Luxology and modo: The Future of 3D Software

February 5, 2012 11:57 pm

Tags: 3D, Animation, Luxology, modo, modo 501

"They thought we were crazy to bring a new 3D application to the market."
-Brad Peebler, President of Luxology

2012 marks the 10th anniversary for the computer graphics company, Luxology, creators of the highly regarded 3D modeling, animation and rendering application, modo. Ten years ago, Stuart Ferguson, Allen Hastings and Brad Peebler left the development team of a highly successful 3D company and decided to create their own 3D program from the ground up. Their goals were to create a flexible, modern 3D application with a single code base (Nexus) and to provide the highest possible customer service to their users. The mantra for their new company was (and still is) "treat the user like you would like to be treated."

From L to R: Allen Hastings, Brad Peebler and Stuart Ferguson

Now, 10 years later, the company and the software (modo 501) is becoming an increasingly important tool in the 3D pipelines of the game industry, print/design, architecture and film/broadcast industries. From the earliest days of modo 101, the software was designed to be user-friendly and feature a workflow for the artist that is intuitive and fast. Luxology is a company that has earned their reputation by doing what they said they would, something that is not always the case in a profit/market driven 3D application industry.

At present, Luxology is poised to have a break-though "Year of modo." Their success is a model for a new kind of company, one in which the employees and owners actually use the product they are selling; one that truly listens to their users and treats them with respect. At Luxology, when you buy a modo license you aren't just getting a remarkable, hand-crafted technology, but you are joining one of the most tight-knit and supportive user groups in the industry.

A Short History of modo

I won't be writing an in-depth review of modo, although I will look critically at the current version of the program (modo 501). Think of this article as and introduction to what modo can do and what Luxology has to offer the user. modo 501 has been out for over a year now and has been thoroughly examined by users much more skilled than I am. Luxology has a nice list of reviews of their program at their website. What I'd like to do is to sketch out a short history of modo, then take a quick look at modo 501 and it's new features. Finally, I want to look forward to where Luxology is taking their application.

  • September, 2004, modo 101 is introduced at SIGGRAPH. This first version of the software was updated twice, each time adding significant improvements. The modeling tools and rendering engine impressed many users. modo had an immediate impact and was adopted by companies like ILM and Pixar
  • May, 2006, modo 201 was released and subsequently won several awards, including the "Apple Design Award." The 200 series added the ability to paint in 3D, faster rendering and many other unique features.
  • modo 301 came out in September, 2007 and added animation and organic sculpting to the feature set. The animation allowed you to move cameras, lights, geometry, etc, but did not include character animation. One update was made to the program which improved animation tools and added physical Sky and Sun model.
  • modo 401 is released in June of 2009. It had four updates (released as "Service Packs"). This release featured a 64-bit Windows platform, extensive animation and rendering improvements and Fur/Replicators.

modo 501: It's all in the Details

By the end of 2010, Luxology had established a solid reputation as a hard-working, progressive computer graphics company, with perhaps the best modeling and rendering package in the business. Of course, they'd also established key partnerships with companies like Intel, Apple, Nvidia, AMD and Wacom. modo had an important place in many pipelines, including the advertising/product development industry, design, game development and Film/TV industries.

The release of modo 501 (the 8th iteration of the program) took place in December of 2010. And unlike other 3D companies, Luxology chose to provide significant new features, while at the same time grow and mature already existing technology inside of modo. Here are some of the key features of modo 501. You can see a full list of improvements here.

  • Much faster rendering speeds (30% - 40%) with cleaner renders. "Faster and Cleaner," as Brad Peebler put it in his rendering demo.
  • Pixar Subdivision Surfaces – Pixar was an early adopter of modo and worked closely with Luxology to develop modo. Their subdivision surface method (Catmull-Clarke) reduces poly counts and allows for very smooth sculpting, especially in very tight spaces on a mesh. Many have remarked that this addition alone is worth the price of modo 501.
  • Multi-resolution Sculpting – With the new Pixar SubD surfaces, modo 501 allows the user to sculpt a model in varied resolutions with the benefit of preserving high-res details in a lower-res mesh. And you won't be adding extra geometry.
  • New RayGL Preview Render – Luxology added a new quick render for any viewport, which gives you the ability to check your render (or any section of your work) as you make adjustments. The render is very fast and updates on the fly as you make changes.
  • Modeling and Animation Updates – There are so many excellent updates in this area that it's hard to single out one particular feature. Luxology's "1-click" approach to its modeling toolset really shines here. Additions to animation include a new schematic viewport where you can set up animation rigs using Assembly Groups.
  • Completely Re-Written Inline Help System – For modo 501, Luxology completely rewrote their help documentation to provide simpler, less technical instruction. More instructional videos and a deeper help database are key elements.
  • OS X Cocoa 64-bit version of modo - Apple users can now use all of that extra RAM they've installed. modo 501 is now available in a 64-bit version for the Mac.

Using modo 501: The best modeling program available

modo 501 is a joy to use. Although the program allows you to adjust the interface to fit practically any configuration, there is a fundamental difference in how Luxology has conceived the workflow in modo, compared to other, more traditional 3D programs. Instead of providing you with a huge array of tools to do a specific task, modo gives you simple, yet powerful tools that you can combine to create literally anything you can imagine.

Using the concept of the "Workplane" and "Action Centers," modo lays out a simple, intuitive way to model something quickly and with more control than any other 3D application I've worked with. Adjusting subD's and adding loops/creases to a model is much, much easier for me using modo 501. The new inline help system lays out every step you need to take to model, texture and animate your work.

New RayGL rendering mode allows for very fast ray-traced renders of your scene as you model, move or change your scene

I love the fact that you can sculpt your model much like ZBrush. And painting directly on a 3D model and checking the near-final render in the new RayGL preview on any viewport is a real help to getting the look you want. I was impressed with how modo became a creative tool for me, as opposed to staring at a screen full of icons and trying to figure out what to do.

Rendering is also of extremely high quality in modo 501. The renderer is so good that modo is often used in the advertising industry to combine live action with a VFX environment. New improvements also in anti-aliasing, depth of field (very cool) and advanced camera settings.

I didn't have a chance to go too deeply into the animation functions in modo 501, although I did see a presentation on what you can do in creating simple rigs to animate for an instructional tech video. Animation has been an occasional sore spot for Luxology, because modo doesn't have a full suite of "character animation" tools. The idea being that somehow modo isn't a "full" 3D application because it's missing CA is simply not the case, according to Luxology CEO, Brad Peebler. At a November Press event in San Francisco, he said that a "full application is one that allows you to model, animate and render," and that modo users have been animating "like crazy" for years.

Still, the addition of character animation will open new doors for modo. Luxology has designed modo to fit into a pipeline, and its reputation as a modeler and its rendering is without peer. The company has carefully laid the foundation for adding things like dynamics and fluid simulation, so that they function with the same high quality as their rendering and modeling. This kind of development takes time, and since Luxology is in it for the long haul, they want to make sure what they add to the program makes sense and actually works as advertised.

New schematic viewport gives you the ability to view/create complex rigs for animation

Final Thoughts

modo 501 is the most impressive and enjoyable 3D program I've reviewed here at Renderosity. Its unique workflow and powerful tools have been carefully conceived and designed so that modeling, animating and rendering are much easier and more powerful than practically any other program on the market today. Add to this a rare corporate culture that is driven to serve the customers who use their product and you have what I think is THE model for a flexible and modern computer graphics company. Having met many of the Luxology staff personally, I believe Luxology is unique because it's people like us designing software that makes their work, and our work, easier. They create the kind of software that they want to use themselves.

modo 501 and Luxology have my very highest recommendation. Using modo is pure pleasure, but almost as enjoyable is becoming part of the Luxology community. Modcasts, content "kits," a free materials library, unmatched help in the forums, and even a local users group here in Los Angeles... I know of no other company that offers as much to the artists, students and professionals, either new to 3D, or pros looking for a fresh new look at 3D workflow.

Luxology has announced they are releasing a new version of modo (601) sometime in 2012. This release promises to be the most spectacular in modo's ten year history. Having had a glimpse of this new version, I can say with confidence this will be a breakthrough year for modo.

A beautiful render from the Studio Environment Set Kit 2 for modo. Image created by Jan Ove Rust


There are no special versions of modo. It is simply one, high-quality version for all. You can check the beautiful Luxology website for more info. You can purchase an individual license for modo 501 for $995 (USD); upgrade costs $395. Luxology offers variations on an individual license as well, including an educational version at $149 and a floating license for pros at $1,195. Full information on buying modo is here.

modo 501 is available for the PC or Mac, and when you buy a license it's for both versions. Hardware requirements can be found here. Luxology is customer friendly and does not require annual fees, a hardware dongle or upgrade fees for external rendering. This review was conducted on a mid-level, home built PC using an Intel CPU, 12 Gbs of Ram and a high-level Nvidia GPU on Windows 7, 64-bit operating system.

Luxology released an SDK (software development kit) for modo a few years ago and there are some excellent plug-ins that are now available. Look to see this area of modo development take off in the next year.

My sincere thanks to Heidi Lowell at Liason PR for her help and to the folks at Luxology, especially David Tracy, for discussing modo with me and for providing a copy of modo 501 for this review. Luxology invited me to a special 3-day Press Event recently that will remain one of the most enjoyable experiences in recent memory for me. Thank you so much!

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.




February 6, 2012

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Article Comments

26Fahrenheit ( posted at 8:28AM Sat, 11 February 2012

Modo is i think the most progressive 3D tool to date. If you are getting into 3D ..Modo is the one to check out And the after sales they give is great .. I spoke to Mr.peebler and other staff members and they give me as a user a feel that i matter.. That is something you mis with other firms in the 3D world .. Keep up MODO team !! up to the next 10 years Chris No 439 ;}

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