3D Modeling with Clay: Mudbox

Far from being muddy, Mudbox 3D organic modeling software is clear crisp, and snappy to use. Released in Dec 06, Mudbox is already experiencing enormous respect from facilities worldwide for its intuitive UI and approach to organic modeling. If you’ve ever used Photoshop layers, you’ll love Mudbox and its natural way of building natural models.

Peter Konigs Scarface done in Mudbox

Skymatter is the maker of the 3D software Mudbox, an advanced 3D sculpting software. The company was co-founded by Tibor Madjar, Andrew Camenisch, and Dave Cardwell, are professional CG artists formerly with Weta Digital. We spoke with Andrew Camenisch who was Facial setup lead on King Kong at Weta before the three friends broke away to finish developing Mudbox. The product actually started as a side project, towards the end of Lord of the Rings the three decided “in our spare time – almost just for fun – we tried to see what we could do,” jokes Camenisch, ” and it wasn’t until about a year later that we formed the company”.

Mudbox is a high level brush based modeling program built from the ground up by production professionals for their own day to day use. It is based on their own experience working on projects such as Lord of the Rings and King Kong. Already Mudbox is a primary tool at many film studios and production facilities, including Weta Digital, Blur Studio, Cinesite, Naughty Dog (a subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment), Tippett Studio, Epic Studios, The Orphanage, Radical Entertainment, and many others. Mudbox has been adopted widely in both the effects and gaming industries. The program has full HDR – 32 bit , 16 bit and 8 bit support.

Fausto DeMartini in Mudbox
The Final Model

3D layering is much like 2D layering found in programs like Photoshop – so you can divide up the various detail layers of your sculpt into actual layers, and non-destructively edit and adjust the values and the intensity of the details, “there are many uses of it, you can use it for example facial morph targets for 3D characters” explains Camenisch. “This allows for experimentation, it is great for character design so you can explore different directions and then based on your clients or art directors direction mix or combine those into new scuplts”, he adds. The layers can be re-layered, mixed and merge them, extremely quickly. It is SO useful it is a little hard to believe that someone had not developed this concept before. And easy of use is a huge aspect of MudBox.

Jason Bickerstaff works on an Ear

Programs such as this have been previously difficult to use, and Mudbox has been winning praise from artists for its ease of use. Something that is often claimed by equipment manufacturers but may very well be completely true in Mudbox’s case. The program is beyond easy to use, it’s fun.

“Mudbox is a brilliantly designed, brush-based modeling package,” commented Sven Jensen, senior character modeler at Academy Awar -winning Tippett Studio in Berkeley, CA. “The addition of Photoshop style layering for displacements is nothing short of genius. The amazing brushes,stencils, and mirroring capabilities make for a powerhouse program.”

Image scrubing via stencils

To make the program a joy to use speed was a primary issue. Without interactivity the product would not be nearly as creative, “it is one of the fastest high resolution modelers on the market” points out Camenisch proudly.

Some artists have claimed it is like modeling with Clay, and yet for some people ‘clay’ modeling style techniques are offputting – as making a great real sculpture with clay is actually quite difficult. “To address the user who does not to, or who doesn’t feel comfortable with the straight clay style approach, what we offer in MudBox is 3D stencils, so you can import photographs or real images into the environment and sculpt
in real images,” says Camenisch.

“We are about to announces a relationship with XYZRGB. They are going to provide a number of images from very high quality scans which means for example you can scrub in the texture or scales of a Lizard on to your model right in Mudbox.” He goes on to add “we also put a lot of effort into our brush code, .. and certainly one problem with digital sculpting has been a sort of blobby surface, so we spent a lot of time on making fast, very sharp and precise brushes”. The fast high-quality 3D brushes, includes the Mudbox Scratch brush, enable artists to sculpt sharp forms on dense models at any speed without that ” blobby stamping artists hate.”

Modeled by Mauro Baldissera

Another innovation is “Tangent Space” symmetry enables symmetrical sculpting on asymmetrical models. An industry first, this unique capability saves time and offers a production-tested technique for working efficiently on posed or asymmetrical models. “you can actually work on posed models and not just symmetrical models”, explains Camenisch, “in fact when we show it to people they almost don’t believe it”.

As of Feb. the company offers a free trial of the software, with all the capabilities of the professional version and can be downloaded here. Unlike some other companies – Mudbox encourage use of the trail version in production, they feel ” it needs to be production tested” ends Camenisch.

The software is normally around $650, with a basic version available for $299. There is also an academic pricing. Mudbox will next be at the Siggraph trade show.