Character Creation Module 06

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.


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.



Costume Design

  • Designing accessories and cloth
  • Age and weight of the materials
  • Form of the cloth

A character’s costume design should directly reflect their back story, fit within the stories world logic, and be identifiable within its specific design universe. The image below, features Luke Skywalker in x-wing pilot costume and the skydiving costumes from the recent Star Trek film. Both designs are successful because they fit within the rules of their respective design universe. Star Wars uses real world military, form follows function, design cues for inspiration. Some examples of this are the loose fitting cloth of Luke’s x-wing pilot costume and the configuration of the gray straps that wrap around his legs. Both elements were directly influenced by World War II military pilot costumes. This is right in line with the Nazi influenced costumes of the Empire officers and is a consistent theme through the film’s design. The straps on the Star Trek costumes work because they are derived from the simple design language that grew from the original TV show. Many of those costumes and their accessories were created from found objects that were glued or sewn on to cloth in simple ways. The straps that form an “X” across their chests are a great example of this. Also worth noting is the thicker, shiny material used for their costumes. This design cue is directly influenced by the original show. In the sixties, on American TV, nothing said “space-age” like shiny cloth. In this case that nod to the original is well executed and adds an extra level of fun and history to the design.

In the image “Medee” by Alphonse Mucha, the main character’s costume is amazingly well designed in color and form. Notice how the dagger in the character’s hand becomes a focal point through the use of the white color outlined against the brown of the robes. Another point worth noting is how the shape of the dagger is echoed in the long pointed shapes emanating out and breaking the silhouette around the face. This repetition of shape is a great way to lead the eye to these to areas of interest in the design.

Also notice how the long broad shapes of the main rope allow the eye to rest and set up the more complex areas, like the head dress and cloth that covers the mouth and neck. This design choice creates a nice balance throughout the image and is another way to let the eye naturally come to rest at the intended focal points.

The costume in “Jeanne d’Ar”c by Jules Bastien-Lepage is a great example of weight and age in cloth.

The folds in the skirt really help to inform the viewer of the material’s thickness, while the subtle mud stains at the bottom offer insights into the daily ware and usage by the character. When adding “age” to clothing and accessories, be sure you don’t overdue it! Think of how the costume would actually be used by the character and only apply wear to the surfaces that is founded in logic.

Lets take a look at how the costume does a great job of creating an area of interest in the painting. The light white value in the undershirt pulls the eye up to the character’s face. The openness of the outer shirt and thin rope ties in the front also add to this effect. Also worth noting is the choice to color the rope ties a muted brown which helps avoid calling too much attention to that area.


Video learning- it’s the way of the future!

Video: Thickness

  • Capturing the illusion of thickness
  • Adding actual thickness, after the fact

Video: The importance of Tension

  • Tension in cloth
  • Cloth compression
  • Choosing where and how to define the underlying forms

Video: Cloth- Straights and Curves Again!

  • Straights and Curves

Video: Sculpting and Designing Structured Costumes

  • Techniques for developing your forms
  • Structure
  • Holding an edge
  • Built in corners *When looking to hold a corner in ZBrush, you can do something similar to the technique showcased in our video by creasing the edges in ZBrush before you subdivide the mesh. I chose to do it in my poly modeling package to take advantage of the added control.

Video: Sculpting Form

  • Techniques for developing your forms
  • Inflate and ClayTubes brushes
  • Tension
  • Straights and Curves

*This video was created for the Focused Cloth Master Class and is NOT normally included in the Character Creation Class, but you guys have been doing an awesome job, so as a small thank you for taking the class, I decided to include this one! Hope you enjoy it.

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

Marvelous Designer
This software is gaining popularity at a rapid pace in the CG industry. Originally intended for fashion designers to test the fit and drape of their creations, this software allows you to create quick, believable clothing using real world construction methods. You draw out your patterns, tell them how to be sewn together, then watch them solve over your character in real time. With an extremely fast user ramp up, thanks to a relatively intuitive interface, you can create clothing items quickly, and correctly, to get a more accurate draping for cloth sim, or just a great starting point for your design sculpt.

In production, this tool is quickly growing in popularity, as it can drastically cut down on iterations between modeling and cloth sim. Based on real world costume construction, this approach yields great results and allows artists to quickly see how their cloth will appear after simulation. The costumes can be created the same way a real article of clothing can be cut and tailored, which automatically leads to more believable behavior. If you are working in a pipeline that simulates clothing, from Animated Features, to Video Game Cinematics, I would highly recommend this software.

The image above shows the front left half of a t-shirt layout. Notice the sleeve, when cut properly and flattened into a panel, creates a “bell” shape. When this shape is draped onto the character it will yield a much more believable result due to the fact that it is based on a real-world panel layout. This is just one simple example of how working with the knowledge of real cloth and costume tailoring can greatly improve your end result.



Assignment: Evaluate the dynamic relationships of your cloth design. How are all the individual components relating? In addition to focusing in on the final forms of your cloth and costume, begin to focus on the overall refinement of detail in your design-sculpt.

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.

More sculpt-overs aimed at giving you additional insight into creating memorable characters!

Video: Draw-Over, Costume Design Choices

  • Costume design choices based on Form Follows Function
  • Define material types
  • Tension around the knee
  • Using creases that compliment the design

Video: Sculpt-Over, Costume Gesture

  • “Plusing” your reference
  • Define material types
  • Make sure you have edge rings around boarders
  • Form follows function design choices
  • Mix cloth types in your design

Video: Sculpt-Over, Costume Gesture

  • Use lower levels to straighten edges
  • Make sure you have edge rings around boarders
  • Areas of interest
  • Find out how the cloth would behave

Video: Sculpt-Over, Rubber Suit

  • Areas of interest in the folds
  • Gravity and fold compression
  • Tightening structured boarders
  • Developing zig-zag folds

Video: Sculpt-Over, Costume Gesture

  • How the costume influences gesture
  • Finding costume silhouette “hits”
  • Areas of interest

Video: Sculpt-Over, Costume Gesture

  • Working the gesture under the costume
  • Areas of interest
  • Defining the overall form silhouette