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ShadowFlame Dragon

ShadowFlame Dragon

Arlinka Viljoen
by dragonheart0079 on 2 Apr 2024

This dragon I created using some new sculpting techniques I picked up and discovered. It is one of my most detailed sculpts I have created so far. The spikes and horns made it tricky to retopologize for texturing, but the end result was worth it in the end. I created this dragon not only as a landmark to show how much

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This dragon I created using some new sculpting techniques I picked up and discovered. It is one of my most detailed sculpts I have created so far. The spikes and horns made it tricky to retopologize for texturing, but the end result was worth it in the end. I created this dragon not only as a landmark to show how much I have improved and grown as an artist, but also as a personal mascot which represent who I am and aspire to be.


This is the concept sculpt of the dragon. I wanted the head to guide the rest of the dragon's design, so the initial full body concept sculpt was scrapped. I used a custom made creature brush to start with some textures on a sphere, then stretched the sphere to get interesting patterns. Those patterns I then further developed to get the different shapes in the head, including large shapes like teeth and horns, and medium details like some of the scales.

Here is an example of the process I use to create my concept sculpts.

Sculpting the Dragon

Once happy with the concept sculpt, I started sculpting in the anatomy and initial scales. By masking out dots then stretching out the mesh, I created the spikes for the head and spine. Using the masking tool, I created the smaller rounder scales on the face, as well as the plates on the back of the neck. 

My general art style uses a skull like aesthetic. Even for creatures who are not necessarily undead. I emulated this with the dragon by making a skull like snout, and merging the front teeth into the mouth as if it is like the bird beak. The details and textures consists of dents and scratches similar to those seen on beaks and bone.

For the wings and neck, I took the wings from my previous project, Seraphim. I stretched the wings into the shape of the dragon's throat, keeping the anatomy in mind. Then added thickness with the inflate deformation tool. Once Dynmeshed and fused with the neck, I sculpted the new geometry to better blend all the shapes together.


The fun part of any sculpting project. Details! Using the masking tool, I added more medium and small sized scales across the face. Smaller details as well as micro details were added with my custom brush.

Details are important to break up the skin and prevent a smooth plasticy look on organic creatures. It is still important to have a good balance between small and medium details though. For this dragon I wanted a wide range of different scale types. Big chunky scales, spikey scales, smooth leather like scales, plated scales and scales that looks more like those found on real life reptiles. The scale patterns also followed the general flow of fluid and feathers.

One aspect I really love from this dragon that emerged from the sketch sculpt, is the fluid like flow of the horns and the way they grow in clusters like the branches of trees. I wanted to repeat this aesthetic in the scales, so I also made them flow into one another.

Sculpting the eyes

The eyes were simple. I made a base mesh by taking a sphere and moving the polygons for the iris inwards. Then selected the area for the pupil and deleted the geometry, afterwards adding thickness by extruding the edges of the pupil inwards twice. Finally I sculpted the iris in ZBrush with the radial symmetry mode. I used the clay buildup, standard and dam standard brushes for sculpting. As well as the masking tool for the circular iris muscles.

I also made a mesh for the eye tears, and a mesh for the transparent membrane in front of the eye ball.


Optimizing this creature was a little tricky because of its complex horns. The end result was well worth it though. There are not much to say here, I just used a general retopologizing and UV unrwapping method. I did retopologize with the best renders in mind, so the polycount is a bit high to preserve as much detail and form as possible

I wanted high resolution textures as well, so I used the UDIM workflow with a total of 5 textured UDIMs


Next are the textures. This step brings the dragon to life, and it took a lot of trial and error to get a good combination of color and patterns.

I used an approach similar to that of creating a subdermal underlayer. Where the main colors are inspired by the thickness and hardness of the skin and scales. Horns and spikes used a black color with a light blue gradient on the tips for wear and tear. For the skin I used dark reds on areas closer to veins, and lighter colors for areas further from veins or areas that consist of cartilage. 

I added color variation by using a multiply or divide layer above each main color with an image texture. These images ranges from reptile skin to tree bark.

The patterns I created by hand painting the main shapes, then using a grudge map with the multiply or divide blending mode for micro variation.

For the eyes, I painted most of the main colors by hand. Creating a dark base, darker edge and lighter center. For the patterns I used a combination of curvature masks, and grunges using the sphere projection mode.


Blender was used for the renders. I used a glass shader for the transparent materials in the eye, and a subsurface scattering shader for the skin.


The final step, preparing the renders for presentation. I create a background by hand painting a solid color with blotches of varied hues and brightness. Using different filters, I enhance the colors of my renders. Adding contrast and more color variation. Finally I blend it all together by adding some hand painted elements with different painting brushes.

This was such a fun project to create, and it really improved my skills. The scales were really relaxing to sculpt, and I really love the wide range of different scales I could create. Experimenting with the silhouette and details by stretching the alpha sculpted mesh helped me learn a new sculpting technique I now use in all my sculpts. 

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