Autodesk's Mudbox 2014 in Review

September 13, 2013 12:16 pm

Tags: 3D, 3ds Max, Autodesk, Maya, Mudbox

"One of the things we focused on in this release of Mudbox is supporting a 'reality-capture' workflow. A reality-capture workflow is basically bringing in captured data, whether from laser-scanner of photogrammetry, retouching it with Mudbox's sculpting and painting toolset, and sending it down the pipeline"
-Andrew Camisch, Co-founder of Mudbox




Mudbox is a 3D sculpting and painting tool developed by Autodesk. It's a relatively young application, created originally in 2006 by Weta Digital artists as a way of extending their toolset while working on effects for the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films. In 2007, Autodesk purchased the assets of SkyMatter, the company that owned the Mudbox beta, and began to develop the application as a way to "offer a more complete solution for film, television and game pipelines as well as new workflows for other design disciplines, such as automotive and industrial design."

Over several iterations, Autodesk has developed Mudbox into an excellent 3D application with significant impact in the areas of visualization, concept creation and rapid 3D sketching. Moreover, with the release early this year of Mudbox 2014, Autodesk has created their finest version yet of this easy to use, unique 3D painting/sculpting application.


Mudbox 2014 GUI Intro Panel


What's New in Mudbox 2014

The main addition to this newest version of Mudbox is the computed retopology tools. "Retopology" has become increasingly important in 3D content creation for a booming video game industry who simply cannot use 3D models with huge polygon counts. Hence, the 3D artist re-topologizes the model into one that has far fewer polygons, but still looks good and plays well in a game engine. As Andrew Camisch points out (see quote above), Mudbox 2014 is making sure that 3D content creators using scanning and/or photogrammetry (using photos to create 3D models) to create their models with, are well supported in Mudbox 2014.

  • New Retopology Toolset: Includes automated or manual remeshing workflows, the ability to create a mesh from curves and to create a clean, new topology from the original mesh.
  • New Curve Tools: The curve tools tray now contains Curve Loop, Border Curve and Erase Curve.
  • New Highlight and Fix Problem Areas on a Mesh: You can patch, tighten and smooth areas of an imported mesh that has problems or holes
  • New Multi-Touch Support: Paint or sculpt using supported multi-touch devices like Intuos, Cintiq and Apple Magic Trackpad.
  • Paint Layer Improvements: Clear and fill paint layers, export merged layers for each channel, easily move layers to different channels and export merged layers for each channel.
  • Support for 8K Textures: Huge texture map support (for Windows and Linux only at this point)

There are many more additions to Mudbox 2014, especially in speeding up the program and in smoothing out workflow in a pipeline. You can see the list of new additions to Mudbox 2014 right here.


Some of the new Retopology tools in Mudbox 2014


Using Mudbox 2014

Although I was well acquainted with Mudbox, this was my first time actually using the application. Overall, I enjoyed working with Mudbox 2014. Download and installation was a simple process and the program's GUI is very easy to understand. I was sculpting and painting using layers in less than an hour. Autodesk also does a great job with their help system, so any questions I had about using Mudbox were answered quickly and efficiently. This is a very appealing aspect of Mudbox 2014: It's easy and intuitive to use. Unlike some of its rival applications, there's no combing through the help system every few minutes just to make a simple adjustment.

Mudbox 2014 does essentially two things: It allows you to sculpt from scratch (or import a polygonal model) and it allows you to paint directly on the model in 3D. This last aspect of Mudbox 2014 is extremely useful. So much so, that once you start painting your models this way, it's hard to imagine using any other method. This was my favorite part of the Mudbox 2014 application. I spent hours exploring the painting tools, which is very much like using layer masks in Adobe Photoshop.

A previous version of Mudbox (2012) introduced Ptex, a per-face texture mapping technique originally developed by Disney. This technique pretty much removes the need for UV mapping, however Mudbox does have the ability to create UV's with a single click. Ptex hasn't been widely adopted by the 3D graphics industry, but it's coming. Wise of Autodesk to include this excellent method for texture mapping.

Sculpting in Mudbox 2014 is easy and very powerful. The ability to sculpt multiple objects is quite useful, as is symmetry and the ability to use various images/stamps as displacement maps to sculpt with. Mudbox 2014 gives you the ability to sculpt in very fine detail on a model. Being able to duplicate faces and create a new mesh from the face (new in Mudbox 2014) is excellent. Although not quite as robust as some other sculpting applications, Mudbox 2014 still gets the job done with minimal interference.


New 3D painting tools in Mudbox 2014 are great!


Final Thoughts on Mudbox 2014

Mudbox 2014 is designed to function best in a pipeline with other Autodesk applications. In working with the program, I found that if I imported models from Maya or 3ds Max there were very few problems with the mesh. However, when I tried to import models (using .obj and .fbx formats) there were some serious issues with the imported mesh that required extra time to fix in Mudbox. Importing from Blender .fbx left most models completely useless. So, while the retopology tools work very well in Mudbox 2014, there's a caveat: you need to use Maya or 3ds Max for Mudbox to function at its best. This makes sense though, as Mudbox 2014 was not really designed as a stand-alone application, but to complement the Autodesk's application suites.

Mudbox 2014 really shines in the painting areas. This is the real strength of the program, in my opinion. I had to pull myself away from painting models as it became so much fun. This is a key part of what Autodesk Mudbox is about: getting the technology out of the way of the artist so he/she can just use their imagination. Very happy to say that Mudbox 2014 does just that, although there is still room for development, especially on the sculpting side of the program.

Sergio Rosa, in his review of Mudbox 2012 for Renderosity, said "it's one of those applications that gets better with every release." After working with Mudbox 2014, I have to agree with Sergio. Although it's a young application and is still being developed, with Mudbox 2014 Autodesk has a serious contender to ZBrush, even surpassing that application, especially in the area of 3D painting. The gaming industry, in particular, who uses a 3ds Max or Maya pipeline, will find Mudbox 2014 to be an essential addition to their toolset.

The ZBrush or Mudbox argument is really moot anyway. It all depends upon the skill of the sculptor/painter. Autodesk's "get out of the artist's way" approach is evident in each successive release of Mudbox. I predict a bright future for Mudbox, especially if the developers manage to keep the "fun" factor alive in future versions.

I highly recommend Mudbox 2014 and urge you to try the free, 30-day demo, or if you are Mudbox user, to upgrade to the new 2014 version of the application. Mudbox 2014 really makes sculpting and painting models a lot easier than any other application. The support is excellent and the Mudbox community is active and lively, not to mention the fact that you can access support and community directly from the Mudbox GUI. It's the details that Autodesk gets right in Mudbox 2014 that make the program so appealing and fun.


Mudbox 2014 is available as a standalone application for $795 (upgrade is $555). You can also purchase Mudbox 2014 as part of the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite. Qualifying students can get a free, 3-year license of Mudbox and other Autodesk applications. More info for students here.

Mudbox 2014 can be purchased for the Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. Full system requirements are available here. I reviewed Mudbox 2014 on a Windows 7, 64 bit, mid-level machine and never had a single crash.

My thanks to Autodesk for providing Mudbox 2014 for review. I have to say that Autodesk makes a reviewer's job easier by providing great support. This was a very enjoyable review to research and write. Thank you!

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.




September 13, 2013

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