material, which so
far has the diffuse shader we just built and 3 more generic shaders. First, lets set up the model so we can easily
judge the contribution of the specular by itself... Turn off polypaint, turn off the diffuse shader (click on the little
dot from the slot 1 of the material) and turn on the shader 3. The shader 3 will be the specular we are going to keep
shader 4 for the SSS contributions and shader 2 for an extra cool effect.
So you should have something like this again:

From this shader we are only interested in the specular. Go ahead and slide the ambient and diffuse attributes
down to 0.

A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

Great you should have a black model with some shiny

white bits, this is what we are after because the idea is to
modify JUST the specularity and nothing else matters
(for this shader). However, you might notice that the
model is notcompletelyblack and some volumes
are stillrecognisable, this is because by default, the
ambient light from the light palette should be on.
Wehaventgot into lights yet, but for now turn it to 0 too.

more trick I would like to share with you, and its again
using the Anisotropic Specular slider.

Now we are going to use the specular slider

todeterminetheintensityof the shiny bits and the
specular curve to define how oilyor how dry the
skin is going to be.

OK, last but not least, we need to define the way our
specular shader is going to interact with the previously
created diffuse shader.

Zoom into the model and change the values of

the slider up or down to see the effect, this is just
shifting the materials specular but becarefulnot
to overdo it, this needs to be very subtle. Here is
acomparisonbetween 0 and the value I decide to

Go back to the front view you set at the beginning...

Document > ZAppLink Properties > Front.
Lets turn the Polypaint back on and also the diffuse
shader (shader 1). Hit BPR. Suddenly the specular
effect looks too strong right? Well that is because
wehaventset the way shader 3 is being mixed. The
Mixer sub-palette is where you can control how the
shaders from a material interact or blend with each
other. It sits just below the modifiers sub-palette from the
materials palette, shift + click on it to expand the mixer
and keeping the modifier still visible. Make sure you
have the specular shader still selected since the mixer
properties are unique to each shader.

So lets try to get

something that is
half oily and half
dry. For this model
this is the value of
specular and the
shape of the curve
that I think works
This is pretty much
what we need
from this shader.
However, there is 1


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

Ill explain a bit more what
the different sliders from
the mixer are, but for now
we are only interested in the
blending mode. If you are
familiar with Photoshop and I
assume you are, you will see
that the blending modes
arealmostthe same as the
Photoshop layers blending modes...
If you were to take a single render of
the diffuse we created and a single
render from the specular we created and composite
those passes in Photoshop by setting the blending mode
to Screen for the specular layer, you will get something
like this:

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

areas so the rest can go).

Try rendering it again you should see the
differencestraightaway And, thats it for the
specular contribution, you might want to change the
shininess of the shader later on but for now is good
enough to move on to the next shader.

Diffuse and Specular recap

I hope everything makes sense so far, butjustin case I
want to do a recap of the two shaders we have created
tosimplifythe process even more, now that you have
a better understanding of what they are and how they
interact with each other:
We have used a QuadShader material with 4 slots
(shaders) and we have used only 2 of those shaders
that form the Material: Shader 1 being the Diffuse
and shader 3 being the specular. We set the mixer
properties of the specular to be screen and enabled
the black button so at this point if we render we
should get something that looks like this:

It is very subtle again but when creating materials its all

about subtlety, hopefully you can see the specular effect

From the Mixer sub-Pallet change the blending model

to Screen just as you would in Photoshop. Try rendering
right now and see what happens...
The model looks
super white, to
fix this you need
to enable the little
attribute box next
to the blending
modes called
black to tell ZBrush we want to apply this specular
shader (or pass if you are thinking in Photoshop layers)
on its own without blending it with any other shaders...
we only need the specular information (the white shiny

I would say that here we finish with the basic part of the
tutorial and we are ready to move on to the advanced
second part of building a skin material for BPR in a
single pass.

Creating the Sub-Surface Shader

The SSS shader will give the material the third main
feature I described earlier: Translucency. This effect is


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

a bit more complicated than the two shaders we have
already made, but I hope this guide will provide you with
an understanding of how to manipulate andleveragethe
power of this effect within ZBrush. Before, we get started
let me say a few things about the SSS shader:
It will vary from model to model, so if you are using
your own head/object to follow this tutorial you will get
different results.
Its an effect that is dependent on more than just the
shader, which means you need to take into account the
light, the material modifiers and the render properties.
There is not a magic number or formula that gives
perfect and/or consistent result, so you WILL have to
tweak the SSS settings when using the material with
another model as well as in other projects.

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

shader 4 and click PasteSH.

Cool, before anything else, it
would be a good idea to save
the material (or the project if
you want) and give it a proper
name. From the material
library simple click on save
and give it a name.
Also, to speed things up a
bit, since we are going to be
dealing with render settings,
light and material modifiers, I suggest you dock the
light and renderpalettesto the right tray so you get
something like this:

Having said that, I will mention what I found to be the

most relevant attributes needed to achieve a good result
across a variety of lighting set ups and models. I will
provide the steps necessary to set up the material in a
way that it is easy to customiseand change, so you can
use it with other models too... The whole point of this
tutorial is to help you speed up your workflow.
The first thing we need to do is grab the properties of a
material that allow us to play with the inner and outer
values (remember when I said I was going to simplify the
skin layers dermis and epidermis into inner and outer?
Well, here is what that concept comes into play). From
the materials library find and select the FresnelOverlay
material, then expand the modifiers, select the shader
2 and you will see that it doesnt have much but it does
have inner and outer sliders.

ZBrush allows you to copy and paste shaders between

materials and this is what we need to do to make the SSS
effect part of our skin material. Make sure you are in the
second shader of the FresnelOverlay material and click
Go back to the materials library and find the
QuadShader youve been working on, select the

Youll also notice that I turned off the diffuse and

specular and turned on the SSS (shader 4) so my
model is just a blacksilhouette.
Lets start with the
shader modifiers.
The best way to
understand how it
works is by testing,
so at the bottom of the
modifiers sub-palette
you can see 4 squares
or colour inputs, click
on them and select
a vibrant colour for
each one of them:
from left to right:
Yellow, red, green
and blue. You should
already see some
changes in the model
but we need to set all
the values to 0 so we
can test the contribution of each sliderseparately, set
everything to 0 and the Fresnel factor to at least 1 (so
we can actually see the effects).
OK, so the first two sliders are inner and
outeradditivewhich based on what I mentioned before
will be equivalent to dermis andepidermis (not entirely
accurate but it works for illustrating the concept). Here
is where it gets a bitconfusing, because when you


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

think about dermis and epidermis you probably think as

layers with different thickness but the inner and outer
attributes work based on the canvas view and the
normals of your model, for example: in this sphere, I
have set the inner value to 1 and left the outer to -1.

The next two sliders, Inner Blend and Outer Blend are
actually the attributes of this shader that I prefer to use.
The Inner Blend uses the same principle of the facing
ratio but it blends the colour set in the InnerBlend picker,
so if you move the slider to 1 youll see the effect:

And in this one I did the opposite.

In the same manner, if you reset the inner blend to

0 and move the outer blend to 1, youll see the same
effect BUT with the facing ratio inverted.

Basically, forget about layers and think about facing

ratio. The facing ratio is usually known as the Fresnel
Effect and almost all materials in nature produce
this effect to different degrees. Briefly speaking, the
Fresnel Effect is a set of mathematical equations
use to described how the light behaves when it
travels between mediums with different IOR (Index
of refraction). This effect is clearly visible in materials
such as glass, water and/or metal. Lets put things into
context and see how using it can help the skin material
we are building...
One of the main features I listed before about the skin
isobviouslythe Translucency, and the translucency
is really the SSS effect (how the light is scattered in
translucent materials). The FresnelOverlay shader
we are using is the best option we have to recreate this
effect sinceit allow us to play with the facing ratio for
the material by tweaking its inner and outer values. In
the skin material, the inner value will be yellowish while
the outer will be reddish.

Keep in mind that these results are also depending on

the number set in the Fresnel factor (currently set at 1),
you can narrow the effect or make the outer and inner
colour spread over the model even more by changing
the Fresnel value. You can even invert the effect by
setting negative values:

Well tweak these later, at the moment Im just showing

you what each attribute does... Now, look what happens
if we set the inner additive to -1, the outer additive to
1 as well as setting the inner blend to 0 and the outer
blend to 1:

I hope I havent confused you too much but lets get

on with the practical stuff... With a bit of practice this
process will come as second nature when creating other


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

Basically ZBrush is Blending the outer additive colour
(red) with the outer blend colour (blue) making it
purple. This is even more evident if you set the Fresnel
factor to 0. So the reason I suggest to set the colours
in this shader to such vibrant distinctive hues, is to
be able to see the interaction between them. Blue
and red makes purple and so on, feel free to try other
combinations and you will get pretty cool results. I think
you get the idea of what you could do with this shader,
so lets get back to the tutorial and onto the next step.
Next, we are going to set the colours of the inner, outer
and blends to be a more realistic flesh colour so I choose
something like this:

We want the outer colours to be within the red hues

and the inner colours to be yellowish. Once you set
the colours, copy and paste the whole shader 4 into
the shader 2. This is the extra effect I was talking about,
which we will tweak it later. For now, just pass it into
shader 2, turn it off and select shader 4 (SSS) again.

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

Try making a BPR render after enabling the SSS....

Nothing happens right? Why not? We have tweaked
the modifiers sliders, enabled the SSS in the light
palette as well as the renderproperties, sowhat are we
missing? Well, we have set everything in ZBrush for the
SSS to happen, but we havent defined HOW the SSS
shaders behave in the Skin Material (remember:when
we set the blending mode of the specular shader (S3)
to be screen and all that?). We need to go to the Mixer
sub-palette for the SSS shader (S4)and tell ZBrush to
MIX this shader as SSS by simply dragging the slider,
conveniently called SSS, to 100.

Once you have done that, try BPR again and see if you
finally start to get excited about this process.

OK, lets put the outer blend slider to 1 and all the rest
of the sliders back to 0, including the Fresnel effect. Hit
the BPR button. You should get something that looks like

Wohoooo! We are getting closer! The following

section will be about HOW to tweak the SSS from the
render settings and the material modifiers.

Render settings SSS

This is the SSS
effect, but we cant
see it yet since
any light to have the
capability to render
SSS. And, the
SSS are also off; to
enable them, simply
click on the SSS
buttons under the light
sub-palette and the

Now that we have the SSS effect working for us, we can
start tweaking the settings from the render palette. What
I usually do, is create a document in Photoshop and
paste screenshots of the renders, so that every time I
do something different in the settings I can check and
compare the changes. I will guide you through what I
have found to be the best settings for this particular
project, so you dont have to do any of that.
From the render palette, expand
the sub-palette called BPR
SSS. The first thing you see, is
a button that says SSS Across
Subtools, click on it to enable
it. This button determines how
ZBrush will light up the subtools


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

as a whole (when is on), or individually (when is off). So
if you have a model made out of multiple subtools, you
should leave this ON unless you are after some particular
look. Regardless of the number of subtools I have, I
tend to just leave this ON.
Next, you have the rays and the Angle attributes,
these two are directly related. Basically, the higher the
number of rays, the softer the SSS effect would be.
Keep in mind that increasing the number of rays will
increase the render time. At a glance, it might be hard
to see the difference that these values have, but take a
look at this contrasted image rendered with 1, 30 and
100 rays:

Obviously, 100 rays look much better than 30, but usually
you dont really need more than 50 rays. However, for
the purpose of this tutorial, I will leave it set at 100 for
best results (youll see why after reading the next couple
of paragraphs).
The Angle will affect how narrow the SSS effect is,
based on the light source, the way I understand it, is that
the value you set in the Angle slider will determine how
much the SSS effect will spread around the model,
taking into account the light position. For example, in
these images, I set the Angle to 1 and to 360, and I
moved the light source to the right.

When the Angle is set to 1, the effect is only visible along

the edges of the model and when it is at 360, the effect
spreads, reaching other areas of the models. Now
you can see the nose and other volumes of the face.
You could also think about this as how diffused the
light source is. A value of 1 would be equivalent to
something like atorchlight (very narrow light source),
and a value of 360, will be like a bright cloudy day
(very diffused light, that covers a greater area, equally).

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

basically because the higher the number you set in

the Angle value, the more Rays you may need to make
the spread effect look smoother. Examples below:

Im going to leave the Rays at 100 based on what I had

said earlier, because I will use the Angle value of 360.
This is not a must for the tutorial or SSS effect, this is just
my preference as I will edit the light later to have more
diffused shadows (if I wanted a more direct light with
sharp shadows, I would probably lower the Angle value
toaccommodatethe lighting conditions).
Moving on, you have the Res value (Resolution) and
the Blur. The resolution in pixels is linked to the size
of the document you are working on. For the moment,
I will leave the resolution as it is (at 400), but for
final images will increase the number to something
like 1000. You could go higher than that, but in most
cases you get very good results without having to set
crazy numbers here. The Blur is linked to the resolution
andsettinghigher values will give a softer SSS effect.
I dont change the Blur too much, but feel free to test
various options and see what works for your project.
Finally, you have the VDepth and the LDepth. OK, these
two settings are very important to achieve the effect we
want, so I will try to briefly explain themseparately:
VDepth (View Depth) will take the SSS effect that we
have set up and offset it based on the view. Look at
these 3 screenshots using different values:

You could think about this in the following way: Imagine

the whole SSS effect is contained within an invisible layer
or box, and when you change the value of the VDepth
slider you are offsetting that container box, closer or
further away from the view:

The reason that Rays are related to the Angle value is


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

NOTE: The front face of the box is facing directly

towards the view of the document; the model is on an
angle purely todemonstratethe offset of the SSS.
LDepth (Light Depth) also does the same but based
on the light source. So, in the previous example,
theimaginarybox doesnt move in the direction of the
view but rather in a straight line between the model and
the position of the light. In the images below, I have
moved the light source exactly behind the model and
tested the LDpeth with values of -100, 0 and 100.

The mixer for the SSS shader

Now that we have a generalunderstandingof the render
settings for the SSS we need to mix the shader with the
diffuse and specular shaders. Before you turn them
ON again to test the material, I want to clarify a couple of
The SSS effect is very subtle in most scenarios but
is present nonetheless, so you should judge how much
of this effect you want to add to your render based on
things like the intensity of the light source(s), the position
of the lights, the thickness of the model, etc. The human
head for example, will have varyingstrengthof the SSS
effect, depending on which part of the head the light
goes through. The effect will be very strong along areas
such as the ears and nose, but almost non-existent
around the skull and other bonny areas.

Hopefullythis image will serve as an overview of the

VDepth and LDepth sliders:

Finally, you have a little button called Spd next to the

LDepth, which stands for Sub-Pixel Depth, I usually leave
it ON because it produces a moreaccurateSSS effect,
but turning it OFF while testing stuff, will speed up your

If you do a render right now with the values I provided,

you should get something that looks like the images
below on the left. There is a lot of spreading into
the skull, chin, cheekbones, etc. This isintentionalFOR
NOW because we will fine tune it from the mixer
inside the material, to get something more like the
image below on the right.

OK, so lets see how this was done using the mixer for
this SSS shader. Open up the Mixer sub-palette and
for this shader we are going to concentrate on only 2
attributes (that is all we need): The S Exp and blending

To sum up, these are the best values I found to work for
what I want toachieve:


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

Change the S Exp from 1 to 2. What this slider does,
is change the falloff of the SSS effect so the more you
increase the number, the narrower it will look, that is the
reason I left the other settings to let the SSS spread quite
a bit, so that we can control it from only one attribute in
the mixer.
Now we need to change the blending mode from
normal to add and turn on the Black button. Thats
pretty much all we need to change here in the mixer.

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

achieve different looks (more on this in the bonus

section), without altering the SSS or wax preview
2. It adds an extra level of control when we tweak
the filters in the rendering section.
I made this shader in the exact same way that I created
the shader 4 (luckilynothing needs to be altered in
the render settings) so play with the sliders and get
something that works for you. Like you see in the
previous picture the main slider to change within the
mixer is the Fresnel attribute. If you want the settings I
used, here they are:

The extras effect - Shader 2

The Shader 2 or what Ive been calling the extra
effect, is simply another layer of sub-surface
scattering. However is notdependent on the
SSSpropertiesfrom the render settings, since its
actually based on the Fresnel slider within the mixer.
Let me show you what I mean:

OK, this is more or less the process of creating the

Skin material. In the next section Ill cover Lighting,
rendering and compositing (within ZBrush). But,
before we move onto that part, I will add one final thing
to our shader - that is the wax preview. To do that turn
shaders 2, 3 and 4 OFF and shader 1 ON (our diffuse
shader). With only that shader selected, go to wax
modifiers (just above the materials modifiers) and set
thestrengthto something like 50. Play with the Fresnel
and Radius slider until you get something you are happy
with. You can refer back to the Understanding the Wax
Preview section earlier in the tutorial. These are the
settings that I liked:
The image above displays the effect of shader 4 (SSS
effect) and shader 2 (Fresnel SSS fake). As you can see
from the image on the right the effect is basically a red
colour edge that defines the volumes of the model
a bit better than what the shader 4 does. I found
this extra effect to be extremely powerful for two main
1. Its a middle ground between a full SSS and
a wax preview and can be easily customized to


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

Skin Material Recap

Lets see what we have so far. We created a Skin
Material that uses/combines 4 shaders:

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

lights; and, the rest are disabled. Go ahead and click

the button to create a new light, youll get something like

Shader 1: diffuse shader and isrelativelyflat.

Shader 2: fake SSS.
Shader 3: specular shader.
Shader 4: SSS effect.
The way that all these shaders mix witheach otherand
create the final look of the materials, is determined by
the mixer in the material properties (and the render
properties for the SSS). Below, are renders of each
individual shader and then a combined version of the

If itdoesntlook too exciting yet, remember that this

tutorial is about creating a skin material to render in a
single pass using BPR, so we have only completed part
of theprocess - setting up the material. Now, we need
to dive into the rendering and lighting.

At this point I willrecommendthat you to turn OFF the

SSS pass from the render properties to make the test
renders faster while we set up the lights. Also turn OFF
the primary light, so that you can see the effect from
the LightCap on its own. Render the image and see what
you get.
Now, if you hover over
the black box with the
light on it youll see a red
little dot, click on it and
drag it towards left side
of the box. The shape
of a sphere will become
more obvious, hit render
and check the results.

Lighting and rendering

Now, that we have the skin material 95% ready

(allowing 5% for other tweaks during the rendering
steps), we need to set up the lights for the scene. At
the moment there is only one light in the project, which
is the KEY light casting shadows, with the SSS property
enabled. In this tutorial, I wont go too deep into the
different types of lighting setups or why the light plays
a big role in the final image, because that would be a
whole new tutorial in itself. I will keep it simple and only
have a 3 point light system.
The 3 point light system is standard but its good for what
we need right now. The 3 lights are usually:
1. Key lights (primary light source).
2. Fill light (generally a diffused light source placed
on the opposite side to the key light source).
3. Rim or Hair light (a light placed at the back, to
enhance the silhouette of the subject).
We already have our KEY light, and we can worry
about the shadows later. To create the Fill and Rim
light we are going to use the ZBrush LightCap which,
in my opinion, speeds up the process a lot.
Go to the Light palette and expand the LightCap subpalette, in it there are two buttons: diffuse and specular;
and, a big black box, which is a preview of the lights
and its black because there are no lights in it yet. Right
below it, there is another button: New Light - to create

Cool, you can see how the lights (red dots) you placed
in the LightCap sub-palette are then translated to the
scene, very closely to how they look in the black box. At
this point, we are going to turn everything ON again,
because now we need to judge how everything is
going to look as a whole, not simply individually. So
turn the SSS back ON from render properties as well as
the primary light properties.
From the LightCap sub-palette, once you create a light,
you will get its attributes below the black box. Create
another light byclickingnew Light again and move this
one to the right (you can use the Light Index to select
and navigate between the lights).


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

If you render now, you should have something like
this (if not, make sure the SSS in render properties and
the primary light are enabled again):

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

The next step is to change the Falloff. This attribute

determines how the light is distributed in the space, you
can think about these properties as the shape of the light
source - how wide or narrow the cone of the lamp is. Set
the Rim light to a lower number like 0.4 and the Fill
light to 5.5.
For this render, I have also lowered the intensity of the
main light (Key light) slightly from 0.85 to 0.72 and also
added a bit of colour to the Fill light.

We need to get rid of the shadows from the Fill and

the Rim light, in the LightCap sub-palette, change the
Shadow slider to 0. At this point, I also changed the
strength the Rim and Fill to 5 and 2.5respectively.

Now the effect of these two lights is quite obvious but

at the same time it is overly strong. We are going to
tweak each light separately to get a nice fill and back
lighting effect.
The aperturedetermines the diffuse and specular falloff
of the light, in other words,how soft or how sharp the
light blends with the dark areas. A number of 1 will
give you very narrow lights and a number of 180 will be
a very diffused light source. From the LightCap settings,
change theapertureof the Rimlight(the first one on
the left), to something between 40 and 50. And, for
thesecond light change the value of it to 100. This
way you are telling ZBrush that you want the light source
1 to be quite narrow (to simulate the Rim light) and the
light source 2 to spread over the model a bit more.

Hopefully you can now see some of the effect of the Skin
Material working nicely with the light setup. The next
thing I want to do is get rid of those strong shadows
coming from the KEY light and make them more
diffused. That is achievedthroughthe render settings.
For this reason, I like to treatLightingand rendering as
one section.
Open up the render palette and we are going to tweak
the BPR shadow:

The first two sliders FStrenght and GStrenght control

how strong the shadows are, FStrenght is only
concerned with the casted shadows on the floor. By
turning it to 0.01 you wont see much difference (unless
you have a floor). The GStrenght on the other hand,
deals with the intensity of the shadows on a global
scale. What this means, is that you can change these
sliders and this will affect the shadows strength of
each shader. Huh? Shadows for each shader? What?
OK, so there is something else Ididntmention during


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

the material creation which is theenvironmentsub-palette. The reason I avoided it was because it is more relevant
now that we are dealing with rendering settings and also, because it is awesome! So simple, but so powerful. Let me

Environment Sub-Palette
In the same way each individual shader we created has options in the mixer sub-palette, they also have an area
called Environment that has 3 simple options: Shadow, Ao and vibrant shadows and AO. These attributes are
unique to each shader and the Shadow and Ao slider refer to the strength of those features for each shader. Maybe
an image will illustrate better what I mean. Here are the 4 renders - I switched the Shadow slider to 0 for each one of
the shaders that make up our skin material:

Perhaps the image above gave you a better idea, but if not, I want to explain this in a different way BECAUSE I
really want you to understand theseEnvironmentsettings. If you didnt know about it, this is probably the best TIP
you will get out of this tutorial. Im serious! It blew my mind when I found out about it. It will slightly change the
final look of your renders but you willdefinitelysee the difference in many ways.
TIP: Each one of the shaders we created have different properties and different ways that they mix with each
other in order to create the Skin material, but they all react to the light in the same way (to some extent). The
Environment sub-palette allows you to change the intensity of the shadows for each shader that make up the material
INDIVIDUALLY. The reason I think this is very powerful, is because it lets you mask out or lower the influence of
the SSS shader shadows, for example. I can still get the shadows I need but wherever the effect of the SSS is, the
shadows will be less prominent, enhancing the overall look of the render.
Take a look at how it works with practical examples, for image A, I took our KEY light and placed it
behind the model and left all shader environment shadows at 100. For image B, I simply changed
theenvironmentshadows of the specular to a lower number (83) and the SSS shader to 0 nothing else:

So you see how different the renders are and how much more realistic the image B is. In the same way you can
change the Ao (ambient occlusion if its enabled from render settings) slider, to affect each material.


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

Finally, the button called Vibrant Shadows and AO if
turned ON, will give you a vibrantsaturatedshadow. If
you have ever rendered an image that looks like the
shadows are burning or are red towards the edges,
here is how you turn that effect OFF.
Back to the shadow render settings...
Now that you know that the Environment shadows
slider works for each shader individually, its easy to
understand what the GStrenght does. Basically, it
lowers the intensity the shadows on a global scale:

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

The attributes below rays and angle: Res (Resolution);

Blur; VDepth and LDepth; those were covered in section
discussing the BPR SSS sub-palette. These work in
the same way. The rest of the settings I generally dont
touch, but it is worth mentioning a couple of these briefly,
in case you want to tweak them:
Gamma: this slider will change the gradient effect
between the areas that have shadows and the areas
that dont get shadows, lower numbers mean almost
no gradient and higher numbers refer to almost no
Falloff: works in junction with the Gamma slider, you
wont see much difference unless the gamma is set to
1 or lower. I havent noticed this to make much of a
difference (like I said, I barely touch these settings...
for me is just good enough to know they are there).
Max Dist: this slider will change how far or how
close the shadow will cast.
DistFalloff: works with the Max Dist slider and will
change the speed of the shadows falloff.

Final tweaks to the material

The shadow GlobalStrengthslider value is really up
to you, and it may vary depending on the look you are
seeking to achieve. For example, a lower value will
suggest brighter environments, but a strength of 1 could
suggest a very darkenvironment:

Go ahead and do a best preview render of what we

have so far and lets see what works and what can be

From the render, I can see 3 things that are not quite
The next sliders are Rays and Angle which work in
the same way as the counterparts from the BPR SSS
sub-palette previously discussed so I wont get into the
details here. Just a quick tip: when you set the Angle
to a high value, you should then increase the number
of rays too in order to
retain a good quality
render. In this tutorial, I
have set the Rays to 60 (I
will change this value to
120 for final render). An
angle of 90 seemed to
work well to achieve the
look I was going for.

1. The SSS effect on the ears is maybe too strong and

the red looks like it is almost emitting light.
FIX: From the mixer, I changed the blending mode
from add to screen that makes the whole SSS
contribution less bright.
2. The fake SSS from shader 2 has a
verysaturatedred and is overriding some shadows.
FIX: Select the shader 2 and from the Environment
sub-palette, turn OFF the Vibrant Shadow and AO.
Also, in my case, I wanted to spread the effect of this


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

shader a bit more from the edges, so I changed the F
exp value in the mixer from 1.1 to 0.8
3. There are some stepping in the shadows cast by
the chin.
FIX: As I mentioned earlier, for the final render I will
change the shadow rays from 60 to 120, and that
should do the trick.
One more thing: I thought the specular needed to
beslightlymore visible so Iincreasedthespecularvalue.
Here is a render test with the tweaked material:

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

Render, filters and

The final stage, this is my favourite part (along with the
sculpting!). When everything has been set up and
the model is ready to render, I can spend a lot of time
fiddling with the layers and passes. I always do some
sort of post production to my images. I treat my renders
as my RAW images, so I always do some sort of colour
correction, or curves adjustments, split toning, etc.
I would usually export my passes separately from
ZBrush and do the compositing in Photoshop. but
this tutorial is about creating a workflow for a quick
and nice render, all within ZBrush (that is why we
initially spent some time setting up the skin material
so that when we hit render, ZBrush would combine
the shaders as passes), we therefore can bypass
the compositing in Photoshop. Fortunately, ZBrush
also allows us to do some final adjustments and
refinements to the image after the render, by using
filters and adjustments.

At this point I will edit the size of the document to
get a larger image. Go to Document, and change the
I think it looks much better now,rememberthat when
dealing with materials, subtlety is key. Finally, before
getting into compositing with ZBrush I like to move my
lightaroundand make various renders to test the
consistency of the material:

dimensions to suit your needs, I changed mine to:

Position your model in its final pose or whatever
angle you like to do a render. I chose a very generic
andstraightpose just for the purpose of this tutorial, but
you should be able to get a more interesting shot.
One last thing I like to do before rendering is to change
the camera angle, so that I get a more photographic
effect given that mycameraposition is quite close to the
subject andthereforethe lens of my camera will distort
the perspective a bit.
You can achieve this from the Draw menu, by simply

changing the slider called Angle of View. Thats it! Hit

render and we can start with the filters.


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

If you are familiar with Photoshop, filters in ZBrush,
are like the different adjustments you can find in
Photoshop. One of my mentors once told me that
masking is the backbone of the technical aspects of
compositing and through my experience, I have to say
that knowing this has helped me a lot. In Photoshop
you can bring all your passes, start masking things OUT
and blending all the layers to create your final image. In
my opinion, the power of using filters inside ZBrush,
relies on the capability of masking the effect of the
filter by a wide range of attributes without having to
create a mask or extra stuff.
Lets start by opening the filters Sub-Palette within the
render palette. The filters selection and switches
(to turn them ON and OFF) are identical to the way
we selected the shaders in the Skin Material and by
default they are all OFF so lets turn the first filer ON

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

The Filter Type: a drop down menu to select the type of

filter you want. So for the first filter (F1), you can change
the noise to be a Hue filter. In fact you can change all
12 Filter slots to be the same Hue if you want.
Below, the filter type you have is the blending mode.
This applies the same concept as the blending mode
we had used when creating the shaders (or the layers
blending mode in Photoshop).
Filter Strength: will modify how strong the effect of the
filter will be.
Filter Opacity: control the overall opacity of the filter.
Section B contains:
All the sliders you are going to need to mix and mask
the filters with the final images. This is one of those
things that is better to see how it works, rather than read
the theory behind it, so lets get to it...

My filters workflow
I like to start in order, thats why I enabled the F1 and
turn more filters ON as I go.
Asopposedto what I did with the Skin Material set
up, where all shaders were turned OFF (except for the
one I was tweaking), I like to see how the filters work
The first filter is the noise effect, when you turn it OFF
you see the effectimmediately, that is another great
thing, you dont have to re-renderevery timeyou adjust
a filter.
The whole filter sub-palette
looks a bit overwhelming at
first because of the number
of sliders it has, but once
you get the hang of it, the
level of control it provides,
is fantastic. I wont explain
every single filter but Im
sure that with a general
guide on how they work,
you can figure out the rest
for yourself. I divided this
sub-palette in 2 sections
to easily digest what the
attributes are for. The
sections are Filters A and
Filters B.

First, I set the filter strength to 100 (in this case, F1 is

noise) so I can see clearly what the filters do and how
they are affecting the image. Then, I start playing with
the sliders from section B to get what I want.
I want to add noise over the whole image so I just want to
tune down the noisestrengthand opacity.

Section A contains:

The second thing I would like to do, is to sharpen

some Areas of the render to enhance some of the
details, like pores and imperfections, so Iturnon the
filter 3. (You can simply use the filter 2 and change the
type to be Sharpen).

12 slots where you can

add filters (so you can add
up to 12 filters. I usually
dont use them all).

Like I said, I change thestrengthand opacity to a 100

and also change theRadius(first slider from section B)
to 25. The Radius is the degree to which the effect of
the filter is spreading.


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

effect very subtle butnecessary.

The rest of the filter...
F4 - Orton: I use this to brighten up some areas at the
back. I used the Depth slider to enhance only some of
the areas away from the camera.

You can see the effect very well, but what I want now
is to only to sharpen the areas that are closer to
the camera. Here is where the masking I mentioned
before, starts to shine. Change the Depth slider
tosomethinglike 0.2. Basically, what we are doing is
telling ZBrush to apply the Sharpen filter based on
the depth pass, sothe positivevalues will sharpen
areas closer to the camera and the negative values will
sharpen the parts of the model furthest from the camera.

You can also increase the Depth Exp to multiply

thestrengthof the mask (narrow the effect). And these
concepts apply for the rest the sliders from section B, so
you can apply your filters using the SSS as mask or the
Fresnel effect or Shadows, etc.
I then tend to spend some time getting the right
amount ofstrength, opacity and altering the radius of
the filter:

F7 - Colorise: I like to use the colorise filter to add a

bit of colour to my shadows. I set the blending mode
to Screen, selected a blue colour from the colour picker
and I also did a few things differently from previous
1.I set the Mask slider to 1, this constrains the
effect to the mask pass, so you wont see the blue in
the background of the canvas.
2. I want the colour to primarily affect the dark areas
of the render, so in other words, I want to make the
shadows a bit bluish rather than purely black. To do
this, I use the Shadow slider.
3. I used the SSS slider with -1 this way I tell ZBrush
I want to use the SSS pass as an inverted mask
(because of the negative value) so that the colour
blue ignores the areas were the SSS pass is
stronger (like the ear on the left).

For the rest of the filters, the workflow is the same, so

let me summarise it. Then, I will simply show you the
settings for the rest of the filters I use to get final image.

1. Turn on the filter slot F#.
2. Select the type of filter you want.
3. Set strength and opacity to 100 andRadiusto
ahighernumber than 1 to see the effect of the filter.
4. Use the rest of the sliders to decide where and how
the effect is applied.

F8 - Red: I use the

red filter to slightly
enhance the effect of
the SSS. I used the
Fresnel as mask to
achieve those reddish
soft borders and also
only wherever the SSS
pass is stronger.

5. Tweak the settings back to values that will make the


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

F9 - Red: I use another Red filter to add some colour
to the details in the skin, such as pores. I use the
Cavity slider to limit the filter to those areas.

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

There is not a massive difference but they do change

some things. I reckon they help, in general, to make
the skin in the render a bit softer andslightlybrighter.

The adjustments

F10 - Blue: I use the blue filter to add some variations

to the skin tones so that not all the areas are red. I
basically played around with the masking values until I
got something that I was happy with.

Alright we are getting

closer to our final super
setup. The last thing
I want to show you is
the Adjustment, the
last sub-palette from the
render palette. Click
on the buttoncalled
Adjust to enable the
adjustments. By default,
everything is set to 0
(except gamma that is
1), so you wont see any
immediate changes like
when you turned ON a
filter previously.
This palette allows
you to correct 3 things
basically: 1 Contrast, 2 Brightness and 3 Gamma.
But, it gives you a lot of control since you can tweak
each individual channel Red, green and blue).
By modifying all these values you are able to get some
pretty cool results and split tone effects without leaving

F11 - Saturation: I use this filter tosaturatethe

shadows just a bit, very subtle overall effect.

Also, you have curves at the bottom of the sub-palette

and you can change the curves individually for Red,
Green and blue. I tweaked the Adjustments a little
bit, and managed to get something that looks good to
me. Lets compare the RAW render versus the final
Composition with filters and adjustments:
Thats it for the filters, lets compare the RAW render
with the one with the filters applied...


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

Cool I think I have covered most of the things I wanted
to show you. The last tip or suggestion, is to use the
filters and the adjustments to get something that you
think looks cool, then step away from your computer,
then come back,judgethe overall image again and
tune everything down a bit. Here is my final image,
I changed the background colour, reworked on the
adjustments and repositioned the light towards the

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

So the tutorial has ended up being quite long and it took
me a while to put everything together, but hopefully it will
give you a good insight into my workflow. It isnt perfect
or the only one by any means. If you are able to take
something away from this, even just a tip to improve your
art or speed up your process, then the time I put into this
is well worth it.
I know we are all super excited about the upcoming
ZBrush - Keyshot integration and that will supercharge
all of our renders. However, I still think that ZBrush can
produce amazing things as it is right now. This tutorial
was never intended to replace a more elaborate work
flow to produce higher quality images, but rather to
provide you with the option to obtain multiple variations
to choose from, without having to take your passes to an
external editing package, and to do this within very short
period of time (once you set everything up).
Keep in mind thatevery timeyou do a
BestPreviewRender, the individual passes are also
being created. So if you want, you can take your quick
render to Photoshop for further improvements, using the
passes that ZBrush generates.

Final Thoughts
I really enjoyed creating the material and the setup
as much as I likedwriting the tutorial. I tried to keep
everything very informal and casual because I write
based on my notes that I take as I progress on my
projects. However, if at some point you would like
to know more about something in particular or need
any help, feel free to contact me by email or on my
Facebook page, if I can I will always be happy to help.

Now that we have completed the whole Material and

rendering set up, you can generate as many renders as
you like. Changing the angle of the shot and maybe
the position of the light to get a moredramaticeffect
like these extra renders I made, all took under a minute

Im working on something really cool and Im very

excited to say that it might be ready for early next year
I cant say much at the moment but if you enjoyed this
or any of my previous tutorials, you are probably going
to like what is coming! You can follow me on Facebook
and Twitter to keep up with my updates.
Finally, I made this tutorial for the ZBrush community,
so I encourage you to share it around your networks
if you found it valuable and useful. The only thing
I ask for, is to share the original link to the PDF not
the actual PDF so I can track how well the tutorial is
received in addition to directly receiving feedback from
you guys, which will better mould the next tutorial.
Please send me links to whatever you do using this
method. I would love to see what you come up with and
I will be happy to feature your work on my blog.
I appreciate the Facebook page likes! All the best and
happy ZBrushing!


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

Bonus Material
As I promised here is an extra bit of tutorial where I show you how easy is to modified the material to suit other
I will be using an alien head which is just a quick Dynamesh sketch with polypaint and I will show you how I
created this:


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

first I loaded the saved project from this tutorial and

load my alien head as a Ztool with polypaint information.
I followed pretty much the same steps I described at the
beginning of the tutorial to set up the project, document
size, etc.
then I imported the material and open the Modifiers subpalette. This is the section I used to modify the materials
properties a bit to make it suitable for an alien skin.
I change the settings for each shader individually,
with the the diffuse shader on and the rest off, then the
fake sss, then the specular and finally the SSS.
For example with only the diffuse shader on this is how
it looked with the material we previously created.
But since the colour scheme for the creature is blue
I changed the outer blend and additives to better
match the tones of the polypaint just changing the colour
pickers. And tweaking the sliders a bit.

And this is how it looks with minor tweaks. Mainly I

tune the ambient down and reduce a bit of the specular
and slightly changed the diffuse curve.

For the specular shader the render looked like this for
this creature.

The fake sss or shader 2, looked like this with no


But I wanted to create a more gooey and wet so I

tweaked the specularity curde and intensity as well as
the fresnel slider from the mixer.


A Guide to Skin Material in Zrbush & Single Pass BPR

by Pablo Munoz Gomez

I also wanted a more dramatic lighting so I changed

the shadows to be a bit sharper and repositioned the

For the shader 4

(SSS) this is how
the creature lookd
with no tweaking
And just by
adjusting the inner
and outer sliders,
setting the colours
to a blue tones,
and the S exp
from the mixer
sub-palette I got
something like this

finally I turn all the shaders ON to see how they look...

After getting the light source in the place I wanted,

I simply started to add the filters and tweak the
adjustments sliders to get this:

Like I said, you can always

take the passes that the BPR
generates and do some more
tweaks... I took this guy into
Photoshop but I only took the
beauty pass, the mask and
the depth and changed the
background (that is why I
needed the mask) and added
a bit of depth of field (using
the depth pass) and some
really minor adjustments
with the curves. All under 5
minutes including render
from zbrush.
So the material we created could be very easily altered
to get all sort of skins types and even non-human skin. I
hope you enjoyed this little bonus section and talk to you
Pablo Munoz G.