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Software Review – Autodesk Mudbox, Softimage, And MotionBuilder 2012

The Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites give artists and production facilities a full set of tools all in one package. There are two suites, one that includes Autodesk Maya, and one that includes Autodesk 3DS Max. The Standard option gives you Autodesk Mudbox, and Autodesk MotionBuilder. With the Premium option, you also have access to Autodesk Softimage. This review covers all three products.

Mudbox 2012

Mudbox is a brush based 3D sculpting and painting application built to address the needs of digital sculpters 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 that 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.

So what is new with Mudbox 2012?

• UV-Less painting – means that texture artists are no longer required to create UV’s before painting in Mudbox. Now even complex assets comprised of multiple meshes can simply be loaded, and painted right away.

• Large texture datasets – can now be created because of software advances to improve texture and tile management. Now it is possible to paint and manage large datasets and create the very detailed, high-quality assets, that required by today’s demanding productions. Artists can display and paint hero assets with hundreds of texture maps consisting of billions of texels.

• Paint Layer Masks – and Blend Modes give you the ability to combine and edit paint in powerful nondestructive ways, with new layer masks for paint. Furthermore, 22 new layer blend modes help extend artistic possibilities and offer significantly enhanced compatibility with Adobe Photoshop software.

• Editable stencils – give you the ability to create or edit stencils in Mudbox to create custom stencils for sculpting and texturing using any image. You can make use of available images to rub or project detail onto models, with the new ability to deform stencils to align their texture data to underlying model features. Also, artists can modify existing stencil images or paint new stencils, and tileable stencils can be painted with ease.

• Single-step suites interoperability – gives you the ability to work more efficiently with other products in the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2012, with the new ability to round-trip data with Maya 2012, 3ds Max 2012, and Autodesk Softimage 2012 software.

• Performance improvements – include the ability to paint and sculpt at higher resolutions, save scenes with texture data in less time, create, select, and duplicate paint layers more interactively, and load dense OBJ meshes more quickly.

• New brushes – and brush options include the ability to apply a single brushstroke across multiple objects, create unique shapes as you form the silhouette of your model when using the two new grab brush options, and falloff based on facing angle lets you lessen the effect of a Paint or Sculpt brush based on how faces are tipped away from the camera.

• Multiple joints – lets you create, manage, and weight multiple joints to quickly and easily deform and pose full figure models. Artists can now create symmetrical pairs of joints, while joint hierarchies can be created automatically based on influenced vertices.

• Pose presets – Work with multiple poses nondestructively, with the new ability to store joint transforms as presets.

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.

Softimage 2012

Autodesk Softimage 2012 software extends the capabilities of existing content creation pipelines for today’s demanding television, games, and film projects. Building on the power and flexibility of the Interactive Creation Environment (ICE), Softimage 2012 introduces a new procedural modeling paradigm; adds integrated support for Syflex cloth using ICE and Lagoa Multiphysics solvers – and provides easier access to a wider range of effects and rendered looks.

So what is new with Softimage 2012?

• ICE modeling – lets you build or modify polygon mesh topology procedurally. You can do things like generate multiple instances with individual variations, build structures that follow terrain, shatter objects based on an animatable controller, and achieve many other effects by building custom compounds.

• Improved user experience – offers a wide range of small-scale enhancements to day-today workflows including Explorer, Schematic View, Scene Layer Manager, Render Tree, Bone Primitive, Reference Models and the Weight Editor.

• Lagoa multiple physics – is a simulation framework helps artists create realistic simulations of the dynamic behavior of liquids, cloth, foam, plastic, soft body collisions as well as incompressible fluids, inelastic, elastic and plastic deformations.

• Enhanced interoperability – gives you the ability to work more efficiently with other products in the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2012, with the new ability to round-trip data with Maya 2012, 3ds Max 2012, and Autodesk Softimage 2012 software.

• Vector Displacement Map Support – gives you the ability to render complex high-resolution details created in Mudbox on low-resolution geometry using mental ray rendering technology

• Stereoscopic support – is now available for the creation of stereoscopic renderings featuring an in-viewport stereoscopic viewer and camera rig.

• ICE FX Builder – is a new module menu toolbar automatically connects compounds and nodes, enabling simple modification and extension of effects using the standard editing workflow.

Some of these items like the Lagoa were included as a plugin to the 2011.5 release, but now have been incorporated to the product. This release shows the continued expansion of ICE as well as the GigCore 3D engine which bodes well for this product.

MotionBuilder 2012

Autodesk MotionBuilder 2012 software delivers new tools to better facilitate virtual movie-making and performance animation productions, together with more efficient multi-application workflows with other products in the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2012. Thanks to its stereoscopic toolsets and new ways to handle valuable supporting video and audio material from motion capture sessions, MotionBuilder 2012 helps studios capitalize on recent entertainment trends.

So what is new with MotionBuilder 2012?

• Stereo Support – that is based on the Maya/Flame default stereo camera rig. You can now author and view stereoscopic content in MotionBuilder. Thanks to its stereoscopic toolsets and new ways to handle valuable supporting video and audio material from motion capture sessions, MotionBuilder 2012 helps studios capitalize on recent entertainment trends.

• Enhanced UI – through the use of a new color scheme and functionality. MotionBuilder has adopted a Dark Look UI to be consistent with other Autodesk applications. Also, you can now dock and undock UI elements around different parts of the UI by dragging and dropping their dotted edges.

• F-Curve Editor Enhancements – have been added to MotionBuilder to be more consistent with other Autodesk applications. These include – enhanced multi-point editing, isolate selected curves – isolate only the curves you want to work with, and new auto tangent type that replaces the Bezier-Auto and Bezier-Clamp options.

• HumanIK Unification – makes working with characters much easier with a unified interface and solver for Autodesk HumanIK, and updated Character Controls and Characterization tools. In addition, those who use the HumanIK 4.5 or 2012 middleware solution will benefit from enhanced consistency between MotionBuilder and their games engine.

• Live Video In – lets you use a webcam with MotionBuilder. If your device is properly configured on your system, it will appear in the Videos section of the Scene Browser when you launch MotionBuilder. To begin recording live video, enable the online option in the webcam’s settings area.

• Audio Per Take – gives you the new ability to handle separate audio files per take. This enables you to switch between multiple takes and automatically change the audio file to match.

• Single-Step Interoperability – gives a more seamless workflow with new single-step interoperability between MotionBuilder and Maya or 3ds Max.

Even though there is a short feature list for this upgrade of MotionBuilder, the stereo support is a significant one in that it affects the increasing presence of stereoscopic 3D and its growth in the industry. This will be one that will seriously affect the creation of content.

While the changes in Mudbox, Softimage, and MotionBuilder are not as dramatic as they were with Maya 2012, taken as a whole they combine to make a pretty significant impact to the creation suite overall. If you use these tools for your everyday work, then I think that this is a must have upgrade, if you are needing tools like this and are looking to get in a full blown system, then I highly recommend the Autodesk Maya 2012 Entertainment Creation Suite Premium.

About T. Michael Testi

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

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