Making of: Zombie Girl

I’d like to take you through the process of making the Zombie Girl image. An overview of the steps I took to get the final result, the decisions I made and why… so let’s get started.

This tutorial was made using 3ds Max, ZBrush and Photoshop, but other software combinations can be used to achieve same result.

Step 1: Reference

Once I had formed the basic idea in my head: Create a roller skate waitress type girl turned zombie, I started collecting reference. Best place to start: The Internet… Image searches on Zombies, Roller Girls and American Diners, using Google, Flickr and Deviant Art, plus a few photos of my own for more specific details. I then used all the reference to decide exactly what I was going to make… This helps me a lot, I work much faster if I work with a clear plan. I’m not a concept drawing type guy, so I just rely on reference material and mental pictures.

Step 2: Setting The Scene

My scene would be an old 50s inspired American diner. So I modeled a basic frame and interior, nothing too detailed to begin with. Just enough for me to set the atmosphere, decide on basic lighting and camera… I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste time modeling anything that would never be in the shot.

For lighting I used a simple Mental Ray Daylight setup together with two Sky portals. No other lights were used to light the scene. Number 1 on the image is the actual Daylight, and number 2 and 3 the Sky portals in front of the windows and door of the Diner. Together with Final Gathering they would set the mood.

Results of the light setup.

Step 2: Modeling The Character

I started out by modeling the basic character in 3ds Max… Personally I prefer to build the basic mesh in Max and then import into ZBrush. Particular objects like the Roller Skates I feel are much easier to make in 3ds Max compared to ZBrush… Once I was happy with the work in Max, I imported into ZBrush and started sculpting.

I decided to detach the head and body to work on those separately. Most of the details I modeled while the body was still in a T-pose but once I had most details in there I used the Transpose tools to pose the model.

After I finished with the majority of the details I brought all the parts together in ZBrush for a final polish of the model. With multiple SubTools in ZBrush I used the Transpose Master plugin to do last minute tweaks on the pose. I used Decimations Master plugin in ZBrush to reduce polycount to something 3ds Max could handle without loosing too much detail. I decided to stay away from displacement maps because they have a tendency to dramatically increase render time.

Step 3: Texturing The Character

I also did a large part of the texturing in ZBrush with Polypainting, and used UV Master plugin along side Multi Map Exporter to generate the textures. I exported Ambient, Cavity and Diffuse from ZBrush to help create the textures in Photoshop.

Since Daylight setup can be a bit slow to render, I worked within a simple scene to get the shaders and textures on the character to an acceptable level, and then imported it into the diner scene when I was happy with the result, a process that went back and forth a few times to get it right… For skin I used the Subsurface Scattering Fast Skin shader and for pretty much everything else the Arch & Design shader.

Step 4: Finishing the Environment

Once I was happy with the character in the scene, and I had settled on the camera angle, I began to create the details for the diner and the various props to fill the scene and help tell the story. Just as with the character I would build each little piece in a simpler scene, do the texturing and shader work before adding the final piece to the diner scene. I would usually do a couple of pieces and then bring them into the diner scene and render again to adjust shaders and textures to the final light setup.

Everything I made I made to real world scale, this helps when using physics based photometric lighting and just makes it easier when you model a lot of different parts that you want to put together later. With the diner finished it was time to create hair for the character.

Step 5: Creating Hair

I decided to use the Hair and Fur modifier that comes with 3ds Max, It’s not the greatest tool in the world to make hair, but it saved me from buying some of the better but also very expensive solutions out there. And since I used Mental Ray for everything else, I decided to render the hair as MR Prim.

I created the style of the hair by modeling splines, and from then on it’s basically just a lot of tweaking parameters and rendering until you get something you like… or give up making it any better 🙂

Step 6: Final Render

Almost the entire shot was created from one render. However, I did render out a separate ambient occlusion pass, Z-Depth map and volumetric lighting pass. I wrote a tutorial on how I create fast ambient occlusion pass in 3ds Max here.


Ambient Occlusion:


Volumetric Lights:

I find that it lighten my workload a lot to split an image into these elements, adjusting ambient, DOF and all those parameters in one render is just too much trial and error for my liking. By mixing all these in Photoshop, using the Z-Depth map to create focus blurring I ended up with the final result you can see here. (go to portfolio for a larger view and wallpaper version)

Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment below if you have questions or remarks.

  1. illichillich04-18-2011

    dude i think its awesome!!!!

  2. AinsleyAinsley04-21-2011

    Cool tutorial!

    I’d love it if you could submit your tutorials here:


  3. khalid alikhalid ali04-29-2011

    great work dude.
    nice and clean.

    btw…where do you work?

    • Tom IsaksenTom Isaksen04-30-2011

      Thanks.. I freelance from Brasilia in Brazil.

  4. JinksJinks05-08-2011

    Really great man! I love the hair!

  5. PreshPresh05-15-2011

    Dude that was really crazy! Love it

  6. keshavakeshava07-13-2011

    wonderful….wonderful talent… thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. MarcioMarcio07-29-2011

    hahahha… absolutely beautiful man 🙂

  8. davedave10-24-2012

    This is simply great great work – I love everything about it!!

  9. ricorico01-04-2013

    I was wondering how you get the z-depth pass with Hair&Fur (H&F) so clean.
    H&F is generated in G-Buffer, this way the “Render Elements” can not handle occlusion or ZDepth.
    Did you convert the hair in objects ? (which can cause many crashes because of the large amount of RAM)
    Thanks for any advice

    • Tom IsaksenTom Isaksen01-04-2013

      The hair is rendered as geom… no RAM problems here.

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