3d dragon WIP Smaug ZBrush

News and Resources for February

I’ve been trying to collate resources for another resource roundup for some time now whilst working on my art projects. Unless I am looking for something I might use myself now or in the future, I don’t always write these type of posts which is why they tend to be sporadic.

At present I’m working on and off on another 3D model, this time I thought I would have a go at doing a dragon. I knew this would be more of a challenge and it is taking me more time than some of my other models but I’ve always wanted to have a go at it. Of course a T-Rex or Velociraptor (more a Deinonychus size thing though) is also on my todo list.

Here is a work in progress image (those scales are going to take me ages):

3d dragon WIP Smaug ZBrush

Whilst making the dragon I’ve come across some useful resources and some interesting research.

I’m basing my dragon on a picture of Smaug that J.R.R Tolkien drew. It is a traditional western looking dragon, probably very similar to the Welsh variety. It is one of my favorite images of Smaug although I love the work by artists such as Alan Lee and John Howe of course.

I looked at quite a few examples of dragons to get some inspiration, including the latest example of Smaug from Weta Digital. I went on a bit of a nostalgia ride and looked at how they did the dragon for a movie I saw as a kid called Dragon Heart. Cartoon Brew has a great article about the making of the dragon. Things were quite different back then but I think it still holds up as one of the best film dragons ever. I’m just mentioning this because I think it is interesting, it has nothing to do with my attempt at a dragon.

I’m sculpting my dragon in ZBrush 2022. I have no plans to upgrade my copy of ZBrush, it does everything I need it to do and I can’t afford to do that anyway. I have considered learning more about the sculpting tools in Blender and 3D Coat just in case but I hope it keeps working for me. I also used Curvy 3D to make the initial base mesh parts for the dragon and the spines down its back.

I had to learn a few new things to help me with the dragon project. I found a video by Kurtis Dawe on how to make scale VDM brushes. He said on another of his videos that it is best to hand sculpt the scales, but VDM (Vector Displacement Mesh) Brushes are useful as well. Indeed they are, I am having quite a bit of fun with them so far.

I have also found a video by Artist Pablo Muñoz Gómez on how to make wings for dragons very helpful. I used the physics dynamics feature in ZBrush to fit the skin of the wings to the bone structure better than it had been the first time I tried making them. Still lots of work to do but I’m hopeful.

In other news I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic about old school retro pixel art lately. I’m not sure if it is something I want to do myself yet but I certainly enjoy looking at it. When I was growing up my Dad had a ZX Spectrum (which I wasn’t too impressed with at the time but I remember being scared of a text adventure about a Werewolf) and then later we played games on an Atari ST. The Atari was a lot of fun, I played quite a few games including Fantasy Land Dizzy, Lemmings, Ishar, Prince of Persia, Robocod, Gauntlet, Another World, The Secret of Monkey Island… I could go on but I will stop there, I probably played too many games. I also made pixel art using a program called Degas Elite.

We didn’t realise it back then (ignorance is bliss) but apparently the Amiga was better and there was an art program back then called Deluxe Paint which many people knew about as it was often bundled with packs of games for that system. I don’t know if Deluxe paint was the best program to use at that time, there were other ones but apparently, however it was used by the creators of The Secret of Monkey Island so that is pretty impressive. If you are interested in researching other programs at the time then the Amiga Graphics Archive is an interesting website to look at.

Perhaps I will write something more about Pixel Art in the future. I’m trying out a few programs first.

Thanks for reading.


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