Pros: A novel and innovative hybrid 2D/2.5D/3D modelling, painting and rendering program with lightning fast, high-resolution polygon tools.
Cons: Steep learning curve and a convoluted workflow at times, plain polygon modelling tools are as yet a little unrefined.
It has been said that 3D graphics technology is stuck in a rut. Aside from the finer details of interface design and their tools, all of the major 3D programs are pretty much the same. They all make use of similar paradigms, similar ways of creating objects, texturing and rendering, and have done for years. It’s practically inconceivable to imagine a 3D program taking some other form. There have been a few minor diversions off the 3D motorway but never has there been one so tangential as ZBrush from Pixologic.
ZBrush explodes so many 3D conventions that it’s difficult to know where to start with it. It’s not even clear exactly what kind of program ZBrush is – is it a painting program, a deformation and 3D modifying tool, or is it a modelling application in its own right? It’s all those things and more. Seasoned 3D artists may find ZBrush a little difficult to get to grips with at first, but those that have successfully made the transition are producing 3D work that is quite astonishing (as evidenced by the gallery section in the Pixologic Web site).
ZBrush, in a nutshell, is a painting and modelling environment that combines 2D, 2.5D and 3D tools and can output bitmap images and 3D meshes. The 2D tools allows you to paint as you would in any other 2D applications, but things get interesting when you start exploring ZBrush’s Pixols technology which allows 2.5D painting – pixels that have depth information.
You can create images from a single perspective that seem like 3D models, paint positively or negatively onto existing pixols, change their colour and texture and the lighting too. You can also add simple 3D primitives and then drop them as pixols onto the canvas.
The transition from 2.5D to 3D is seamless in ZBrush, and the program has a dedicated toolset for modelling Subdivision Surface-style as well. You can import and deform objects using brushes, deforming modifiers and the like, but it’s the displacement mapping that is the most interesting and unusual aspect.
Using a set of tools and a workflow that is too complex to outline in depth here, it’s possible to create a 3D object, store it, convert it to pixols, paint to modify it then use this depth information as a displacement map back on the original mesh object. It’s a totally novel approach to working with very high-resolution and detailed models.
The next version of ZBrush will incorporate skinning and rigging tools as well, which looks very interesting indeed. As it stands ZBrush is a tool that any 3D artist would do well to check out.