[Tutorial] Using Zbrush, Dynamesh and PathDeform to carve out parts of your Highpoly mesh and add detail


In this tutorial I am going to show you how to add detail to your highpoly meshes by carving out areas of the mesh and then adding a tiling piece of detail geometry into the carved out area. I will explain how to use Zbrush, dynamesh and the path deform modifier in 3d Studio max to achieve this. I will go through the following steps in this tutorial

  • Creating the highpoly-, detail- and carving objects
  • Using the Path Deform modifier to deform your geometry
  • Using Zbrush and Dynamesh to carve out an area of your highpoly mesh.
  • Troubleshooting and Tips and Tricks

Creating the highpoly-, detail- and carving objects

For this tutorial, I am going to keep the highpoly object fairly simple and just use a sphere. The detail object is a tiling piece of geometry that contains a frame, some lights and handles. The carving object matches the outline of the detail object so that we can use it to create a hole in the highpoly object and then put the detail object into that hole.

The carving object should match the outline of the detail object or be bigger. This is essential, otherwise the hole that we will carve out of the highpoly will not match the shape of our detail object. If you want the carved out area to be more interesting, feel free to add an extra extrusion to the carving object so that you get some extra detail, i.e. a bevel in the carved out area itself. If you look at the following gif, you can see that both objects match and our carving object has an extra bevel. Think of the carving object as a boolean operator that will be subtracted from the highpoly mesh.

Here is a closeup look on the extra bevel of the carving object

 Using the Path Deform modifier to deform your geometry

To be able to use the Path Deform modifier, we need to create a path first. The path will define the shape of your detail object on your highpoly object. For this tutorial, select the center edge ring of your sphere and click on Create Shape From Selection under Edit Edges in your Editable Poly modifier. Keep in mind that you can make this shape much more interesting by using the graphite modeling tools and manually drawing a spline on the surface or selecting a more interesting set of edges and using the Create Shape From Selection functionality on them.

Once the spline is created, combine your carving object and your detail object into one piece of geometry by attaching them together. The pivot point of the new object defines where the detail object will be applied to the spline. Since the spline of the sphere that we created earlier is resting right on the surface of your highpoly object, you can define which parts of your detail object will penetrate into the sphere by moving the pivot of your detailobject. The area of your detail object penetrating the surface of the sphere will be carved out of it later on.

Next we will create the Path Deform modifier and apply the detail object to the highpoly mesh. Make sure to reset xform on both the spline and the detail object first. Select the detail object next and go into the modifier tab and select Path Deform (WSM). Click on Pick Path and select the spline previously created. Once the object is attached, click on Move to Path first and set the Path Deform Axis to Y. Set the Percent Value under Parameters of your modifier to 50% to center the object on the spline and play with the Rotation Value to move the object into the correct position. For me a rotation of 90.0 is what i want. Using this modifier will make the detail object follow the shape of your highpoly object and place it on the surface.

Now that the Detail object is in the correct position, create a duplicate of it and collapse the modifier or use the Snapshot function of 3d Studio max to duplicate the geometry. Seperate your carving object from the detail object again by going into element mode and detaching the carving pieces. Export your highpoly mesh, your carving object and your detail mesh as seperate obj`s so that we can load them in Zbrush. Make sure to apply turbosmooth modifiers beforehand if needed.


Using Zbrush and dynamesh to carve out an area of your highpoly mesh.

Open Zbrush and select PolyMesh3D in the tools pallete. Click on Tool -> Import and select the highpoly sphere first. Next, click on PolyMesh3D again and import the carving object. Go back to your highpoly sphere object and add the Carving object as a subtool by clicking on Append and then selecting the carving object from the 3d Meshes list.

In the next step, we will merge the highpoly sphere with the carving object and then run dynamesh on it. To make Zbrush subract the carving object from your highpoly object when dynameshing, make sure to click the highlighted item in the following screenshot before merging down. With the Highpoly Sphere selected and the button activated, click on Merge Down under Merge in the SubTool Palette. Zbrush will warn you that this is not an undoable operation which is fine so just click OK to confirm.

To generate the new highpoly object with the carved out area, go to the Dynamesh Settings in the Geometry Tab. Make sure to set Resolution to 2048. With that value, click on Dynamesh and wait for Zbrush to calculate.

Once your new mesh has been generated, run the Polish feature with a value of 10 on your mesh to get rid of the jaggy edges. You can find the Polish function under the Deformation Tab

After this is done, you can already see that the edges are a bit cleaner. In order to further improve the quality of the edges run a ClayPolish with the default settings on the Geometry twice. You can find the ClayPolish feature in the Geometry under ClayPolish. This should improve the quality of the generated edges a lot.

After everything is done, you can import your detail geometry and append it to your newly generated geometry to see how everything looks. From this point forward, you can use the generated geometry to render your mesh or bake it down to a lowpoly mesh if you are creating a game asset. In the following image you can see a picture with the all objects attached and the sphere after the Polish and ClayPolish treatment.

 Troubleshooting and Tips and Tricks


  • If you create your objects for gameart, create the lowpoly object as well and attach it to your detail object before applying the path deform modifier. This will save you some time later on.
  • Make sure your detail object is subdivided evenly so that it can support the curvature of any highpoly object
  • Make sure to reset Xform on both the Spline and the detail object before using the Path Deform modifier
  • Think about working with these detail objects like you would with floaters – Create a library and share them in between projects
  • If you want cleaner bevels or more control over the look on the edges of your highpoly objects, consider using meshfusion in modo to carve the holes into your highpoly object
  • Remember that you can mask your object in Zbrush before running Polish and ClayPolish in order to affect only the carved area when using those features to preserve the look of the rest of your highpoly mesh.
  • Download the 3d Studio Max demo file here or get the Zbrush file here (Decimated sphere due to filesize reasons)