Character Creation Module 01

Sculpting Cloth

The ability to create believable cloth is an extremely important part of any character artist’s training. From video games to 3D animation, a character’s clothing is, more often than not, a large part of their design and appeal. This module will give you the foundation to interpret how cloth works, as well as specific sculpting techniques in ZBrush to help simplify the process. We will also be looking at ways to prep your costume for production cloth simulation.

The Form of Cloth
When cloth drapes over an underlying shape, or reacts to wind and gravity, it consistently forms a few basic shapes that showcase its structure. Understanding these basic shapes that are created when cloth reacts to outside influences can greatly improve your ability to recreate and design beautiful and believable cloth. Before we analyze the specific types of folds, it is important to remember that we are designing our cloth, not just trying to recreate reality. We want to make our cloth look better than reality, and much like the other principles of character design, basing it on reality is the best place to start.

Here is a bullet point outline of ideas to have in mind when analyzing each of our fold types.

  • Learn how to identify each type of fold
  • Know what typically causes each variety of fold to happen
  • Understand the variety of subtle characteristics each fold can embody, i.e. the twist that can happen down the length of a pipe fold

Being able to identify these folds and know when they typically happen, is our first step in understanding why they may or may not be the best choice for a specific situation.

Lets begin by outlining our seven fold types. 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.


Pipe Fold

Pipe Fold
A pipe fold is frequently created when cloth is cut in a shape that is wider at the bottom than at the top, then suspended, causing the cloth to fold back and forth. When I create this type of fold in ZBrush, (featured in the blue wire frame above, screen right of Superman) I model the pipes into the low res base mesh and only slightly tweaking them as I’m developing the sculpt. This allows me to have clean flowing pipes when I subdivide the model (this idea is showcased in the accompanying pipe and diaper folds video below). The pipe folds in Superman’s cape are another good example of how you can start with a pipe fold, then layer other fold types onto that underlying structure. In this case, the sculptor started with large pipe folds, then added zig-zag compression folds towards the bottom of some of the pipe folds. As we will discuss later in this module, zig-zag folds typically happen as a result of compression. If this sculpt were mine, I might re-evaluate the appropriateness, and consequently the effectiveness, of adding zig-zag folds at the bottom of a floating pipe-fold. In some ways, it does start to add a nice sense of weight to the material, but it also quickly complicates the form development and brings into question the way the cloth is reacting to outside influences. As the “designer” of folds, you always want to strive for the most appealing and believable fold choices.

The pipe folds in this Darth Maul statue are a great example of how irregular this type of fold can be. Notice how they fold into one another towards the center of the image. You even find subtle amounts of twist in several of the pipes as they flow from top to bottom.


Half-Lock Fold

Half-Lock Fold
This is probably the most common type of fold that will occur on a character. It happens when a tubular piece of cloth bends, compressing half the tube into itself. The folds at the character’s elbows in the Leyendecker image above are a beautiful example of the half-lock fold. Notice how the cloth from the upper part of the arm overlaps the cloth on the forearm, “locking” it down with a well designed crease. While we are examining this illustration, it is worth pointing out the simplicity and stylization of these folds. Even with this simplified design, notice how each and every locking fold varies in size and that their placement seems irregular, yet natural. Having two equally sized or parallel folds on a character sculpt is a common mistake that rarely, if ever, gives an appealing result.

Another common place to look for this type of fold on your character would be the back of the knees when the legs are bent.


Zig-Zag Fold

Zig-Zag Fold
Resulting from a compression of the cloth, this fold forms a zig-zag emanating from the compression’s point of origin. The illustration of the soldier shows zig-zag folds on his lower sleeve and pant-leg. Another place to look for this type of fold is in jeans that extend past the shoe in length as they are almost always present. A key point to remember when developing this type of fold is to avoid creating equally sized zig-zags. They typically go from large to small as they progress towards the point of compression (i.e. the zig-zag folds in the jeans shown above compress more as they get closer to the shoe).


Inert Fold

Inert Fold
Inert folds are formed when the cloth is folded onto itself without an underlying influence or the active natural influences of gravity or wind. This is a common occurrence when cloth is piled or dropped onto the floor and allowed to fold naturally. This is a very difficult type of fold to develop- fortunately it is also one of the least common folds you will find on a character’s costume.


Diaper Fold

Diaper Fold
Diaper folds are created when cloth is suspended between two underlying points or structures. The right hand side of the first image illustrates this point as the cloth is suspended and bunches between the two corners of the table. The image of the crappy sculpt on the left showcases several complex diaper folds between the knees of Mary. Try to evaluate those diaper folds to see how the long sweeping curves they create are specifically developed to lead you back up into the sculpt.


Spiral Fold

Spiral Fold
A spiral fold is very common when soft or thin cloth wraps around a form. It is a great way to showcase the underlying structures and can also be used to create a dynamic sense of tension in your character. Although it is most common in thin cloth, it happens in thicker cloth as well. In the image of the green sweatshirt, you can see subtle spiral folds happening in the upper sleeves as the cloth wraps around the arm.

Using a layer of thin cloth which creates a spiral fold, under a thicker article of clothing with a more ridged structure, is something that can add more interest to your design.


Flag Fold

Flag Fold
The flag fold is the first fold that is solely created by a natural influence, such as wind or gravity, instead of a natural influence combined with an underlying influence. A well done flag fold can add a dramatic sense of movement and gesture to your character design.



Video: Cape Sculpt, Developing Form (Pipe and Diaper Folds)

  • Using a poly sculpting software to block in your mesh
  • Keep the mesh single sided
  • Pipe fold development
  • The anatomy of a diaper fold
  • Tools and Tips for creating clean forms
  • Secondary form development

Assignment: For those of you who do plan on creating a sculpt- here is where to begin:

Choose two or three of the seven different types of folds and practice recreating them as quick ZBrush sketches. Really try to analyze how the cloth is folding and the relationships of the shapes. Avoid evenly spaced forms, and don’t be afraid to let the cloth fold all the way back onto itself- after all, this is a very common, natural occurrence.

Define the costume design you will be sculpting for our class.

Start by thinking about how your character’s costume helps define their personality. That’s right, I said personality!! Your character’s costume design will play a huge part in how your character is perceived so you need to make sure it conveys the right ideas. One of the first things you should examine is the environment in which your character lives. You want to make sure your character’s costume fits their personality for that specific environment. If your character lives on an ice planet, but only wears shorts, this gives direct insight into their personality. As the designer, you will also need to have a good understanding of your character’s back story. For this class, we don’t need to go too in depth- a paragraph overview should do just fine. *We will be presenting costume design theories in future modules to help you judge the effectiveness of your design choices.

If your production schedule does not leave you enough time to create a new character back story, but you would still like to create a sculpt for the class, please feel free to use one of my Adaboy characters. You can find several ready to go back stories here

Please gather your notes, reference images, etc., and organize them as if this was a real, paid assignment.

Not everyone is a draftsman (good at drawing), but don’t let that discourage you. Feel free to create very rough sketches, or only gather images of costume reference you would like to use as inspiration for your design.

In summery-

  • Practice sculpting a few different types of folds as you analyze the seven varieties.
  • Define a costume you wold like to create and gather reference images or create drawings. Think about variety in material and any accessories that might define or shape the costume. Make sure your design accentuates your character’s personality.
  • In the next module we will be blocking in our design sculpt meshes- I mention this just in case you want to work ahead.


J.C. Leyendecker by Laurence S. Cutler and Judy Goffman Cutler (this is a great book for designed folds and stylized clothing)
A Pictorial History of Costume A Pepin Press Design Book (with hundreds of illustrations of various costumes and their detailing, this book has been an amazing resource over the years).




I hope you enjoy these videos of tips, tricks, techniques and critiques from previous classes.

Video: Zig Zag Folds Sculpt-Over and Quick Notes on Your Sculpt Sketches

  • Compression
  • Developing Zig Zag folds
  • Smooth and Clay Tubes brushes
  • Global changes on lower levels
  • Notes on your sculpt sketches
  • The difference between zig zag and spiral folds

Ripdo Sculpt-Over and Sculpt Sketch Notes.

Don’t miss the comments on the sculpt sketches at the end of the video and a description of the difference between zig zag and spiral folds. I did go a little crazy with my cursor and wacom while commenting, but I’ll tone that down in the future- and we won’t have it at all in our upcoming sculpt-overs. 

Video: Pipe Folds Sculpt-Over (Eliminating Wobbles)

  • Use move brush on lower levels
  • Long fluid strokes across the form
  • Smooth brush
  • Global changes on lower levels

Luis Sculpt-Over (Eliminating Wobbles)

*To get a better result while using the smooth brush- hold down “shift” to activate the smooth brush, then after you start your stroke, release the shift key!! Repeat for each brush stroke. This will smooth the surface while trying to maintain the volume.