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Month: February 2017

Get inspired with ZBrush artist Sven Rabe

Get inspired with ZBrush artist Sven Rabe

Every now and then a great piece of content or artwork makes the rounds on the Internet and inspires others to keep creating. That’s especially the case with personal works in the Pixologic ZBrush community, and one artist whose CR-2 pilot model was recently widely shared was Munich-based Sven Rabe, a lead modeler and senior 3D artist at studio LIGA01. AV3 checked in with Sven to find out more about how he uses ZBrush and for some tips and tricks on the software.

AV3: Your CR-2 pilot has been a huge hit around the web. Can you talk a little about the origins of that, and what you learnt from making it?

Sven Rabe: Actually, the idea for the pilot was spinning around in my head for a long time, but I never had enough free time to really get started. One night, as I came home after a very long working day, I zapped through the TV channels to come down and somehow I got caught by the classic Top Gun movie, which was like a reminder and booster for me to finally start working on my idea. I got inspired a lot by those heroic pilot movies, but I wanted to translate it into a more futuristic style with a classic touch to it.

The CR-2 pilot helmet takes shape in ZBrush.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt from this project, besides many little technical things here and there, was actually to always keep going. No matter how less time you have for your personal projects and how long it will take in the end to finish, keep going, it will all pay off in the end.

AV3: How did you get into ZBrush?

Sven Rabe: I think it was around 2004 as I stumbled online over some work of Martin Krol, Glen Southern and Jean-Sébastien Rolhion, some of the very early ZBrush pioneers, I guess. The “Running Death” artwork by Jean-Sébastien ( is still one of my favorites. Around this time I worked at a small cg studio as 3D Artist, focusing on modeling. Amazed by the artwork of those guys, I wanted to know how to achieve this high detailed quality and so I found out about a software called ZBrush. The next thing I knew was, I need to learn this!

AV3: What’s your hardware/software setup in terms of how you now use the software?

Sven Rabe: I’m currently running ZBrush 4R7 P3 under Windows 10 on an Intel i7 3.4 GHz workstation with 32 GB RAM and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card.

A detailed close-up of the CR-2 helmet

AV3: What are some recent examples of where you’ve used ZBrush in your professional work?

Sven Rabe: I use ZBrush as much as I can within our production pipeline at LIGA01, but it always depends a bit on the project. One example are the turtle assets I’ve created for a PRO7 HBBTV commercial. I used ZBrush extensively on these little guys.

Above: Watch the turtles commercial.

Another project was a real life interactive commercial for a Mercedes-Benz test drive experience. Besides of a lot of other tasks, I was mainly responsible for creating the hero robot arm. For many of the shapes, I used ZBrush to quickly sketch out forms for further processing.

Sven’s final production model for the robot arm.

AV3: Can you share some of your main ZBrush tips and tricks?

Sven Rabe: Oh, that’s a hard one, as all of my workflows are pretty basic I guess, but I always encourage artists to customize their UI and to use their own hotkeys. It will make you so much faster and also way more efficient.

Another thing is the general amount of detail in models. In ZBrush, detailing is a lot of fun and very quick and easy to do, at least for concept modeling. But as much as complexity helps to recreate reality, it doesn’t necessarily help to sell your design, especially for hard surface work. Try to find the right balance for your models to make it look more authentic. Don’t just put details everywhere for no reason. Often less is more.

Some exploratory character design sketches by Sven Rabe, done in ZBrush with overpaints in Photoshop.

AV3: Is there a particular brush or tool in ZBrush that you can’t livewithout?

Sven Rabe: Oh yeah, definitely. Too many I guess! But to name just a few, I just love to use Clay BuildUp for most of my organic modeling, as I really like the feel of it and if you combine it with other alphas than the standard square alpha, you can get really nice additional effects out of it. Workflow wise, I would say DynaMesh and ZRemesher had the biggest impact on my workflows. I think they were both game changers as they opened up total new possibilities, especially for all the hard surface concept work.

AV3: What’s something in ZBrush you hope that Pixologic might improve or implement in the near future?

Sven Rabe: Well, as a long-term staff contractor you’re usually dealing much longer with all the modeling assets and the data, than for example, freelance artists or concept modelers do, because you’re on the project from start to finish and you also have to create the final production models. So for me, the pipeline integration is a very important topic. Therefore I would like to see more improvements towards this direction, for example, a python connection would be great, so you could write your own tools more quickly and connect it into the whole pipeline more easily.

Angel ZBrush sculpt by Sven Rabe.

Things like Alembic file support and a real camera exchange possibility would be great improvements, too. I also would like to see more organization options for subTools, like for example, sub folders for grouping and so on. Last but not least some performance improvements for the MultiMap Exporter and support for curvature maps extraction. Of course, I also like new tools and stuff, that’s always nice to have, but on a daily working basis, the other points would be more important to me at the moment.

AV3: There’s a great ZBrush community out there – can you talk about where you go to check out ZBrush work or find out tips and tricks?

Sven Rabe: My first address is always ZBC (ZBrushCentral), as it is fully packed with so many insanely talented artists. To browse through all the threads is very inspiring and humbling at the same time. The whole community is so co-operative, it’s really amazing.

Apart from the various social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc., I also like to constantly check out YouTube and Vimeo or 3DTotal, CGSociety, Polycount and ArtStation.

You can see more of Sven’s work at his ArtStation website: And see more work from LIGA01 at

ZBrush 4R7 and ZBrushCore are both available at a discount on the AV3 store.