Autodesk's Mudbox 2015 in Review

October 28, 2014 12:51 am

Tags: 3ds Max, Autodesk, Maya, Mudbox

Mudbox 2015 is the latest release of this digital sculpting software from Autodesk. In case you don’t know, Mudbox is a tool designed to sculpt, paint textures, and add details to your 3D models. Painted textures can be exported so they can be used in other applications, and sculpted details can be exported as normal, vector, or displacement maps so you can render objects with a high level of detail without incurring an extremely high polygon count. Mudbox can be bought as a stand-alone perpetual license, as a standalone application through desktop subscription (for only $10 a month), and also as part of an Autodesk Suite (suites include other packages, such as MotionBuilder and Maya).

I think the feature that mostly caught my attention was the ability to import Blend Shapes into Mudbox. If you are working with characters, you know they have a lot of moving parts and sometimes the default position might mean some of the skin is compressed rather than in a rest position. Being able to import Blend Shapes means you can use them to make it easier to paint certain areas.  For example, you can use a blend shape to close the character’s eyes so you can easily paint and add wrinkles to the eyelids without worrying about any texture stretching.



In Mudbox you can already import meshes with joints, so importing Blend Shapes was the only missing step to make it easier to deal with organic figures (meaning figures with skin that can be stretched or compressed).

Now you are also able to group your paint and sculpt layers. This may be a small feature, but it is useful to keep things more organized since you can group different paint or sculpt effects, like base skin layers, dirt, tattoos, beauty marks or wounds. Previously, you’d just have a lot of layers on top of each other.  Now, I think the next step could be to have some sort of “search” box, since that would make it easier to find the layer you’re looking for.  That’s not a feature painting programs usually offer (for example, Photoshop doesn’t have one), but I think small things like that make things faster.



Another feature that can help keep things more organized is the new Export All Paint Layers dialog. You can now set paths where the different textures will be stored, and off the top of my head these paths could also be set in Maya so it loads the new versions of the textures automatically.



A feature that’s been in Mudbox for some time, but I think is worth mentioning is the ability to paint PTEX textures. PTEX allows you to paint textures on meshes that have no UVs, so the textures can then be transferred to an updated version of the model after those have been created.

Setting up your model for PTEX texture painting is pretty easy, and it only takes a couple of clicks. You just need to decide on the texel resolution you plan to use (you can increase that resolution later, in case some areas need finer details), and when the model is ready you can start painting and all your textures will be stored in PTEX format. When you have a model with UVs, you can transfer the PTEX textures to this new model, and they will be converted to standard image format. Something cool about PTEX is that you could even modify the UVs of your second model and then re-transfer your textures, so you don’t really need to worry about “locking the UVs” after doing this.



PTEX texturing is also useful when you remesh a model. Remeshing or retopology means the topology of the object is changed so it’s more organized (you can do that inside Mudbox). This can be useful when you have a very high polygon object resulting from a 3D scan, and you need a more manageable object, with better topology. This can also be useful when your base figure has a topology not well suited for animation, and you need to change it so the mesh will deform better.



My biggest complaint with Mudbox is usually the requirement of a high-end videocard to run, and it is nice to see Autodesk take steps to make Mudbox run on more modest hardware. For my tests, I was running Mudbox on a Macbook Pro which has a fairly decent videocard, although it’s far from being high-end, and it could run the application without any problem. You can even run the software on some Microsoft Surface machines running on intel graphics.

Mudbox 2015 includes a variety of interesting features. Some of them might be small, but they are very useful. Since the software is sold as part of the Autodesk Suites, you’ll find it is a good complement to Maya or Max. And I think Mudbox could also make a nice “game development” bundle with Maya LT, if Autodesk decided to make a “game development suite” one day.



Editor's Note: Be sure to check out all the valuable resources available right here on Renderosity, for all your artistic endeavors, starting with the following related links:

Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields. You can follow him on Twitter, and if you want to see what he's up to you can visit his blog.




October 28, 2014

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