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Creating Gremlin: A step-by-step process

Sometimes they're cute, sometimes scary, but in any case they deserve our attention today and this article is dedicated to them. These creatures hate technology but our author used a variety of tools to create one of them, and they did not seem to resist.


I like English mythology and so I decided to do a little project on this topic. I wanted to select the illustrations of little evil creatures, and obviously the choice fell on gremlins. They are notorious haters of technology, whose homes are hidden in dark underground labyrinths.

I started the process of modeling the gremlin's face in ZBrush, making the basic shape with the DynaMesh tool. At first, I molded a monolithic figure from a sphere so that the gremlin model became distinct, adding the details of the nose, curves of the mouth, shape of the body, and the ears.

The DynaMesh tool converts the object's topology to a dense, uniform grid, as if the object were paved with square tiles, which is great for the sketching phase. The density of the geometry is adjustable. DynaMesh creates volume so that any intersecting geometric shapes merge into one. No detail is lost in this process. However, the model topology is unsuitable for the final refinement of the model, as it would require a very dense mesh to get the sharp edges of the model.

Modeling with DynaMesh (1)
Modeling with DynaMesh (2)

The ClayBuildup brush also helped me a lot to do this quickly. This brush builds volume, so I could draw the model with a rough texture. The ClayBuildup brush, at its default settings, leaves a strong texture trail while painting, which allows you to quickly build up or cut off a mass of geometry. It's good for setting proportions and showing what should be in the model and where it should be. The texture brings the shape of the object to life making it more interesting. The ClayBuildup brush allows you to outline the boundaries of shapes or smooth out artefacts from other brushes by blending them with your texture. A similar effect can be achieved with the Standard brush, for example. This can be done by inserting a square texture into the alpha channel, adjusting the texture repetition step, decreasing the softness of the brush, and changing the depth of the brush. However, I prefer the former.

Brush ClayBuildup 

Then, I smoothed the polygonal mesh structure with ZRemesher so that the sharp edges became more visible and so that the polygons would have a higher density than on the extensive smooth areas.

Model after ZRemesher

For the next step, I added several levels of geometry density to work with the different brushes that are in the ZBrush library.

I made the skin look flakey with the standard brush with a texture of scales in its alpha channel. The DamStandard brush leaves a deep furrow, which is suitable for folds and wrinkles. I varied them around the gremlin's neck using the Cloth brush.

Flakey skin (1)
Flakey skin (2)‌‌

When building the Gremlin pose, the Transpose Master tool works really well. It created a simplified Gremlin template, I rotated the body parts for the desired pose, and then the tool automatically rotated all the objects in the final model (head, eyes, ears, teeth).

Working with Transpose Master

Texturing the model in ZBrush doesn't require retopology or UVW unwrapping since I drew directly from the model.

Drawing of Gremlin’s texture.

My idea is that the gremlin is in an underground catacomb. Therefore, the suitable lighting is a gloomy contrast. The light is lined up in ZBrush through the settings menu Light. I directed the drawing light from above-left and the filling light from the right to compensate for the harsh shadows.

Lighting and Rendering
Setting up lighting and materials in ZBrush is not as flexible as other softwares. It's not possible to select the shape of the light source or to light a small areas of the object for example so this had to be achieved at the post-production stage by combining different renders into one.
Light and shade pattern
Merging light and shadow patterns of different renders in Photoshop

I rendered it with Best-Preview Render in the “Best” quality. To give more volume to the Gremlin's lighting, I added a NormalRGBMat shader. With it, I enhanced the figure of the Gremlin contrast in the contours during the post-processing phase in Adobe Photoshop. Similarly, the ReflectedMat shader made the reflection flare more pronounced.

ReflectedMat material.

Then I placed the gremlin on a dark gradient background, after which I colour-corrected it to make it a bit warmer. And as the last step, I applied the depth of field effect to the figure.

Photoshop Postproduction. 
Photoshop. Depth of field. 
Tips for creating your own Gremlin: Have a clear understanding of the task and the final desired result. Start with or create references or sketches. Develop your drawing skills with a tablet. Hotkeys in ZBrush are important elements not only for navigation, but also for comfortable and fast work in the program. Customize the interface for quick access to the tools.

You can check out the whole video creation process here:

SoftwareWorld of Design


Professional 3D artist specializing in visual ideas and 3D modeling.