Autodesk Mudbox 2011 review

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  • Price When Reviewed: $745 (£520)

  • Pros: Improved 3D painting, new 2D painting, new posing tools, new vector displacement, enhanced sculpting performance, 64 bit Mac support

  • Cons: No UV editing tools, posing tools take some getting used to, vector displacement cannot be easily used outside of Mudbox.

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With less than a year since Mudbox 2010 was released, Autodesk rolled out Mudbox 2011 this April. Mudbox 2011 is a key upgrade featuring major improvements in the 3D paint system, new posing tools, enhanced sculpting workflow, and vector displacement maps among other new features.

Mudbox’s intuitive, production-level 3D paint system rivals that found in competitors BodyPaint 3D and Deep Paint 3D. In Mudbox 2011 the 3D paint system has been overhauled with the addition of new tools and an enhanced colour chooser, paint layer blending modes, a new incandescence texture, improved Photoshop interoperability, and new 2D painting.

The additions to the paint tools are image and colour adjustment tools rather then paint brushes. Blur, Dodge, Burn, Contrast, and Sponge easily manage properties like brightness, saturation, and contrast, similar to their counterparts in programs like Photoshop, while Hue, Hue Shift, and Invert adjust colour properties. In response to user requests Mudbox ships with a new Maya-like colour chooser that makes it easy to select and store colours from various colour spaces.

Mudbox’s paint layers now feature four new blending modes; Multiply, Add, Screen and Overlay. Like the blending modes in image editing programs, Mudbox’s blending modes control how paint layers interact and are ultimately composited. This release also features a new incandescence texture that specifies the brightness of a colour, independent of scene lighting.

Mudbox 2010 introduced a seamless workflow from Mudbox’s paint system to Photopshop and back again. In Mudbox 2011 the interoperability with Photoshop has been enhanced with the ability to export and import multiple paint layers as Photoshop layers. The flow to and from Photoshop has also been tweaked to better manage the export and import process.

Paint in 2D

While previous versions of Mudbox permitted precise 3D painting there was no way to paint in 2D in Mudbox itself. 2D painting is sometimes preferable to 3D painting in specific circumstances. Mudbox 2011 fixes this issue with the new Flatten to UV Space command which unfolds the model to 2D space using its UV coordinates. The paint tools may then be applied on the flattened version. When finished simply apply Unflatten from UV Space and 3D painting may continue.

From its initial release under the Autodesk banner Mudbox has featured a powerful and intuitive sculpting toolset. Though it may seem as though not much has changed, Mudbox 2011 continues the trend of improved sculpting performance with important management enhancements for scenes with multiple objects. Also the sculpting workflow is improved with the ability to mirror and flip sculpted detail via Sculpt layer options.

In previous releases of Mudbox there was no way to pose or deform models. To solve this problem Mudbox 2011 ships with new posing tools. Models may be posed or deformed by placing joints and adjusting weights and pivots. In addition, models that have been rigged with weighted skeletons in applications like Maya or 3ds Max can be imported into Mudbox via FBX, and the weighted skeletons used to pose the model.

In addition to normal and displacement maps Mudbox 2011 can now extract vector displacement maps (VDM) from sculpted details. Standard displacement maps are limited to displacements along the normal, which can be problematic with certain types of topology. While VDMs can displace in any direction faithfully capturing details such as deep folds, undercuts, and overhangs. Creating VDMs is a straightforward process. However, applying VDM’s outside of Mudbox requires a custom mental ray shader or the Renderman render engine.

However, one of the more interesting applications of VDMs is that they may be used within Mudbox as stamps or stencils to facilitate sculpting complex shapes such as human ears, to sculpt repetitive shapes such as folds, or to enhance the function of existing sculpt tools.

While Mubox is a top-notch sculpting and 3D/2D painting solution there is still some room for improvement. Mudbox’s materials do not support transparency, a feature common in most 3D applications. Also Mudbox does not have true UV editing tools. At the very least Mudbox should have the tools do basic UV editing.

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