Mon, Jul 15, 6:10 PM CDT

modo 601: A Landmark Release for Luxology

May 07, 2012 at 06:52 am by Store Staff

"modo 601 is our most significant release ever. With new feature and workflow enhancements, modo now offers an end-to-end production solution"
-Brad Peebler, President of Luxology


Since August, 2011, when I first started learning modo, there's not a day gone by that I haven't learned or created something fun using this wonderful program. Usually, I'll work with a program I'm reviewing for a month or so, then drop it to move on to another. But there's something about the elegance of modo's interface and the ease of using the program that makes you want to create things, all kinds of things. I've got a picture album full of objects I want to create using of modo. And the more I work with the program, the more excited I get.

I was briefed on the upcoming release of modo 601 back in the Fall of 2011 at a 2-day press event in San Francisco sponsored by Luxology, the company that created modo. Brad Peebler, President of Luxology, felt modo 601 was going to be the biggest release of the program in the company's ten year history. You could tell that the Luxology folk at the press event were excited.

And in a brilliant PR move, Luxology scheduled an "announcement" in late February, 2012, regarding modo 601 on twitter which, after the first half hour, became apparent to the hundreds of people tuning in that the full version of modo 601 was available immediately. This created such a buzz that there were users who purchased and downloaded the new version before the Luxology announcement was finished. In a modcast a few weeks later, Brad said that this was the most successful release of product in the company's 10-year history.

After a month or so with modo 601 (and halfway through Dan Ablan's modo 601 course), I can say with confidence that this release is a landmark for Luxology. And while the big news is that this is the big "character animation" release for modo, there are equally impressive additions and upgrades in rendering, re-topology, modeling, 3D painting and shaders. There are over a hundred additions to an already excellent 3D application (see my review of modo 501 here).

You can find a full list of updates and new features in modo 601 here, plus a beautifully designed web-based modo 601 tour of all the major new additions here. For now, I'm going to cover the major additions and talk a bit about what makes modo such a great 3D application.

Example of new "Soft Selection" in modo 601 (from Yazan Malkosh)

New Modeling Tools

"modo 601 has a focused environment for re-topology modeling which combines a specialized user interface with new tools that make it easier than ever to create clean geometry on top of a background mesh."
-Luxology's modo 601 brochure

modo earned it's reputation for excellence initially as a fast and intuitive polygonal and sub-d modeling program. There was simply no other program that could compete with its ease of use, speed and variety of smart modeling tools. The modo modeling experience was so unique that the program found its way into studios like Pixar and ILM. And many talented individual artists working in such diverse areas as product modeling, game character creation and conceptual design, have adopted modo as their modeling tool of choice. At present, it's quite simply the best 3D modeling program on the planet, period.

Now, it would be easy for Luxology to sit back and focus on other areas of modo outside of modeling, but they continue to refine and push the modeling experience for its users. In modo 601, they've added significant new tools and features. One of the most significant being a whole new focused environment for modo's "Retopology Tools."

  • Re-topology Tools & New Workspace - Click on the new "Retopoloty" tab and you get a completely new window which automatically activates a background constraint so you can use the new Topology pen tool to "drag, weld, extend and create" clean geometry on top of an existing mesh.
  • Preserve UV's – modo 601 now adjusts, in real time, the UV map for any geometry you modify.
  • Mesh Cleanup – After creating your model you can, with one click, clean up floating vertices, face normals and other mesh anomalies, allowing you to have a clean mesh for texturing, rendering or export to another application.

Additional improvements to the modeling toolset in modo 601 include Soft-Selection Falloff, Lazy Selection, a new Geometry Constraint Point Mode and Vertex Map Painting and Slip UV's, along with dozens of other neat additions and improvements. Check this Luxology link for a full break-down of new features in modo 601 modeling.

Character animation tools in modo 601

Superb New Character Animation Tools

"Like most features in modo, our character animation tools represent a journey, not a single event. Ever since modo 301, our users have been able to animate with our software. Now we have added key character animation tools and modo is even stronger in this important area."
-from the modo 601 FAQ

A lot of the focus of this release will be on the new Character Animation tools, but modo has had the ability to animate for years now, although there was no comprehensive toolset for character animation. modo 601 is the capstone to Luxology's slow and sure building up of the program's animation features. With the addition of Character Animation, which includes fast skeleton creation, a full body Inverse Kinematics solver and a very useful pose tool, modo 601 is now a full-featured animation package. Something I think indie 3D filmmakers (and many other artists) are going to be very interested in.

Here are some of the major improvements in animation included with modo 601. A full list can be found at the Luxology site here.

  • Skeleton Tool and Mesh Binding - brand spanking new tool that lets you set up a system of bones connected by joints and then bind them to mesh geometry. Weight maps are drawn in different colors and overlaid on the current shading of the mesh.
  • Full Body Inverse Kinematics (IK) – Allows you to connect movement along a whole chain of body parts. Combined with Forward Kinematics, modo 601 gives the animator the ability to create complex and believable movement.
  • Pose Tool / Pose Space Sculpting – The Pose Tool allows you to create poses and positions with a model, without complex rigging. You can still sculpt the mesh as well. These two tools are extremely powerful in creating precise and correct character animation.

There's also an extensive system of Deformers which can be layered in modo 601, plus support for saving animated scenes in Alembic. There are Visible Motion Paths, Texture Deformers and even the ability to use Falloffs as Deformers in the modo 601 animation system.

modo 601 now has ability to adjust sub-surface scattering amounts

Rendering in modo 601

"With the new Render Booleans functionality, one can now use simple 3D shapes to visually subtract out parts of a scene at render time, revealing interior portions of models without having to manually remove or hide intervening geometry."
-from the modo 601 FAQ

The modo renderer is world class. Much of the credit goes to the incredible talent of Allen Hastings, who won an Emmy award for his work on LightWave 3D in 1991. It's also due to careful planning by Luxology to build on the renderer in every release and, yes, modo 601 gets a lot of render love. There are some outstanding and innovative updates to the modo renderer in this release. Not the least of which is the ability to compare A/B renders in the viewer. Here are some other important updates:

  • Render Booleans – Instead of tedious adjustments to a mesh, just use another mesh to boolean edit a selection away. Very, very powerful addition to modo and quite unique.
  • Rounded Edge Shader – Render hard edges of architecture or mechanical designs with a softer, rounder edge. This shader saves you more modeling time and adds realism to the model.
  • Render Passes – modo scenes can now be rendered with different settings. Different materials, different pixel resolutions; the user has complete control over what is rendered in a modo scene.
  • Preview Render Improvements – The modo preview renderer can now be set to render in full resolution, including motion blur and volumetrics. You can also compare A/B renders horizontally or vertically.

I could go on and on; new Texture Bombing to randomize elements of textures (and texture groups) to lose that "tiled" look in texturing, Subsurface Scattering Depth Control, Oren-Nayer Diffuse Roughness Shading for fuzzy fabric, brick, etc. Check out the Luxology web-presentation on the new rendering improvements in modo 601 here.

Still More Features and Updates to modo 601

modo 601 is truly a landmark release for Luxology. In addition to major updates to Animation, Rendering and Modeling, there are improvements and additions in:

  • Dynamics – modo 601 now comes with the newest version of Recoil, previously a modo plug-in based on the Bullet Physics Library which includes Rigid and Soft Body Dynamics
  • Volumetic Rendering – Create clouds and smoke in modo 601. The new Blob Items lets you create gooey, viscous objects and texture them.
  • Display Items in Silhouette – Turn on Silhouette view to adjust outer profile of an object
  • New Skin and Hair Shaders – Very fine adjustments can be made to how light interacts with skin and hair in modo 601. There's also a nice Cel-Shader, too.
  • Texture Replicators – Amazing new texture effects can be created in modo 601. You can project an image from a point source with no UV required. The textures can be baked and you now have a very high level of control in order to create variety and randomness with your texture choices.
Beta user Richard Yot's example of 3D painting and re-topology in modo 601

Working with modo 601

"Throughout my 18 years in the 3D business, I've yet to see a 3D software application become so powerful, so fast. The 601 release of modo is mind blowing. With much of my 3D work, specifically for medical animation, the render boolean function, blobs, and new deformer tools are absolutely invaluable!"
-Dan Ablan, modo 601 beta user

Luxology is a user-friendly company. Every aspect of modo 601 is tailored to make it easier and faster for the user to get to creating things, instead of worrying about how a tool is working or where a particular function is located. And, since Luxology is a company where practically everyone employed actually uses modo 601, there is a high level of enthusiasm and knowledge. It's what makes Luxology a modern, quality-oriented company.

Without going into the basics of the modo 601 workflow (you can check my review of modo 501 here), Luxology has created a very unique way of working in 3D. One that is focused on sparing you extra time and effort to do things. The large central 3D work area is very helpful in moving the model to the right place. All of the workspaces in modo 601 give you a large area with focused toolsets to create a model, light the scene and set the camera, texture, animate and render with relative ease. It's like getting into a well-designed car and knowing where everything is without really having to look for it.

The new Character Animation tools are some of the best I've used in a 3D application. I had a character rigged and was animating using the Pose Tool within an hour of installing modo 601. Sure, more careful adjustments to weight-maps takes time, but even one of the beta testers, Richard Yot, made a charming short 3D film in about a month while only using deformers and the Pose tool in modo 601. It's called "Dragon Tamer" and you can see it here.

A still from Richard Yot's short film "Dragon Tamer" shot in modo 601

Modeling is a delight in modo 601. After creating a 3D model of a water bottle, I found myself making a folder of items I want to create in the future. It takes a little time to get used to the modo workflow, which uses "action centers" and the "work plane" to manipulate and adjust your models. After a week of study it's easy to get rolling and start making your own stuff. And there's not just one way of creating a specific model, which is one of the things that makes modo so much fun: it allows you to be so creative!

Along with an excellent online help section and 1700-page user guide (accessible online or off as a pdf), modo 601 comes with a very large amount of content to use in your projects. Meshes, Environments, Materials, Brushes and other tools are part of the modo 601 "Asset" folder. You can also access the "Asset Portal" at Luxology where community members share even more materials, shaders, models, assemblies and environments.

But it's the community of modo users that is a primary asset to modo 601. The range of talent and skill levels is so broad that beginners share right alongside seasoned 3D pros. Helpful, honest and inspiring, the forum threads are the best of any software program I've reviewed. And the work-in-progress forums can result in a full blown tutorial on a specific topic. I also love the fact that the president of Luxology, Brad Peebler, does a weekly modcast which covers current modo topics and projects of interest. Plus, the modcasts are often funny and informative.

A still from Wes Ball's RUIN, a short film modeled in modo

Final Thoughts

"We have this notion that a lot more people would use 3D if it was more accessible, easy to use and faster to learn – and could still produce quality stuff. And part of that is bring the price point down"
-Brad Peebler, Modcast 4/20/12

While legacy 3D programs are working to re-write two decades of code in order stay relevant in the fast moving 3D market, modo is based on modern, flexible code that allows Luxology to slowly build up features like animation over several years, so that the development is done right. Quality and simplicity are key to the release of modo 601, which, in my view, is now the most affordable, powerful and modern tool for working in 3D.

No tool is perfect, however, and modo has room for growth. Support for Ptex textures and a better set of beginner's tutorials are certainly things Luxology has on its agenda. Luxology didn't include an audio track with its new animation tools (for lip-sync), but some smart users came up with a plug-in called "Audio Ape" that works very well. Another reason why the modo users community is so great.

And with so many improvements to modo there are bound to be bugs (although I encountered very few myself). Luxology recently released an SP1 for modo 601. This update makes modo a bit more stable and solves some minor problems, like implementation of the 3DConnection Space Navigator tool.

modo 601 is going to open so many doors for Luxology. There's already been a wave of new users on the forums and many new tutorials are being created by excited users. I see 3D filmmakers adopting modo as a tool for filmmaking. The film RUIN by Wes Ball is a perfect example of what one artist can do with modo. The film was modeled entirely in modo.

Renderosity artists should give modo 601 a serious look as it simplifies the modeling process and allows for quick creation of models in a variety of formats. Perfect for the artist selling a wide variety of 3D models in the Renderosity MarketPlace. Check out the Renderosity modo artists galleries and read my profile of Renderosity modo artist, Anders Lejczak (Bazze), here.

modo 601 has my highest recommendation. I now work with the program daily, and through the outstanding community of artists, am learning just how incredibly deep this program really is.

So, do yourself a favor and download the free 15-day demo. Or, if you need more time, Luxology offers an excellent 30-day demo that comes with content, access to the Asset Sharing site, the online documentation, the modo "Spotlight" video series and more. If you decide to buy, you get a $25 discount towards the purchase.

modo 601 Cost and Requirements

There is no elaborate tier pricing or maintenance contracts with Luxology. modo 601 costs $1,195 and you can upgrade from any previous version of modo for $495. Full details on purchasing modo 601 can be found here.

Licensing modo 601 is simple: one user equals one license. Any licensed user is entitled to the Mac or Windows version. Plus, there are no weird dongles to install or extensive registration process.

I've been using a mid-level self built Windows 7, 64-bit computer running 12 GBs of Ram and a quad-core Intel processor for this review and the screen is snappy and rendering is pretty fast. Some Modonauts (as they are called) use higher-end laptops with modo and are quite satisfied.

You can judge for yourself by reading the full modo 601 requirements here.

Quick Notes

The Luxology website is very well designed with a huge amount of information. Their "Why Use modo?" web-presentation is a great way to learn more about why modo is so unique. Definitely spend time at the forums, check out and look at some of the very well done modo kits and tutorial packages. I picked up the new Texture Painting tutorial by Richard Yot for $35 and have been using Dan Ablan's excellent modo 601 Signature Courseware available at for $64.50.

I didn't even cover how well modo works with other programs in a pipeline, which is almost a review in itself. Check this Luxology page for more info.

Be sure to check out Renderosity's modo Forum and modo Gallery.

I am grateful to Luxology for providing a copy of modo 601 for review. Specifically, I'd like to thank Colin McGlaughlin for his help in putting this review together.

I'll be writing more about modo and Luxology throughout the year. Some interviews and perhaps a quick write up on Luxology's future plans once I meet with them at Siggraph 2012 this coming August. I may even have a short film done entirely in modo 601 by the end of the year. Stay tuned!

For more info, please visit:

Editor's Note: Be sure to check out the following

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.




May 9, 2012

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