Sculpting Rocky Formations

  • Software:Blender  ·
  • Difficulty:Beginner

Rules of the Exercise

  • 1
    Sculpt a simple rock
  • 2
    Convert an organic shape into a "rocky" version.
  • 3
    Sculpt a rocky animal sculpture from scratch.

Observe and recreate the characteristics of stoney structures. 

Rocks, crumbling debris, cliff walls, gemstones – All of these are common structures that sculptors often need to recreate. Though they can look complex and difficult at first, they’re really a result of simple steps repeated over and over. For learning and exploring this skill, I’ve broken this exercise into 3 stages. 

First Stage: Use the linked photographic reference provided (or find your own) to sculpt a simple boulder or similar rocky structure. Merely a straight-forward translation from 2D photo to 3D sculpture. HINT: Try to understand and form the macro shapes first with broad strokes, then refine. This should be applied to sculpting in general. Rock Reference 01, Rock Reference 02, Rock Reference 03

Second Stage: Sculpting a realistic rock is good because it teaches you about general structure and characteristics of stone. But it’s re-creative instead of creative. Now let’s get creative by transforming an existing model into a rocky version. My suggestion is to let the organic highlighting and shadowing guide your decisions when rock-ifying. I chose Blender’s monkey mascot “Suzanne”. 

Third Stage: A common creature concept in film is the “rock monster”. This marriage of stone and organics can be seen in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey“, “Noah“, and “Fantastic Four” to name a few. I think the idea is popular because it’s such a fun concept to explore! Thus for the third and final stage, use your new powers to sculpt an organic subject from scratch as though it were made of stone. This can be anything from a human body part, to an animal, to a tree. I tried to do a bear. [gallery columns="1" link="file" size="large" ids="721"] 

GOAL: To understand rocky structures and surface qualities well enough to sculpt them without photographic reference. After successfully completing all 3 stages you should be a master rocksmith! Able to recreate realistic stones that mirror reality as well as conceptualize believable rocky creations. This exercise is open to both digital and traditional sculptors. I used Blender to sculpt digitally which taught me valuable tricks for hard surface sculpting that function more like carving. That’s actually my biggest hint for you: Think carving instead of sculpting. 

-------------------- ------- Notes from the Instructor -------------------------------- 

This exercise was a lot of fun for me personally. The key for me was discovering the ability to lock Blender’s sculpt plane: 

1. Using Blender’s Scrape brush, scroll down a few settings – passed “Radius“, “Strength“, and “Autosmooth” – and enable the padlock icon beside “Area Plane“. 

2. This is the sculpt plane setting. Change “Area Plane” to “View Plane“. 

3. Then scroll down to the “Curve” menu and drag both default curve points to the upper right corner to create a hardened edge. I like to use both curve points to keep it somewhat soft compared to the “hard edge” curve preset. 

4. Get a feel for the way this brush planes away the geometry based on your viewport’s viewing angle. You can also switch your locked sculpt plane type back to “Area Plane” for less intense results. View Plane can be extreme sometimes. 

Once I dialed in those settings, sculpting rocks was pretty straight-forward and intuitive. The most challenging part was sculpting the bear. Figuring out how to keep the shapes believable rocky while maintaining the bear’s form took me several hours. But now I feel much more confident when it comes to rocky shapes! Thanks to everyone who participated! I hope you had as much fun as I did and learned as much too. Enjoy the video above for a closer look into my workflow, including material creation. 

CC Music Attribution: “Alley of a Rhythm” by Wired Ant