How to model a superhero costume

Sculptor Duncan Fraser explains how to effectively model a tactile superhero costume in 3D.

Using Skottie Young's Spider-Man image, I start by laying down a ZSphere base or skeleton for the character. ZSpheres are an excellent way to start a character, especially a stylised such as like Spider-Man - or my version here, Spideyman. They help you get a handle on proportions and you discover very quickly what is and isn't working.

Next, I use Maya to construct a quick chimney for the base and continue adjusting the pose until I am happy. I make a few more adjustments to the posing of the hands and convert the ZSpheres to a mesh, then start sculpting some of the cloth folds and wrinkles. I also add the secondary chimneys and the antenna.

Once I am happy with the 'vibe', I export out the body and used Topogun to retopologise and export the new body into Maya. I also retopologise sections of the body and head, so I can get Edge Loops where I need them for the web pattern on the suit. This is one area where I deviate from Skottie's original image. He had a thin web pattern, but some things don’t translate well from 2D into 3D, so I decide to go with a thicker and chunkier pattern.

I then export out the new web pattern mesh and jump back into Maya.
In Maya I select all of the faces and extrude them on all axes individually to create smaller faces with a frame. I then delete the inner faces so all I am left with are the 'frames'. I export out all of the frame mesh and go back into ZBrush to concentrate on Spideyman's suit.

01. Getting started

Divide the new suit up and project the details from the old body sculpt onto the new mesh

In ZBrush, I divide the new suit up and project the details from the old body sculpt onto the new mesh. I import the web pattern mesh, turn off Smooth and divide it up a few times. Once I have roughly the same division levels as the suit, I project the web pattern down to the suit so they adhere to the cloth folds and wrinkles.

I then mask out the web pattern and extract the mesh to get some depth. Next, I mask out the rims of the eyes, extract them and sculpt them a little so they have a nice hard bevel.

02. Adding definition

For more definition in the spider symbol and eyes, export them out and retopologise

I want more definition in both the spider symbol and the eye rims, so I export them out and retopologise them. I then reimport and divide them up. The spider symbol still needs more pop, so I mask and extract it, separating the edge into a new Polygroup.

I then isolate this Polygroup and grow the selection until I have a nice thick rim around the border of the symbol. I mask the border, select the rest of the symbol and deflate the inner section, creating a nice hard rim that really makes the symbol pop.

03. Creating texture

Create texture variation by using the body subtool at the lowest subdivision level

To create texture variation between the suit and the more rubbery parts of his outfit, I select the body subtool at the lowest subdivision level. Using the UV Planar function, I unwrap each face of the mesh to overlap so they use the same UV space.

Then I jump back up to the highest sub-division level and assign a waffle type alpha as a texture, and mask the mesh using the texture’s intensity. Then I deflate the inner part of the waffle mask, invert it and inflate the waffle ridges. Finally, I polypaint the whole suit.

Words: Duncan Fraser

A sculptor for Iloura in Australia, Duncan Fraser is currently working on a top-secret film project. Before that, he worked in the video games industry. This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 180.