For the first character creation assignment at Howest, we sculpted a bust of a character of our own choosing. I went for Thomas Shelby from Peaky Blinders, because of his interesting face.

The fact that I was binge-watching the show had absolutely nothing to do with it.


The first step of any project is doing research and gathering reference material. As I was aiming for the likeness of Mr. Shelby, I had to gather enough pictures of his character from every possible angle, showing all the necessary shapes and details. I personally use PureRef to import and organize my references.

Try to get references from every angle with different lighting to clearly see the different facial features


Then I started the actual sculpting. I could use a basemesh for this assignment, so that saved me a lot of time to get the basic anatomy right. It’s important to keep the sculpt as lowpoly as possible for the big shapes.

I used symmetry to go over the main features, my main brushes for this step were the move and claybuildup brush.

To improve the sculpt from all angles, keep turning it around in the viewport, checking and correcting yourself over and over again.

The original basemesh (left) and the mesh after moving the main features (right)

I subdivided my mesh so I could define medium and smaller shapes like the lips, eyelids and add more skin around the cheeks and nose. The Damian standard brush is a great tool to add creases and sharper lines.

At this point I usually add the eyes, to give the sculpt more life. This also helps a lot if you feel stuck after staring at the same face for hours. I turned symmetry off around here, nobody has a completely symmetrical face after all.

For the clothes I masked out different parts of the bust, extracted them to get the main shape, and remeshed for cleaner topology.

I considered adding the iconic cap as well, to add to the whole Peaky Blinders look, but decided not to because it would hide the hair and a big part of his face.

For the hair I used a free IMM hair brush, I changed some modifiers in the stroke tab and started creating different strands.

It was my first time using the technique and it took some time before I had something decent.

To speed up my workflow I duplicated parts and moved them around, so it didn’t look too identical.

I raised the amount of subdivisions a final time. This to add small details like the creases on his lips, tiny imperfections and wrinkles, again using the Damian Standard brush.

I used Rafael Souza’s skin brushes to create pores and the feeling of skin. To give it more depth, I added some basic polypaint to darken the lips, eyelids, stubble, and create some more contrast in general.

After some minor tweaking here and there, the sculpt was ready and I could move on to presentation.

Final sculpt


I used a matte grey material for all subtools to keep it neutral. Make sure you have some perspective in your final image, put the sculpt in a ¾ angle rather than just front or side view.

You only need to render out the ambient occlusion, mask and Zdepth once per pose. I moved around lights, changed color, intensity and rendered out the different versions.

For the last step I threw all of the renders in Photoshop and edited the final image manually, using different layer modes like screen and multiply. The background was a simple gradient with some noise.

The result


It was a really fun, but challenging project to work on. By finding the right tools, brushes, and built-in functions (symmetry, masking, and extracting), I could speed up my workflow.

Using the basemesh saved me a lot of time that I could spend on presentation. It was an entire process of learning ZBrush better and trying to get my sculpt to look as close to the reference as possible. The end result is something I am very proud of, and a motivation to always get better.