Winners announced for Rookie Awards 2021
Nocturnal Dragon

Nocturnal Dragon

Dennis Petzinna
by anthonyjk, n0odle, and petz on 1 Jun 2020 for Rookie Awards 2020

I was always very passionate about animals and creatures, whether in real life, film or games. My goal is it to be a professional creature artist and I want to reflect this in my demo reel.

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I decided to create a dragon for my biggest project and team up with some of my colleagues and friends at PIXL VISN in order to have more time to focus on my specific parts:

Anthony Kersten (Rigging)

Nina Fischer (Animation)

Alexander Bollgoehn (LookDev/Lighting)

I was responsible for modeling, sculpting and texturing. 


I started with searching for a concept and ended up with the great concept of javier franco santacreu.
I gathered a lot of references for the sculpting part. 
Lizards, komodo dragons and dragons from movies and TV series like Smaug and Game of Thrones helped me to get a better understanding of how a dragon could move and about the anatomy. 

After gathering the references I started in Zbrush with Zspheres, blocking out the main shapes.  After that I moved on to the secondary forms.

I decided to vary a bit from the concept because I wanted the Nocturnal Dragon to appear bigger and stronger then in the concept. I worked more on the anatomy which is more bat like. 

After finishing the sculpt I exported a decimated version and set the Zbrush export to the desired real world scale. The dragon is about 15 meter tall. 
Then I went into maya for the retopology and UV unwrapping, I knew I would get close so I splitted the model in multiple udims. 

The biggest problem where the wings, wings take a lot of UV space but since I didn't wanted to do close ups of the wing skin I decided to have a different texel density on this part.


UV mapping

All patches are 4k size.


I used Mari for the texturing part to have the possibility for a higher resolution for the displacement. 

First I had to figure out how the scales should flow and which parts needed to have bigger or smaller scales. 
In Mari I used texture xyz maps to layout the displacement map.

 After that I took the mesh into Zbrush to sculpt beneath the scales to give them real depth. 
Then I exported a mid res version for the texturing in Mari and some utility maps like cavity from Zbrush. 


For the texturing I gathered some more references. 

The utility maps from Zbrush and displacement from Mari where a big help to drive my base color.

After finishing the texturing I did a test render with all maps and a quick lookdev. Combining the displacment maps from Zbrush and Mari.

I provided all the utility maps and isolation masks to Alex for the lookDev.

Here is the final result!


To improve my anatomy skills I did another team project with my colleagues and friends. This way I could focus more on the anatomy part.

Franziska Niebuhr (grooming)

Joschua Schmidt (Posing and animation later on)

Anthony Kersten (Rigging)

Elia Göttlicher (Lighting)

I was responsible for modeling, sculpting and texturing the skeleton, eyes and feet.


As always the first step was to gather references.

I spent a bit of time searching for good refernces, especially for the skeleton and muscles because the striped hyena is quite diffrent then the better known spotted hyena.


Building the skeleton is a great advantage, you already build the bony landmarks and get a great base for building up muscles, fat and the general shape.


For building up the muscles I used dogs as reference because most animals has a very similar anatomy, so I could translate this to the anatomy of the striped hyena. The skeleton helped me a lot to put the muscles in the right place.

Retopo / UV

To have the model rigged and animated later on I retopologized the mesh.

In order to have a higher detailed displacement map and still be able to groom with xGen I created two UV sets.



I really learned a lot with all these projects and wanted to thank all my team mates!


- Stones / Rocks models and textures are from quixel megascans 
- Soundesign of the dragon turntable made by myself with various animal sounds and my own voice.
Other sound effects from

What I learned:

- Working with displacements, what limitations they have and proper workflows 
- Working in a pipeline and keeping your scenes and files ALWAYS tidy
- Communication with the other departments and providing the files they need in time
- Improved my anatomy knowledge 

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