How to sculpt fur

Recently I was in a conversation with some folks at about sculpting fur. I began to try to explain how I go about sculpting fur, hair, or other similar textures, but quickly realized that it would be difficult to give useful examples in a forum post, so I decided to do a brief article on the subject.

I will be using some sculpting terms throughout the article. These are largely in context to the tool that I use to do all the sculpting here. Most smaller, two head sculpting tools will do the job, but if you want to see what I was using, check out the first part of my scale armor tutorial.

  • cut – press the edge of the flat end or ‘spoon’ of the sculpting tool into the putty to make a slice.
  • poke – the pointy bit on the end to make a hole, or deep impression into the putty
  • pat – using the flat area of the spoon, press out details, and other variations in the putty to make a smooth area.

If you have any questions about these terms, or anything else described in this article, please email me: ahschmidt-AT-gmail-DOT-com.

Fur Tutorial 1

1. Apply putty to the area of your model where you want some fur. Try to make sure that the area is relatively clean. If there is paint, or something that the putty will stick to and cover up, than there shouldn’t be a problem. If there is oil, or something else that will keep the putty from sticking to the model’s surface, that will cause problems when you are trying to form your sculpt.

Fur Tutorial 2

2. Using some cuts in different areas of the putty, you can begin to form the shape of the area that will be covered in fur. These early choices may well get sculpted over as you move forward, but it never hurts to start considering the final composition of what you are sculpting as you move along.

Fur Tutorial 3

As you start to break the area up a little, pat the putty out so that it spreads a bit more evenly over the model’s surface. You can start to define some detail at this point too if you want. Most likely it will be lost as you work the putty, but you never know if you come up with something interesting that will be useful later.

Fur Tutorial 4

3. The first cuts made with either the edge of a sculpting tool, the edge of the poker, or an old hobby knife, in a broken up, staggered pattern are when you really start to get a feel for what the fur will look like. Don’t worry if this is really rough, and nasty looking. As the putty mellows out, and you work the surface more, this detail will become more refined.

Fur Tutorial 5

Up to this point lubrication for the surface of the putty really isn’t needed. As you start to refine some of the fur’s detail, you may want to use something to keep the tool from sticking too much. In different times, you may want some tackiness to pull the putty around, or to draw out strands of fur. Be careful to only use a little Vaseline, or other petroleum jelly as it will cause the surface of the putty to be slick throughout the entire time you are sculpting. If you are using water, this is much less of a problem.

4. The staggered cuts will naturally create diamond, and lengthy triangles here and there. You want to refine these areas somewhat as they will become the shapes that really give the impression of fur. Using the edge of your sculpting tool, press in between these fur ‘strands’, and break them up a little as well. If you brush the end of a strand slightly with the spoon end of your tool, it will curve the fur a little which will give a natural look and variation to the overall texture.

Fur Tutorial 6

5. Now the hard labor is over, and you can start to really shape the area your fur covers. Pat down some strips, or patches in the fur. This will create some layering, and some depth to the surface you are making. If all the fur looks like it is on the same plane, it may look too orderly, and quite boring. Think about the way that actual matted hair clumps up, and lays on other areas of the fur. This is what you are trying to emulate. Don’t worry that you are essentially pressing out work that you had done before. In fact, this is a good time to ‘erase’ parts of the fur that you don’t like very much. Knowing how much to do this will come with experience, and as you develop your sense of composition.

Fur Tutorial 7

6. Once you are happy with the areas of layering that you have created, its time to start to sculpt the fur strands into the flattened out surfaces. When doing this, it works well to poke the tip of the poker, or spoon (held sideways so that it is perpendicular to the surface of the putty) under the edge of the previous layer, and then pull down to create the strands impression. This will refine the upper layers edge, and give you more hair detail in one move.

Fur Tutorial 8

Here is a close up of the refined fur area with the layering applied.

Fur Tutorial 9

7. The more that you work the areas where the layering meets, the more dynamic the surface of the fur will look. One of the challenges with having very detailed surfaces, such as fur, on models is that the more general shape of the model can get subdued and lost. This is one of the reasons that many professional models you see out there have areas of less clumpy fur (or no fur at all) contrasting those that do have large amounts of fur. The latest Chaos Hounds from GW are a great example of this.

Fur Tutorial 11

8. Another great way to get more contrast, and visual dynamics across the surface of the fur is to change the direction that the fur flows somewhat. Here the layers flow in opposite directions from one another slightly.

Fur Tutorial 12

9. Once the general surface of the fur is looking good, consider the areas where the fur overlaps the rest of the model. At this point you can either remove extra putty, or pat it out to mesh into the surface that the fur is on. This is the better method often because it allows you to really work the way that edge looks. You don’t want it to be too uniform (unless your model’s design calls for that of course), or too clean in most cases. Using the poke under and pull method, but with the flat of the sculpting tool’s spoon is a great way to refine this area.

Fur Tutorial 13

10. This is a great time to look over the whole area that the fur covers, and to break up any areas that look too uniform, or strange in other ways. Refine the ends of strands of fur that may have been messed up by other sculpting, or that just haven’t been addressed yet.

Leave the sculpt to sit for around 20-30 minutes before you do your final pass of cleaning up, and refining the detail in your fur. Greenstuff putty gets more stiff as it cures, and becomes a better consistency for finer detail, even though moving large areas of the stuff will be tough.

This method for sculpting fur has worked very well for me. A lot of what is hear applies to other textures that you may want to make, such as scales, rough skin, and oddball textures that have any sort of pattern or consistency to them.

These techniques can take a while to get a handle of. Do some practice pieces before you tackle a model that you are invested in. One exercise that I learned from pro sculptors was to take a bit of putty, and while watching TV, to put it on a surface, and to sculpt a texture into it. Once done, remove the putty and do it again, maybe with a different type of surface. This is a great way to accumulate experience with sculpting, and to get a feel for putty’s weird properties.

4 thoughts on “How to sculpt fur”

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