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May 1, 2019

A Digital Illustrator's VR Workflow

A Digital Illustrator's VR Workflow - From MasterpieceVR to Photoshop


"VR sculpting has given me a toolset to very quickly generate meshes to texture and light, and to use as material for my paintings."

Planning and VR Sculpting

My workflow in VR is often like this: 

I create a base sculpt in VR, export the model as and OBJ or FBX with auto UV’s and sometimes with vertex color. I clean it up if needed in Zbrush and then do some texturing in Substance Painter. After that I light and compose the model in Marmoset Toolbag, export a render from here, and finish the piece in Photoshop.

For this particular piece, once I’d decided on the theme and created a sketch, I started sculpting the tree, the base and the balloons in MasterpieceVR. I used voxels for this and mainly the round and square basic tool. I experimented with using the polygon tools for the leaves of the tree, but decided to go with voxels instead. I sculpted a small part of the foliage, copied it and pasted it multiple times in different sizes until I had a full tree crown.

For the balloons, I used voxels for the large shapes, and polygon tools to draw the lines around the balloons. This worked very well and quickly gave me an idea of how this would look in the final illustration.

UV Master Pass in Z-Brush

As I use my VR sculpts as bases for my paintings, I usually don’t need a whole lot of detail or accurate UV layouts, and more often than not, I can use the sculpts directly from VR in my rendering package of choice. For this one I took the tree into Zbrush and did a rough UV Master pass.

Materials and Textures in Substance Painter

After Zbrush, it was time to take the model into Substance painter. Substance Painter is a great tool and it lets you get material properties and texture onto your models very quickly. With just a few adjustments, you can make the textures unique and make them fit your project. With autogenerated UV’s, you also have the benefit of being able to paint across UV seams to make them less noticeable.

I was happy with the look of the tree, and I began the process of sculpting the airships. I did this in a new document in MasterpieceVR, to be able to use as much detail as possible. When working in VR, I’ll often use a modular approach where I sculpt parts of the scene in different documents. Once I get the model into Marmoset Toolbag, which is a real-time 3D engine for presentation of mostly game assets, I’ll compose and light the scene.

Composing the Scene in Marmoset Toolbag

Generally with an illustration like this one, I use all the tools at my disposal to speed up the process. VR sculpting has given me a toolset to very quickly generate meshes to texture and light, and to use as material for my paintings.

After I had finished texturing the different assets, I took the models into Marmoset Toolbag and composed my scene there. At some point I’ll make a tutorial describing each step in detail. One of the things I really like about Marmoset, is that everything happens in real time so I can easily try out different compositions, lighting scenarios and material types. If I decide I need some different textures for some of the elements, it’s very easy to go into Substance Painter and do the needed modifications. Once they’re done, you just export the maps and they update automatically in Marmoset, instantly giving you an idea of the final product. 

Marmoset has its limitations compared to a fully fledged rendering package, as things like volumetrics are difficult or impossible to get right. There’s no support for particle systems either, and you’re limited in more advanced areas as well. This step of the process could easily be done in another package such as VRAY, Octane or Keyshot as the output from Substance Painter can be used in most rendering packages.

Finalizing the Illustration in Photoshop

After Marmoset Toolbag, I take the generated images into Photoshop and finish the piece there. I use textures from and, and manually paint in details such as the guy on the airship, the detailed tree crown etc.

I had a great time doing this piece, and I’m very excited to see where MasterpieceVR is going. It offers something none of the other packages do, as it combines both Voxel and Polygon tools. I also really like the possibility of being more people in the same virtual sculpting room, and being able to work on the same model in real time. For a production environment that is immensely useful!

Final Illustration

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