ZBrush 4R4 is the latest update from Pixologic of their digital sculpting tool that makes 3D/2.5D modeling easy. Unlike most other 3D tools, ZBrush uses techniques that are more like sculpting and integrates it with texturing and painting. ZBrush is an application that was created by artists for artists and since 1999, it has been helping both digital hobbyists as well as professionals from over 10 industries to expand their world of creativity.
ZBrush has been used for a wide variety of digital creations that include movies, games, and animations. Some of these include “Avatar”, “Lord of the Rings”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Gears of War”, “Assassins Creed”, and “Uncharted”.
ZBrush uses a proprietary ‘pixol’ technology which stores much of the information for all of the objects on the screen. Similar to a pixel, each pixol contains information on the x and y position and color value. A pixol also has a Z position that contains information on depth, orientation, and material.
The main user interface is very customizable and it allows you to move things in and out of what are called shelves – side bars that can collapse away when you need more space and reappear when you need them. The tools are stored on palettes which you pull down and put on the shelves. There are a set of predefined configurations that are available, but you can also create your own to match your workflow. You can even adjust the coloring scheme. This can be really handy if you work on different types of projects like animation for some, and sculpting for others.
ZBrush uses Subdivision Levels to detail your sculpting from the macro to the micro levels. Since, in most cases, you are dealing with more than two dimensions, working with subdivisions lets you zoom in on a 3D model. By subdividing, you quadruple the mesh resolution giving you much finer control over what you sculpt. Subdividing again, gives even more. So that when you want really fine control on your brush strokes you can have it, but, since ZBrush retains the previous levels, if you need to go back and adjust something on a broader basis, you can zoom back out and make those adjustments.
Another core piece is that of the brushes. This is what you use to actually sculpt your design. Through the use of adjustments, strokes, masking, and other techniques, you can mold your creation to life. With over 200 brushes that ship with ZBrush you have a lot to work with in developing your creations. With the fact that you can create brushes, your abilities are limitless.
Other unique features of ZBrush include Polypaint – which allows you to paint on an objects surface without assigning a texture map, Transpose – which allows you to isolate a part of the model and pose it without the need of skeletal rigging, ZSpheres – which allows you to create a base mesh with clean topology and then convert it into a sculpt-able model, and DynaMesh which lets you focus only on the visual aspects of your model, without worrying about its underlying geometry. To find out what it takes to run ZBrush check out Pixologics system specs page for what it takes to run ZBrush 4R4.
So what is new with ZBrush 4r4?
• QRemesher plugin – provides high quality and automatic retopology of your model. It can be applied to the entire figure or restricted to specific areas. While listed as a plugin, it is really integrated into ZBrush. It is an automatic remeshing/retopologizing function and it comes with a number of user controls to enhance its automated retopology systems. QRemesher does for your topology what UV Master did for UV mapping. It removes yet another creative barrier that often stands in the way of true artistic freedom. With QRemesher you can focus even more on the creative process of model creation and leave the technical hurdles behind. Special automasking and other control features including curve guides let you control the retopology, when necessary, to get the best results quickly and easily.
• Topology brush – is a work on the fly method to control topology. It gives you manual control over topology creation and can be useful for those times when you wish to re-topologize your work with demanding precision. It can be used for props, accessories, or even doing a 100% controlled retopology of your models. What this brush essentially does is to draw curves on the model and snaps them to the surface. Unlike with the other Curve brushes, the ones created with these cannot be edited on the surface of the model, they can only be deleted. When any curve intersects with another curve a green dot will be displayed. When either a triangle or a quadrangle is created you can just click on the mesh and create the new topology.
• Mesh Fusion – gives you the ability to replace a group of your model’s polygons with another fully detailed mesh. The inserted or replacement part does not need to be completely on the surface of the support mesh. ZBrush will close any gaps and clean it up with clean quad geometry. You can control how the connection is done with options in the geometry settings. Your main options are smooth or hard transitions.
• Full process history – gives you the ability to undo up to 10,000 times. This History is saved as part of the ZBrush Project format, meaning that your steps will be maintained even across multiple sessions. A History slider makes it easy to scrub through your Undo History, you can play through the steps like a movie. In fact, this feature also gives you the ability to replay the entire construction of your model as a movie.
• Curves functions – have been improved and enhanced to support new possibilities’ that will benefit features like the InsertMesh and Topology brushes. In fact, these curves can operate quite differently than prior versions of ZBrush. Included are controls to create more accurate curves, moving the curves along a surface, extending or shrinking a curve, deleting a curve, adding to the middle of a curve, and more.
• New MultiMeshInsert brush – can contain several meshes that are ready to be inserted individually or randomly. This brush is able to draw from a catalog of pre-built objects. Rather than sculpting the same item multiple times, you can model it once and then reuse it in all your creations. All that you do is select any object from within the brush and insert it into your model.
• Insert brush creation – gives you the ability to create Insert brushes from your current tool with a single click, or you can create MultiMesh Insert brushes from your SubTools, you can even use the brush Imbed setting to define the depth of the insertion. The Insert brushes now use the Z Intensity setting to apply a squash factor along the insertion normal.
• DynaMesh Booleans – let you use DynaMesh to add, subtract, or intersect when merging multiple SubTools. The DynaMesh resolution has been increased to 2048 and you can also convert inserted meshes from positive to negative.
• Improved Transposed – now lets the new action line display X, Y, and Z axis as well as having integrated Inflate and Flatten functions. It provides a world axis selector so that you can switch to any working plane orientation with a single click, or snap the Action Line to your surface normal anywhere on the model.
• Floor Grid with reference images – gives you the ability to load images onto the working plane grids to help create a model based on blueprints or other references.
• Other new features include:
– Brush projection Strength function conforms the inserted mesh to the underlying surface.
– You can now provide your name and website info to a brush before exporting and sharing it with the community.
– Mask Peaks and Valleys function detects portions of the mesh with the greatest detail density. This function is used internally by QRemesher but is also available for general use via the AutoMasking options.
– New Vibrant Shadows and AO setting generates more strongly color-saturated shadows.
– The Background image can now be tilted.
– The Background image may now be synchronized with your model’s rotation.
– Vector Displacement map export quality has been improved.
– UV Offset has been added in the Preferences palette’s Export options for use with Vector Displacement
– .EXR File format has been added for Vector Displacement maps.
– GoZ now supports Maya 2013 and Luxology modo 601. (Note: modo 601 on OSX requires a manual update when importing a model.
– New SubTool commands Delete All and Delete Other help to quickly clean your projects.
– Improved notification when saving large projects. (2Gb to 4Gb)
– Improved overall Projection speed.
ZBrush is really fun and easy to work with. There are times that the way things are done are different than some programs – such as the way you scroll through tools by using the mouse to drag along instead of a scroll bar, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes pretty natural. Pixologic has a lot of online support available through videos, documentation, forums, and user groups as well.
I personally like the layout structure and the use of the collapsible shelves that make it very easy to clean up your user interface to provide more space as you work. The way that you can pull the pallets down and have them there for the ready when you need them, it all flows really well.
With the new additions, ZBrush 4R4 is really a very strong update with the QRemesher, the Topology brush, Mesh Fusion, the Multi Mesh Insert brush, the undo, the improved Curves, and all of the other updates to this version.
Of these, I think the Mesh Fusion is going to be big – a simple concept that will save people a lot of time in creation of their designs. Another is the movement of Curves into things like the Mesh Insert Brush. I think those two alone make this worth the upgrade, but when you add in all of the other features, this is really a no brainer. If you are thinking of upgrading to ZBrush 4R4, or especially if you are thinking of taking the plunge into ZBrush 4R4, then I can very highly recommend it.