I know a lot of you are up to date on all the new 3D tools, but some of you are not. There are so many tools these days that it can be overwhelming. For example, when I first started covering the VFX Industry in its infancy, I covered all the available software. Mostly at first 3D Studio, a powerful but awkward DOS program, and eventually LightWave, a cumbersome multi-app package that had a killer render engine. The serious 3D packages only ran on expensive computers in those days.

But back then I was a columnist at Animation Magazine and covered them all, from Alias Wavefront and Softimage to 3D Studio and even Caligari trueSpace! Back in the day, I used to give out a limited number of “Peter Plantec's Entirely Biased Golden Pixie Awards.” They were cherished, and the Golden Pixie Logo was printed on many software and hardware boxes then. I wish I had a picture.

When I left Animation Magazine, I stopped awarding them, but I think it's time to start recognizing this kind of excellence again. I use the award to bring a little bit of the spotlight to excellent products and devices that may be less well known, or are just so spectacular or industry-leading that they need to be included.

This year, I'm looking closely at the following: the open-source Blender, The Foundry Modo, Marmoset Toolbag 2, the Quixel Suite, Pixologic ZBrush, E-on Vue and Plant Factory, Allegorithmic Substance Painter, Headus UVLayout Professional, xNormal and CrazyBump. I also decided to take a quick look at Daz 3D Daz Studio. Along with Blender, it's free and represents a lot of value. I also have to look at Adobe's Creative Cloud suite and possibly The Foundry's Mari. For the new test bed computer, I'm looking at Nvidia's Quadro 5000, which has a significant performance boost over the previous Quadro 5000, especially where hardware rendering is involved.

I wish I had time for more, but I also co-chair Mundos Digitales in Spain, which is coming up fast as I write this. [It happened last weekend, while this blog entry was in the Studio posting queue. – Ed.] So I keep pretty busy.

I'm Already Quixel-Titillated
Anyway. I'm not ready to give any awards yet as I'm still examining. But I'm falling rapidly in love with the Quixel Suite of texture tools, NDO, DDO, 3DO and MEGASCANS. As I understand it, this remarkable suite of tools was developed for the game industry and plays very nicely with Marmoset Toolbag 2 and the Unity game engine.

The thing is, these tools that are actually a set of very sophisticated photoshop plug-ins work with Megascan materials — IMHO, the best on the planet. Even in my non-professional hands, I can get amazing results. DDO is a smart texture tool. It analyzes your mesh and adapts the texture to match it. It can handle many layers, putting real wear and tear in exactly the right places. 3DO is a real-time PBR engine for Photoshop that produces real-time results that are hard to believe. I'm getting so used to it that waiting to see results in other applications drives me nuts.

I'm just learning this new terminology. Apparently the game industry render world uses different terms than the film world. I suggest you learn them. For example, the color map is called an albedo map. But not always. Go figure. But don't take my word for it. According to Wikipedia, albedo has to do with reflection coefficients. So color me a novice here. Also, there are roughness maps that are different from specular maps. You guys know all this, but this is the first time I've started looking into game tools. This blog is just a teaser for what is to come.

Here is one of my first attempts to do a serious photoreal hard-surface texture. The sci-fi helmet I've been experimenting on was created in ZBrush by Michael Pavlovich. I think the before and after tell the story of Quixel. I only used a single smart texture on this, but now I'm working on isolating and separately texturing various components. Look at the surface detail. (Click the image to enlarge.)

At the moment, I'm dealing with the latest Microsoft Windows 7 update, which causes my computer to not boot. I restore it and when I shut off at night, Microsoft again updates and next morning … won't boot. Have to restore again. I don't use Windows 8 on the test bed computer because I think it's unreliable and wonky. I know because I put it on my personal computer and regret it.

Have fun this summer.