Review: Autodesk's Mudbox 2016
Staff Writer By: Sergio Rosa (nemirc)
Very recently, Autodesk released the latest version of Mudbox, a 3D sculpting, and painting application. With Mudbox, you can affect the geometry of your model (sculpting), and extract that data as displacement or normal maps, as well as paint your textures directly onto your objects.
Basic Mudbox workflow consists of bringing your 3d model into the application, add detail to it using the sculpt tools, and then paint textures using the paint tools. The software includes support for layers, and I would advise you to use them since they allow you to add sculpted or painted details on top of each other, disable them at will and overall having more control as to how things work.
You can export the painted layers as a Photoshop document, and thanks to the dynamic link between them, anything you change in Photoshop is reflected back inside Mudbox. On the other hand, you can "bake" your sculpted layers as a flattened displacement map or normal map. This is extremely useful since you can add detail to your models without actually modeling those details inside Maya or Max.
In the case of displacement maps, the 3d application of your choice subdivides the mesh when you hit the "render" button and adds the required detail. In case of normal maps, they only give the illusion of geometry displacement without the need to actually subdivide the geometry.
What's New in Mudbox
Mudbox is the kind of tool that gets small but useful updates on every release. This means you usually don't get game changing features in every release, unlike Maya or Max. However, it is still very useful since it can be very useful for animation or game development.
This release features a couple of new things that can be very useful. The one I'd like to mention first is the new falloff modes. Now, you can select the falloff type when sculpting, depending on the results you want. You can select between surface, volume, and surface/volume. Basically, what they do is affect the sculpting tool falloff, so it calculates the distance based on a volume, or along a surface. The explanation is a little difficult to grasp, so it's better to use an image.
In the image I illustrate the falloff in Maya. You can see on one side the falloff affects the head of the model, while on the other side it runs along the surface.
Now, when you use the Grab Tool, you can set it up so that it will twist the surface as you drag it. This can be useful if you want to apply twisting deformations along your surface, for example, to add folds and things like that. Finally, Mudbox 2016 includes a Relax Tool. This tool can be used to average the vertices along the surface so you can even out the distance between them in the specific area you're painting.
Tablet users can now take advantage of the multi-touch gesture support in Mudbox 2016. I don't have a tablet myself, so I can't test that feature, unfortunately.
As a game developer working on 3d games, should you get Mudbox? To tell the truth, it depends on the kind of games you make. If you work on games with very simple graphics, or graphics that don't require a lot of detail, maybe you can consider Mudbox for your texturing needs, but not so much for detailing, since you won't need that. However, if you need to add detail to your models without actually modeling that detail, Mudbox can help a great deal. Personally, I have never used similar applications (like ZBrush), but I think Mudbox has a very mature texture baker, and you can get extremely good results.
Texture painting in Mudbox is more related to the pre-rendered side of things. You are able to paint color, specular, normal, reflection mask, opacity maps, among others, but if you're using a PBR game engine, what you see in Mudbox may not be what you see in your engine since Mudbox rendering engine is not PBR. You can, however, approximate the look of your model with the different lighting and viewport filters.
Keep in mind you can always try out Mudbox for free. If you need 3d texture painting and normal/displacement map creation, you should definitely try it out to see if it fits your needs. Mudbox can be acquired as a stand-alone application or as part of the Entertainment Creation Suite. There's also a 30-day free trial of Mudbox you can download here. Full system requirements are here. Mudbox runs on Windows, Apple and Linux operating systems.
Visit Autodesk's Mudbox page for complete information.
Mudbox Overview Video