ZBrush 3.5 R3 Review: A New Paradigm in Sculpting Digital Clay
“There are some people who are kind of mathematical or very scientific about the way they do things. I'm more organic about it. I just want to get in there and start pushing stuff around and do something. And that's what I liked about ZBrush. It was so much like sculpting. When I made my first skull it was based on the modeling of a simple head or something and started with a sphere, and the fact that you could just push and pull the sphere and cut into it and add to it turn it around and look at it and light it and paint it. That was so cool. That was so much like sculpture, you know.”
-Rick Baker, Special Effects Make-Up Artist
When Pixologic was founded in 1998, it's main goal was to “simplify the science behind generating computer graphics.” At that point, Pixologic could learn from mistakes made by more established CG software companies who had been in business for over a decade. You see, part of what drives so many away from modeling, animation and 3D computer graphics is the massive learning curve that comes with the graphic user interface (GUI) of the application. A friend of mine who was learning one of the major 3D modeling programs years ago told me that it felt like “learning to pilot a submarine all by yourself.” Why make the interface an obstacle between the imagination and the work? Instead, create a software program that helps you to be more creative. One that actually makes it easier for you to be creative.
Enter Pixologic and ZBrush 3.5 R3.
ZBrush 3.5 R3 (Release 3, henceforth referred to as “ZBrush 3.5”) is a sculpting and painting tool that simplifies and aids artists in creating 3D models, 2D images and 2.5 Pixols in virtually limitless combinations. Built around “a principle of circularity, the menus in ZBrush work together in a non-linear and mode free method.” Rick Baker, a multi Oscar winning special effects genius, took to the basic organization of tools in ZBrush which, as he points out, was a lot like his traditional method of sculpting using an armature and building up from there like clay. In fact, you are actually working with digital clay when you create something inside of ZBrush. The difference is that you have far more possibilities with virtual modeling because you can work in layers, use elaborate sculpting brushes not possible in real life and can revert to an earlier version of your project at any time.
Main UI for ZBrush
The amount of new additions to ZBrush in the 3.5 version are so numerous that Pixologic released an 89-page document listing and explaing all of the new additions. Hard to believe that this release is a “point” release, since usually these types of releases are geared towards refining features added in the previous major release and in minor tweaks. The big changes are usually reserved for a major release to a new number. That Pixologic chose to add so many new elements and functionality to ZBrush 3.5 is nothing short of amazing.
I can't possibly cover all of the new features added to 3.5, but let me highlight some of the major ones and then talk about my experience using this outstanding program.
What's new in ZBrush 3.5?
How ZBrush Works
The main ZBrush interface is unlike most Windows-based UI's in that it's designed to allow you to use the interface creatively, by moving functions at the top of the UI to a main area on the right side for quicker access. Depending upon what you want to do in any given project you can combine any number of “palettes” (ZBrush term) like tools or transforms for quicker content creation. Essentially, you can re-design the entire interface since everything can be moved and then save that custom interface for future use.
Basically, ZBrush allows you to work in a variety of ways. The most basic of which, is to pick from a series of basic shapes, like a sphere or a cone, and then sculpt that shape using a huge variety of brushes to the desired shape. You can also use ZBrush's unique “Zspheres,” which are blob-like constructions that you can add to in order to create a basic armature or shape for your model. Then, by clicking a single button you can convert it to pixels and subdivide to your heart's content.
The Zspheres palette
ZBrush allows you to “transform” the Zspheres, add materials to the shapes and paint directly on the shapes in real-time. Very much like sculpting in real-life, Zspheres can be combined and manipulated to such a degree that the shapes can take on incredible detail and look remarkably organic.
One of the main concepts created by Pixologic to aid in the fast and organic creation of sculpted objects is the idea of “pixols,” or 2.5D. Similar to pixels, pixols contain additional data like Z, or depth information, and materials data in addition to the standard color info. Working with pixols is like working in 2.5 depth, where sliders in the Draw control palette allow you to adjust the interaction of depth, color and materials to a very high level of detail. And with the ZBrush real-time render engine, you can see the results immediately.
2.5D sketch function in ZBrush
In addition to an incredible level of control for sculpting your virtual clay, ZBrush 3.5 also allows you to pose your creations using real-time lighting, cameras and capture video of the interactions. You can even add fog to a scene and adjust the FOV of the camera you are using to view the scene. I suspect that version 4 of ZBrush will be adding to this mode as there are some limitations, although resulting images can be breathtaking.
The materials collection in ZBrush 3.5 is superb, allowing you to blend 3D objects with 2D images and create objects with an amazing variety of textures. MatCap is a mode in ZBrush which allows you to create a surface material AND a lighting environment by simply painting from an existing image or picture you have chosen. This feature alone is worth an entire review as it saves so much time and helps you create images of great depth and contrast.
Finally, Pixologic has made great strides in improving interactivity between other CG apps and ZBrush 3.5. The creation of the GoZ file format basically gives you a two-click method for working with programs like CINEMA 4D, where you click a button inside of ZBrush to export in the new format which contains much more ZBrush information (and smaller file size) than the obj format. Then, once the file is exported to another application, you use another button in that application to export back to ZBrush. At present, only Maya, CINEMA 4D and Modo are supported with GoZ, although the obj format allows for import/export to just about any 3D app.
Over 35 brushes can be used on included stock models
“What I love about ZBrush 3.5 and ZBrush in general is that it doesn't try to copy what the competition is doing but rather try and remove any barriers between your mind and the screen”
-Joel Mongeon, freelance modeler. CGSociety.com
Pixologic is an organization committed to making artists out of all of us. They want to help you not only master their ZBrush software quickly, but to design the application so that the artist can focus on creating and not interpreting through a myriad of buttons and modes. They also support the user with some of the best training and tutorials of any application I've reviewed. Their ZClassroom portal, their extremely active ZBrush Central forum community, ZBrush Wiki and release of several free plug-ins (UV Master and Decimation Master, in particular) are indications that this company is serious about customer support.
The pirate by George Krallis [Geographics]
ZBrush - 3ds Max - Photoshop
I found the installation and authentication of ZBrush to be the easiest of any CG program I've reviewed to date. The help functions inside the program are easy to use and very helpful. The interface takes a bit of getting used to, but I found that once I used a tool or a palette once, I knew where it was the second time. After a week or so, I was able to use the program very quickly and efficiently. On my Windows 7 64-bit computer, ZBrush performed like a champ with zero crashes and very fast response times.
ZBrush 3.5 R3 is one helluva program. I originally heard about it from friends who were using it to add detail to their existing models. But, after spending a month with this magnificent program, the possible uses are much deeper. From designing jewelry, to intuitive organic modeling, to recoding your 2.5 sketch project inside of ZBrush, this application is now a permanent part of my 3D toolkit. I cannot recommend this updated program any higher.
*~~,,Magesty,,~~** by [calum5]
ZBrush - Poser - Photoshop
ZBrush 3.5. R3 for Windows retails for $595 (and is worth every penny). The Mac/Apple OSX version is 3.12 (perhaps my only gripe with Pixologic is not getting the updated Apple version out sooner) is also at $595. If you want to own both PC and Apple versions, there is a nice discount of 50% for one of the applications when bought together. And all upgrades are free to registered owners (another very cool thing about Pixologic). The trial demo is free for 30 days and is very much worth your time.
My sincere thanks to Pixologic for providing this application for review.
Recommended System Requirements for ZBrush (Windows):
You can find more information about system requirements (including MAC) here.
Be sure to check out the following:
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Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
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