Rhythms Gestures, Module 01


A quick note, if I mention “Forum” in any of the class notes or videos, I’m referring to the forums that existed when this class was available in a live format.

Thank you very much for purchasing this class, it is probably my favorite, and here’s why. When I look at someone’s portfolio I always begin by evaluating how they execute the rhythms and gestures of their designs.  When it is done well it is a quality that, in and of itself, can get you hired and make your work stand out amongst a sea of other professionals or students. With that in mind, it is also one of the most illusive qualities to implement. We will be spending the next few weeks taking an in-depth look at several concepts that add to the rhythms and gestures of your designs. Remember, one of the first steps towards improving your art is being aware of what it might be missing!

These modules are yours to keep. You can always go back and review any material and are encouraged to do so.

We will be utilizing a combination of notes, images, web links, and videos throughout the class. The majority of the foundation information I present will be via the videos I’ve created. They will stream as part of the content of each module. For example, the videos for this module can be found here, under their corresponding topics. We will begin with a few very basic videos on setting up and working within your ZBrush environment, then transition to advanced form development workflows.

The assignments are there to help you with your time management as the class progresses. Personally, I always benefit from a bit of outside motivation and prefer to have defined deadlines. When following the assignments, please try not to jump too far ahead. The most common shortfall of a character design or a design sculpt is not spending enough time understanding its foundation. I’d rather have you spend too much time trying to fully understand the topics covered in any given module than breeze through them without fully challenging yourself.

Setting up your ZBrush environment
I have included a few quick-start ZBrush environment and tool overview videos. Created with the less experienced ZBrush user in mind, they showcase my fundamental work flowsfor setting up your ZBrush interface, as well as a few brush settings and tips and tricks for developing form.


Video: Setting up your ZB environment_01 (Basics)

  • Hotkeys (Ctnl+Alt)
  • Box mesh
  • Clay tubes, Standard, Move, and Inflate brush
  • Smoothing (shift release)
  • Pinch brush with Lazy mouse



Video: Setting up your ZB environment_02 (Basics)

  • Transpose tool
  • Polygroups


Module 01: Defining Your Character

The concept of rough-to-fine
The rough-to-fine concept is something we will be exploring throughout the coming weeks. Essentially, it involves starting your creation with global ideas and concepts, then refining as you progress towards specific details. Bare in mind that you will probably not know the best answers to all your design problems until your character is much more realized, with some indication of all its key components (i.e. proportions, costume, hair volume, color, posing). With that in mind, when you first transition from 2D design to 3D, you want to spend as little time as possible refining details. Think global. Think big shapes, rough ideas, overall intentions. Think refinement not perfection.

How Do You Start A Character or Creature Design?
There is not one correct answer for this question. Every accomplished character designer I know has a slightly different process. However, their independent approaches also have many similarities. The majority of them, including myself, always start by sourcing as much reference as possible. Looking for both inspiration and benchmarks, your search can encompass films, books, web, personal photos, etc. The one pitfall to watch out for when beginning your search is to not be fooled when looking at inspiration from other artists. When I first began, I found myself looking at artists whose work was readily available, but ended up taking me in the wrong direction. Cutting to the chase, if you are looking at other cg artists (including some of my work) you are not setting the bar very high. This is still a young industry and there are less than a handful of truly accomplished craftsman in the entire field. You’ll often hear people reference older, more traditional artists, with good reason- because they’ve stood the test of time.

Defining Your Character Design for the Class
For our class there are two main approaches to finding a character design you would like to tackle.

The first option is to use one of your own ideas; a character concept you have always wanted to explore. The only requirement is that the character you choose must have a back-story. This will help you critique and verify your design choices! We’ll talk about his more in the coming modules. If it is a character you have always wanted to do and it has a back-story, GREAT!!

The second option is to pick a character or creature concept painting or drawing that another artist has created. Even if there is only one drawing, that's fine. A one-drawing-design can also be the case in production - and you the sculptor are encouraged to make up the information that is not explicitly shown.  Again, the only requirement is that there be some kind of backstory - even if it's just a short synopsis.

With either option, you need to start by understanding the personality of the character you want to create. Remember, your design does not have to be final by the time we start our next module, in fact, it might be better if it is not. This will allow you the flexibility to improve upon it as we progress.


Video: Choosing Your Design

  • Research
  • World Logic
  • Benchmark
  • Short Back Story
  • *Know your world- and Your Story- and You Will Make Better Design Decisions.

Here are a few questions I always ask myself before I start any character design.

What are the three strongest personality traits of my character? i.e. ravenous, seedy, manipulative, puny, putrid, sensual, regal. The more descriptive you can be the better. I’d avoid easy ones like good, evil, scary. The more specific you can make them, the more in-depth your design decisions can be to evoke them.

What is your character’s back story? What type of world does your character live in? It is time to do the research. In an ideal situation you’d know the entire outline of the story your character will appear in. In a production environment this might begin with a discussion with the director, or if a director is not yet tied to the project, you might even need to get this information from a producer. You might also get this info from the “scriptment” or short outline of the story that can include overview thoughts, story beats, and specific dialog.

We are not all great draftsman and frankly it doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about how well you can draw. Feel free to make simple sketches or use existing images when it comes to blocking in your design.

One last tip is to think of real world actors who could play this role. Even if it is an alien, if your character has speaking lines, what actor would do the voice-over? You’ll want to collect a few images of that actor too. Some animal faces convey personality too. If you can find them, they are another great resource to throw into the pot.


Video: Character Photo & Image Reference

  • Three defining characteristics
  • Images from books
  • Actor and other facial expression images
  • Sketches

Regardless of your character’s build or gender, their posture and stance will be the foundation of their personality. Use the information in the following video to chose which part of their body your character would lead with, and keep that in mind while formulating your initial design.


Video: Posture & Leading a Character

  • Posture: what it says about your character
  • Leading the figure through stance

*Please remember, these videos and lecture notes are for current students ONLY! They contain images of several other artist’s work and are NOT meant for any other type of distribution. Your username and login are only for your use and Zack Petroc Studios, Inc. reserves the right to revoke your class privileges based on the misuse guidelines outlined in our terms and conditions.

In the next module, we will be outlining several different body archetypes and examining how the rhythms and gestures differ between them. This information might help you to refine your creative intentions. I’ve included the link to a low level box mesh below. Feel free to use this, or any other mesh you have as a starting point. Dynamesh is also an option. I would recommend not putting too much time into your sculpt until our next module begins. Refining your character’s design intentions is really what this first week is all about.

Assignment: I would like you to decide which option you are most interested in and ideally, you will have a good bit of reference gathered before you progress. You should also start your character synopsis back story. For the purposes of this class we will want to keep it brief. One paragraph will do. Here are the bullet-points of your assignment for this module.

  • Choose your three strongest character traits.
  • Understand the back story and motivation of your character.
  • Gather at least one or two inspirational images and create a brief character synopsis (1-2 paragraphs) to understand a sense of your design intentions.
  • Gather your reference images. These could be your own sketches or images of actors, similar design styles, etc.


I will always close each module with a list of relevant reference materials… until I run out of them.  Some references will be listed in multiple modules when they are applicable to various topics:

J.C. Leyendecker by Laurence S. Cutler and Judy Goffman Cutler
Shadowline: The Art of Iain McCaig by Iain McCaig
Alphonse Mucha: Masterworks by Rosalind Ormiston
Story by Robert McKee
The Visual Story, Second Edition: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media by Bruce A. Block
Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories that Resonate by Brian McDonald
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
Making Comics by Scott McCloud


Good luck!!!