The Wyvern Project: Sculpting and Texturing Organic Creatures for Games

The Wyvern Project: Sculpting and Texturing Organic Creatures for Games

Joshua Nobbs, a recent Game Art graduate from the University of Worcester, breaks down his latest project from inspirations to completion.

Joshua Nobbs is a recent graduate from the School of Arts, University of Worcester, launching into the game development sphere as a 3D character artist. Josh’s final year challenged him through The Wyvern Project, which aims to demonstrate his skills in sculpting organic creatures, texturing and all manner of optimisation for games.

Software Utilised

Inspiration & Reference - Phase One

During my final year with the university, I was tasked with creating my own brief, targeted towards an existing developer, aiming to produce work that follows their art style. As an avid Monster Hunter player and longtime fan my passion for the series 'I received' and 'Urgent Quest!', in attempting to design and create my own game-ready wyvern.

Reference Board

Drawing inspiration from monsters such as Barioth, Lagiacrus, and the Legiana influenced elements of my design. I aimed to capture elements of fish anatomy through the jaw structure, gills, and dorsal fins while retaining the mass and limb structure of traditional wyverns. Considering Monster Hunter and its existing mechanics, I needed a nest location for my monster to retreat to when exhausted. Given the mix of animals that influenced the design, I felt a watery lake cave habitat fit well, staying true to the fish elements and aquatic predisposition while providing a terrestrial battleground for hunters.

Throughout any creative endeavour I believe it’s crucial to observe and learn from other artists and professionals to grow our own understanding. During this project professional sculptor Keita Okada was my primary reference and remains my goal in regards to skills development and sculpting abilities.

ZBrush - Phase Two

This project served as my first real experience using ZBrush and 3D sculpting in general, resulting in many obstacles that needed to be overcome. From software navigation to general sculpting ability, this project aimed to bolster and rapidly improve my skill set.

Beginning with ZSpheres, a powerful tool that allows for fast iterative development, I explored crucial primitive forms that provide a baseline for any design. With this tool, I created a strong basis, exploring different body types before locking into my chosen creature archetype. I completed the primary and secondary forms using the Inflat, ClayBuildUp, Standard, and DamStandard brushes, building muscular forms and laying the groundwork for tertiary details such as scales. I utilized Dynamesh to quickly fix any topology warping or stretching. Moving onto tertiary forms, I merged my subtools where appropriate, using Zremesher and Zproject to create a mesh with cleaner topology.

Final Sculpt


To help me achieve the effects I wanted I have utilised a variety of brushes from  the FlippedNormals Skin Kit, including skin and texture effects such as "Heavy Skin" alongside several scale brushes by Marcus Whinney to aid with blocking out before manual refinement.

Retopology - Phase Three

Retopology was a time-consuming task, as I was determined to hand place all the faces using Maya’s Quad Draw tool. This method, while slower, ensures I can control the flow and banding of topology within my mesh, which is extremely important when preparing a mesh for animation.

Applying the "fail fast, learn faster" ideology, this process was grueling at times, burning my passion for the project. However, the experience proved invaluable, granting insights that will improve future undertakings.

Although I wouldn’t be animating my creature, I believe in practicing professionalism under the assumption that my work may be handed off to another artist or animator. To this end, I applied my current knowledge and skills, creating denser topology in areas of high deformation, such as the shoulders and knees.

UVs & Baking - Phase 04

Proceeding to unwrapping UVs, I made sure to place cuts in less visible areas to avoid texture continuity issues that would break player immersion. Following my technical budget, I divided my mesh into five materials before unwrapping and placing my UV islands. I determined this number through research into AAA games and a practical test, beginning with one material and incrementally increasing until I reached a texture resolution I was happy with.

I checked my UV islands using a checkerboard texture, looking for distortion and orientation issues. To bake my mesh, I used Substance 3D Painter. Normally, I would use Marmoset, but I felt this project provided an opportunity to learn new workflows and methods for achieving my desired result.

Baking went smoothly with few errors, which were easily painted out either using Photoshop or within Substance Painter during the texturing process.

Texturing - Phase 05

Continuing my work in Substance Painter, I created a palette using the Adobe colour wheel, attempting to incorporate my creatures habitat into the design using a split complementary theme, Contrasting the blue hues of water against the muddier browns that make up cave walls.

Throughout the texturing process, I utilized a variety of methods but primarily relied on hand painting to showcase brush techniques learned during my university experience. I made full use of layering, combination modes, and anchor points, resulting in what I believe is a higher-quality, organic texture containing a personalized touch.

Rigging - Phase 06

To better display my creature, I created a simple custom rig in Maya using joint chains and geo-desync skinning. I positioned my creature into a more dynamic pose and then adjusted the skin weights to fix any deformations. Using keyframe animation improved my efficiency when testing weight painting, allowing me to quickly move limbs to preset rotations before resetting back to the T-pose for adjustments.

Rendering - Phase 07

My renders were painstakingly crafted within Marmoset. Employing a series of spot lights, each with its own purpose whether generating focal points, shadow or temperature contrast.

To better present my work I have used a 3D scan found on Sketchfab to frame and display a snapshot into the world. A touch of post-processing within photoshop solidifies the render, helping the focal points pop through brightness/contrast and selective colour adjustments.

This project was completed during my final year at the University of Worcester, I extend my gratitude toward the lecturers and tech team for their continued support and guidance throughout my university development.

Check out my Rookies profile here.