Autodesk's Mudbox 2009 In Review

A couple of years ago, the 3D industry began to hear news of a “ZBrush killer” called Mudbox. After a private beta, Mudbox was released by Skymatter, and in 2007 Autodesk acquired it to make it part of their Media and Entertainment products branch.

During SIGGRAPH 2008, I had the chance to see Mudbox 2009 (the first Autodesk release) in action, and I realized that Mudbox, now being part of, was the best thing that could ever happen.

Mudbox's strongest point was always the ease of use, and that made me choose it over ZBrush without hesitation. However, Mudbox's main problem was always the speed. Unless you had a very powerful system with a top of the line video card it would run slow by the time you reached a couple million polygons. Not only that, but subdividing the model would also take some time in higher resolutions.

For this release, one of the biggest points is the speed increase. I’ve tried both Mudbox 1.0 and Mudbox 2009 on my system (8-core Xeon, 4Gb of RAM, Quadro FX 1700 pci-e card), and the latest version is from 3 to nearly 8 or 9 times faster, depending on the process you run.

Subdividing a model, painting, and navigating the 3d view has greatly improved, letting you work better and faster. Speed when subdividing is the most noticeable of the three, as it takes just a few seconds to subdivide a high resolution model (in Mudbox 1.0 it could take a few minutes to do it). However, the higher speed boost is seen when you extract your maps, as it takes just a couple of minutes to extract a normal or displacement map now.

Visually, most of the changes are related to the icons representing the tools, making them larger and easier to understand. Other than that, the application UI remains pretty much the same.

Another little feature I found extremely useful is the way you use stencils. You can now scale, rotate or move your stencil by using a combination of the S key and any of your mouse buttons, instead of navigating through the stencil attributes. You can also hide/show it with the Q key. It’s a small feature, but it’s a complete time saver if you use stencils frequently.

Besides the increased speed, Mudbox 2009 also features a set of texture painting tools, and they include pretty much all you would expect. You can paint colors, use texture stamps to paint patterns, and you can also use layers. Since this is a 3D application, you can paint diffuse, specular, gloss, bump and reflection mask maps.

There’s one thing you can’t do in Mudbox when you’re using the paint mode, and that’s applying filters to your layers (a feature that you can find in Bodypaint). I do expect to see that in a future version, as it would make Mudbox more sure for texture painting.

Personally, I would pick Bodypaint over Mudbox for texture painting at any time. In part, because I think Bodypaint has more mature painting tools, but also because I can easily go from Bodypaint to Photoshop, and back to Bodypaint (especially in the newest version of Bodypaint included in Cinema 4D R11). However, if you don’t already own a 3D painting software, Mudbox will do just fine.

Mudbox doesn’t have a beauty renderer, so the only way to present your model is the viewport hardware renderer. However, there are some display options that can help you get a better look. You can use image-based lighting, and you can also use depth of field, ambient occlusion and gamma correction.

Keep in mind that the viewport filters make extensive use of your GPU, so depending on your card model you may or may not be able to utilize some of them.

The need of a powerful GPU has been the source of criticism, as people using gaming cards feel left out. I have never used Mudbox 2009 on a computer using a gaming card, so I don’t know how it would perform. On the other hand, Autodesk’s list of qualified hardware doesn’t list any gaming card (although most users have realized those lists should be considered guidelines at most, at least on the Maya side).

This month Autodesk announced Mudbox 2009 for the Mac. I’m not sure if the Mac version will be a 32bit or 64bit release, and don’t know how well it will perform on the gaming cards Macs use. The Mac Pro offers a Geforce 8800GT, or Radeon HD 2600XT card, which are odd choices for a “workstation-class” computer, unless you pay nearly $3000.00 for the Quadro FX 5600. On the other hand, the MacBook Pro only offers 2 different Geforce chips.

I’m looking forward to the Mac version and how it will perform on the Pro line of Macs using gaming cards, but I’m also curious to see how it performs on a current-generation iMac, for example. If it does perform well, that would be a nice way to show people on the Windows side that they should be able to run Mudbox on their Windows computers even if they are using gaming cards.

If you’re a fan of Mudbox 1.0, you’ll definitely love Mudbox 2009. Between Mudbox and ZBrush, the latter supposedly supports up to 1 billion polygons (while Mudbox only supports millions), although Mudbox has the advantage of ease of use and a better and less confusing workflow. When I’m talking to people convincing them to give Mudbox a try, I will always say “if you know how to use a mouse, then you know how to use Mudbox,” as it’s extremely easy to use for a tool this powerful.

Mudbox 2009 is recommended for anyone doing 3D modeling, and also a must-have upgrade for any current Mudbox user.

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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.

January 19, 2009

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Member Opinions:
By: summer1412 on 1/26/09
A very interesting article. I like ZBrush, but there are some things I wish were more intuitive. Thanks for the info, I'll have to look into it!


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