Sculpting software and 3D software that includes sculpting capabilities are becoming more common. These applications can be used to deform models more easily, or to add finer details to them (using bump maps, normal maps or displacement maps). Now comes N-Sided with their recently released Argile, a sculpting and finishing application.
Argile isn’t the kind of software where you can subdivide your models and add small details, like what you could do in Mudbox or Zbrush, but rather use your cursor as a “smooth modification tool” that lets you move, rotate, bulge or scale parts of your model. As a matter of fact, all of Argile’s modification tools are based on smooth selection, which means you can gradually affect your selection radius, helping you get a very organic look.
The software has three different modules: sculpting, texturing and rendering. If you’re familiar with Maya’s paint sculpt tools, or Poser’s magnets, you should easily understand how Argile works. The software’s modification tools are pretty much magnets that serve different purposes, be it moving or sliding vertices, softening or hardening creases, bringing vertices together or separating them. The idea is to have a place where you can modify your meshes easily, so you can use those modifications as either morph targets for your characters, or even brand new characters. Argile can read and write .OBJ files, which means it can easily plug inside any environment and exchange data with pretty much any 3D application you can think of.
For sculpting, you can either use a free modification tool, or select vertices, faces or edges, so that the deformations can be applied only to that selection. When you’ve made your choice, you have a nice toolset that you can use to deform your model. You even have what Argile calls “Jelly brushes”, which are used to expand, contract, translate along normals or smooth your models.
In Argile, the models are constructed as subdivision surfaces. You have a subdivision levels control that can serve to smooth your surface. These don’t actually add vertices to your model, though, but rather smooth the interpolation between vertices. You should use this very carefully, since higher subdivision levels can take longer to draw and take up more memory. Usually, a subdivision level of 1 (or 2 at the most) will be enough.
The next module is the texture painting module. The software provides a basic 3D texturing environment. You can change basic material parameters: diffuse and specular channels, transparency, and so on, as well as paint your own texture directly onto your model.
You can paint diffuse textures, as well as transparency, bump and normal maps (the image above shows both a bump map on the left and a normal map on the right). You can also use different brush profiles to create a wide variety of effects, including the ability to import your own image files as brush profiles. Another nice feature is that you can import an image and then project that onto your model. This can be very useful if you have, for example, a head texture, and you want to project that onto your model for easy texturing.
The idea of painting directly on top of your model is, by itself, very attractive. However, it is very unlikely that you will see yourself relying exclusively on Argile for texture painting since it lacks a layer system, while other 3D texturing software packages, such as BodyPaint, let you add layer upon layer of effects and colors. Since Argile doesn’t have that, you’ll probably end up painting the different layers in it and then combining them in Photoshop.
Argile includes the standard N-Sided QUIDAM rendering engine. This is a very simple module where you can export your images. You can save your images as .JPG, .TGA or .PNG files, whatever fits your needs. You can argue that you don’t have that many image formats, and that may be true. However, most specialized image formats (such as .IFF or .RLA) are used for animation, not static images (for example, if you were to use your renders in Photoshop, then .IFF files are out of the question since Photoshop can’t read them).
The rendering capabilities found in Argile are not exactly ultra high end. By this I mean you are not going to be using sub surface scattering shaders, nor global illumination, ambient occlusion or those kinds of advanced rendering algorithms. However, as I said before, you should really keep in mind that the software is primarily meant to be a sculpting application, and the renderer is more like a previsualization tool rather than a finishing tool.
The program is easy to follow and most of the time you will be using the manual only for specific things. Also, if you’re a Maya or 3DS Max user, you’ll feel right at home since you can configure the mouse navigation to behave as either one of those two software packages.
Something I personally found somewhat annoying, and actually useless, was the fact that you have a clock on the bottom right corner of the UI. The reason why I found it useless was because that clock is actually on top of your Windows clock on the task bar. The only scenario where that may be useful is if you have your taskbar set to hide whenever it’s not being used.
Argile is a very intuitive and easy to use tool when it comes to sculpting. Maybe you want to reshape a model, or maybe you want to create morph targets for any character (including Poser characters), Argile can prove to be a powerful, yet intuitive, tool. On the other hand, keep in mind that if you are into texturing, and you are the kind of person that creates the textures from scratch, you’ll have a hard time relying exclusively on this particular software.
• Windows 98 OSR2, Windows 2000, Windows XP or Windows Vista
• Pentium 2 processor, 500 MHz or more (1 GHz recommended)
• MacOS X 10.4 or later
• Processor PowerPC G4 (G5 recommended) or Intel
• 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended)
• 35 MB free disk space
• Monitor with 1024x768 resolution or more
• 24-bits Graphic card (or 32 bits) OpenGL compatible
• 3 button mouse
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Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc]. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.
May 12, 2008
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