Review: Autodesk Mudbox 2011
Sling Some Serious Pixels with Improved 3D Paint and Sculpting
The newest paint tools are actually image adjustment tools rather then true paint brushes. Blur, Dodge, Burn and Contrast, for example, adjust texture properties much like their counterparts in Photoshop, while Hue, Shift and Invert adjust color properties. I noticed an immediate boost in my productivity using these new tools. Now my textures can be adjusted in real-time right inside Mudbox under the whatever lighting and rendering environment I choose.
Mudbox’s paint layers have four new blending modes: Multiply, Add, Screen and Overlay. Having these new blending modes provides users with precise control over how layers interact and the ability to experiment with how layers are eventually composited.
In addition to standard texture channels like diffuse, specular, gloss, and bump Mudbox 2011 features a new incandescence channel that controls the brightness of a color, independent of scene lighting. Mudbox also ships with a new Maya-like color chooser that is a huge improvement over the system color picker we were forced to use in previous versions.
If you use Mudbox with Photoshop, as I do, you’ll appreciate the fact that you can now export and re-import multiple Mudbox paint layers as Photoshop layers. In other words, Mudbox paint layers can be exported as layers in a Photoshop document, edited in Photoshop, and then re-imported back into Mudbox with all layers in place in the correct stacking order.
Why 2D Paint MattersThough 3D painting is great for precise placement of textures, sometimes 2D painting is preferable for swifter work. Mudbox 2011 debuts the new “Flatten to UV Space” command, which unfolds any model to 2D space using the model’s UV coordinates. Once you have a flattened model, you can apply any of the paint tools on top of it. When finished, you can then un-flatten the model and resume 3D painting or sculpting.
Mudbox users have been asking for posing models for some time, and Mudbox 2011 introduces two new methods for posing or deforming models by placing joints and adjusting weights and pivots. Be warned, however: The posing tools are somewhat counterintuitive and definitely take some getting used to. But if you also work with Maya or 3ds Max, as many of you likely do, you can now import your Max or Maya models rigged with weighted skeletons into Mudbox via FBX and use the skeletons to pose the model. In my experience, this second method works best.
Sling Some Vectors
Mudbox 2011 can now extract vector displacement maps (VDM) from sculpted data. VDMs are a welcomed improvement over raycast displacement maps, which are limited to up and down displacements along the normal. VDMs can displace in any direction, faithfully capturing sculpted details such as deep folds, undercuts and overhangs. While the process of extracting VDMs is straightforward, applying VDM’s outside of Mudbox still requires a third-party mental ray plug-in.
Still, VDMs are great for repetitive work. One of the more useful tricks is to use VDMs within Mudbox as stamps or stencils to quickly sculpt out complex shapes like ears and noses, repetitive shapes such as folds, or to tweak any of your existing sculpt tools. In my opinion, Mudbox 2011 is a must-have upgrade for its vector displacement tools alone.
You might install this new version of Mudbox and think there are no obvious sculpting improvements. The software still has a nice-and-easy learning curve that appeals to artists and you can continue to sculpt the way you’re used to working. You’ll spot the performance enhancements, however, when you see how the sculpting tools work with other features to streamline your workflow. In this release, for example, you can better manage scenes with multiple objects and mirror and flip your sculpted details via Sculpt Layer options (as well as via Mirroring).
Last but not least, Mudbox 2011 benefits greatly from updated format and OS support. Autodesk brough FBX support to Mudbox in the previous version and your workflow from one app to the next will get a boost from Autodesk’s updated FBX 2011 standard. The added boost you get from 64-bit support on the Mac OS X and Windows 7 platforms makes a huge difference, too.