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Software Review: Autodesk Mudbox 2011

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Mudbox is a brush-based 3D sculpting and painting application built to address the needs of digital sculptors and texture artists. Mudbox was first used to help in the 2005 Peter Jackson remake of King Kong and was created to accelerate the design and sculpting efforts.

It gives digital modelers the ability to manipulate digital surfaces in an organic manner either imported from existing files or generated using one of the basic sculpt templates provided with Mudbox. Completed models can be exported from Mudbox to be lit and rendered in other 3D applications.

It is through the use of a simplified interface that allows for more an intuitive experience in your modeling and Mudbox, gives you the ability to create and render complex details much easier with less of a learning curve. Designed by professional artists from the game, film, television and design industry, the Mudbox goal is to create production grade 3D artwork.

Mudbox 2011What do you need to run Mudbox 2011?
• Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 3, Windows Vista Business with Service Pack 1, or Windows 7
• Mac OS X v10.6.2
• Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon 64 processor
• 2GB RAM
• 650 MB hard-disk space for program installation
• OpenGL graphics card
• DVD-ROM drive

So what is new with Mudbox 2011?
• Posing Toolkit – now has more tools to help you quickly and easily pose and deform models. You have the ability to pose a character to change its design, access occluded regions on a model to more easily sculpt or prepare it for texture extraction, present your characters for review, approval, or prepare them for map extraction. There are tools to edit joints and the ability to import weighted skeletons from other 3D applications.

• Paint Brushes – have been improved and new brushes added to your Paint Tools tray to help your 3D paint, texturing, and effects work. These include Blur, Dodge, Blur, Contrast, Sponge, Hue, Hue Shift, and Invert. These brushes enable existing image data under the brush to be altered or enhanced – for example, color-corrected, brightened, or softened. These brushes work much in the same way that similar tools work in other popular image editing applications.

Mudbox 2011 • Texture Extraction – lets you extract maps through a new Vector Displacement method. These maps contain both height and directional information for each pixel which provides the ability to represent sculpted features that do not follow the norm, allowing you to more faithfully create more complex shapes than you normally could. This feature will let you add things like a third arm to a character and make it look much more realistic.

• Paint Texture Maps in 2D – by using the Flattening to a UV space feature that creates the model with vertex positions that are identical to the UVs on the original so that you can paint or edit the textures on a flattened representation. This is a major benefit because sometimes it is easier to paint textures in 2D format and through Mudbox you don't lose the benefits of working in a 3D environment.

• Paint Layer Blend Modes – lets you modify the way a paint layer is combined with another that appears below it in the layer stack. This is useful for lightening, darkening, and adjusting the contrast of the paint/texture layers in relation to other layers. These blend modes are non-destructive and do not change the image data on the paint layers.

• Enhanced Interoperability – means that transferring your work between Mudbox and Maya is much faster to launch the other application and load the files in one easy operation. In addition, Displacement and Normal maps extracted in Mudbox are now associated with models when an Autodesk FBX 2011 file is exported, helping to eliminate the need to manually reassemble the asset when brought into in another program.

Mudbox 2011

• Paint Channel interoperability – with Adobe Photoshop will let you export multiple paint layers within a paint channel (Diffuse, Gloss, Bump, etc) in one operation. This provides much faster turnaround between the two and gives you a better ability to take advantage of the more powerful features in each application.

• Record Movies – using two new movie recording features. Record a sculpting and painting session in Mudbox and export the recording to a movie. Recorded sessions can be used to share workflows, teach techniques, and showcase talent.

• Enhanced Color Chooser – will let you store and recall recently-used colors and user-defined palettes, and work in a choice of color spaces using the same new color chooser as Maya 2011.

• 64-bit support – for both the Mac and Windows 7. Mudbox 2011 has new 64-bit executables on Mac OS X and Windows 7 operating systems providing more addressable memory to more easily handle the increasingly detailed models required by today’s challenging productions.

Mudbox 2011 is very easy to install and it provides a very intuitive interface that takes a lot of the learning curve out of modeling in 3D. This version has been overhauled making it a very significant upgrade from the previous version which was released around a year ago.

Mudbox 2011

The already intuitive 3D Paint system has been revamped with new tools and a better color chooser, the paint layer blending, and an incandescence texture. Then you add to that the interactivity with Adobe Photoshop and the new 2D painting, this alone makes it worth the upgrade.

Then you also add the new posing tools, a better work flow, and vector displacements, this becomes a very important upgrade. If you are looking to upgrade to the state of the art sculpting system, or are ready to take the plunge for the first time, I very highly recommend Mudbox 2011.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.