Jörn Zimmermann

on High Res Sculpting & 2D Design

Hi, my name is Jörn Zimmermann.  I was born in Germany but, due to the work of my parents, I grew up and went to school in different countries like Morocco, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It was great since we got to know different cultures and go to school with friends from all corners of the world.

After finishing my school and coming back to Germany, I did a lot of different things: everything from military service to a stint at studying mechanical engineering to a bunch of different job. Eventually I decided to go into the creative industry. I had always  loved drawing and sketching but never thought that would be actually a possibility for a profession. I started making my way as a self-taught Graphic Designer and, eventually, 2D Artist. With a lot of support from persons close to me, I have to add.

I have worked as a freelance Graphic Designer and Web Designer for a couple of years and then switched to the games industry, hiring with a small browser games company. I’ve learned a lot there and got more deeply into UI Design. After that company had to let go most of the staff, I got my current position at Ubisoft Blue Byte, Studio Mainz, where I’m a Senior UI Designer, now.

In those couple of months between the two positions, I finally had the time to get into ZBrush, of which I had a license on my computer for quite a while already. And what can I say, I keep this up in my free time and have never really stopped sculpting since 😀

Your skulls are very high res. Tell me a bit about your process for creating them. Are they completely done in zbrush?

Yes, it’s all done in ZBrush. Generally, I start from a basic sphere and sculpt away from there, using the Dynamesh function. Using a pretty low resolution, I start defining the basic shapes and work my way up to more details, increasing the resolution as I go along.

Sometimes, I re-use a mesh – or parts of it – of a previous sculpt. That’s usually, if I want to visualize an idea quickly and have a fitting one, so I can start with the concept faster.

My sculpts are often pretty raw, as I want to explore the idea at first and don’t care that much for topology. I don’t make low-poly, game engine ready stuff. I’m mainly interested in the visualization of something I have in mind or that fascinates me. In the end, I usually have a 2D image as the final result.

Once I have a certain stage, I want to look what I can do with it in a render tool and Photoshop. That means, I often times don’t really consider the sculpt „final“ per se but just in a ready enough state to take to the nest step i.e. a render tool (or, sometimes, the ZBrush BPR render).

The renders for your skulls are very professional. How do you use keyshot to achieve these high res images?

The final artworks are basically a combination of a medium resolution mesh, a high resolution rendering in KeyShot and a bunch of post-work in Photoshop.  As one can see in the clay render images, the sculpt itself is not really high res. I try to polish the key elements as much as needed and I add some detail in a couple of areas, as visual highlights. That makes the final image look way more detailed than the mesh itself actually is.

In KeyShot, it’s all about achieving a cool combination of the right lighting, a good perspective and nice materials. I really like this phase and take my time to experiment and getting the look and expression I want the final image to have.
Finally, I render out one or more render passes (depending on what I intend to do in Photoshop) and always add the clown pass as a masking utility.

The trick here is to render the images out in a pretty high resolution.For instance, the final published Skulls artworks are 1500 pixels high while the renders are 4000 pixels high. That gives me a lot of resolution to work with in Photoshop. The down-scaling of the final image makes the final result look better. These are basic principles I got from digital painting and my work as a Graphic Designer – that works really well with this kind of artwork.

The final step is the post work in Photoshop. I use a lot of masking, layer effects, image adjustments, color-grading, textures and some overpainting where necessary, to create the final image. I try to work as non-destructively as possible, using masking instead of cutting out and I make a lot of use of Smart Objects. Of course, sometimes happy accidents occur and are incorporated as well 😉

Are you working off a concept? Or creating these skulls as you go along?

Often times, I create something as I sculpt along. But here, I actually had a concept in mind for quite a while. I never really achieved what I wanted with a couple of previous sculpts. The idea was creature, a demon, with his head having shapes of a spartan helmet (i.e. corinthian helmet), all melted together organically. Not terribly original, I know 😉 But it was a nice sculpting and creature design challenge, trying to pull it off in the way I imagined it. Later, I started thinking about adding the blades. I hesitated to actually create the skull as it just didn’t make any sense but in the end I thought: what the hell, it’s an image in my mind and it needs to come out, doesn’t need to be explained, just look cool!

You seem to have a good grasp on anatomy. Did you learn this on your own or in school? Did it take a long time to grasp these concepts?

I’m completely self-taught and have spend endless hours practicing and checking out anatomy books, and references. Not enough by far, though. It’s actually an ongoing process and the learning will never end !