ZBrush 4.0 review
We put the leading digital sculpting application’s improved features and new functionality through their paces.
Price: $699 | Developer: Pixologic | Platform: Windows/Mac
- PolyPainting layers
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In 2009, Pixologic whetted our appetites for this highly anticipated release with ZBrush 3.5, featuring a host of fantastic new tools for creating geometry directly inside the program, sculpting hard-surface forms, and such advanced mesh-editing functionality as GroupLoops.
ZBrush 4.0 finds these tools further developed and defined, with added functionality and streamlined workflows: many of the tools introduced in 3.5 have matured into a cohesive, streamlined, and effective working methodology.
What’s equally important is that ZBrush 4.0 also adds some incredible new options like GoZ, Spotlight, PolyPainting layers and Timeline.
One of the most exciting and versatile new features is ShadowBox, a method of creating geometry inside ZBrush by painting contours from front, side and top views.
The artist can simply define the shape with a masking brush and see the geometry take form.
It has never been easier to generate complex shapes on the fly. You can even project images onto the ShadowBox using Spotlight to create complex shapes from layout design drawings or reference photos.
ShadowBox allows you to easily create geometry by drawing on the front, side and top views of a cube
ShadowBox works particularly well with the Matchmaker brush. This new feature takes one piece of geometry and
conforms it to another without distorting the original shape. It’s is incredibly useful for conforming plates of armour, machined panels, or any number of other details that you want to lay perfectly against each other.
This kind of workflow would be complex and difficult using NURBS or polygon modelling techniques.
ZBrush 4.0 allows the creation of denser quad composition meshes, so it also features new tools to make working with the resulting, more involved geometry easier.
The Relax modifier helps clean up shapes created using the Clip brushes.
GroupLoops allows you to isolate and manipulate defined areas on the mesh. Of course, objects can also be remeshed with retopology, to create an animation-ready piece, or decimated to a more manageable (but no less detailed) polygon count using the Decimation Master plug-in.
Intuitive modelling and painting tools
While ZBrush 3.5 introduced hard-surface sculpting, the new tools weren’t intuitive, which made them difficult to understand and master. Happily, Pixologic has pushed the tools’ functionality to provide a logical, intuitive, and simple workflow for creating hard-surface shapes.
The most exciting development in the hard-surface arsenal are the Clip brushes. These allow you to define hard, machined edges by simply dragging a curve or marquee to define where you want to slice through the geometry.
The Clip brushes will slice off parts of the mesh at perfect, curve-defined angles. These shapes can be further refined using the Trim brushes, to create complex bevels and fillets with the ease of freehand sculpting.
Pixologic’s maturation of the tools introduced with ZBrush 3.5 has turned them into a solid and workable suite that’s sure to redefine what users think is possible inside the application.
One new, much-requested feature will likely prove to be a big hit with all users. PolyPaint can now be broken into layers, making it possible to create a separate layer for every colour pass.
This allows you to mix and match different skin colour passes or create a layer for a metal texture – for instance, one for damage and wear, and another for decals and logos.
The layer opacity defines how the colour information displays. It’s even possible to paint colour and sculpt into the same layer, then break them into two separate colours and paint layers with nothing more than a single click of the Split button.
Another major innovation is Timeline. Although this may appear to be an animation tool inside ZBrush, Pixologic stresses that it’s actually much more and this proves to be true.
This tool enables you to record frames with changes, over time, among any number of ZBrush settings.
It can be used to store changes in a ZSphere rig, transpose poses, camera position and settings, PolyPaint, or a myriad other ZBrush elements. In short, if you can change it in ZBrush, you can likely add it to the Timeline.
This not only makes it possible to create elaborate animations, but also it allows you to essentially replace the layers menu with an infinite number of variations. You can even store render settings on frames and page between each one.
This is extremely useful as a design tool to show off a proof of concept or variations within anatomical designs.
Many artists will seize the chance to take their design sculpt and add some basic motion, in order to help explain and illustrate the biomechanics of the creature they’re designing.
Tools of this nature require a creative approach to fully grasp their value.
If you take the view that Timeline is just an animation tool, you’ll miss out on the useful and unconventional applications it provides.
Another added benefit of using Timeline, as opposed to layers, is that the storage file size is dramatically lower.
Projects can now also be saved, with all of their settings, in a single file.
The saveable settings include the document size, camera position, material, textures and Timeline keyframes. The default save method is now to use projects, but you can still manually save just a ZTool, although the benefits in doing so are negligible.
When saving any project or ZTool, the program now writes into a temp folder, where files are verified before they’re written to the actual save file.
This drastically reduces file corruption, which has been a problem in previous versions.
A Recovery File option is now accessible under Preferences, so if you do encounter a crash ZBrush will attempt to save your current file in the root directory.
New brushes and masking
The new modifiers and auto masks are extremely handy. The latter include Topological Masking, which is best represented by the Move Topological brush.
Move Topological shifts faces based on their proximity in the mesh itself, rather than each other. For instance, this allows you to move an upper lip without accidentally grabbing the lower one.
Topological masking works for all brushes so you can now easily mask one’s effect to just those faces that are adjacent to it on the mesh.
This can really help with any other areas where different body parts are in close proximity.
Other brush variations include Move Elastic, which pulls the mesh longer distances without distorting, and Move Parts,
which allows you to reposition separate pieces by isolating any objects within a mesh that aren’t connected.
Another real time-saving addition is the Contact tool, which enables you to define anchor points between subtools so that, say, the eyes will follow a posed head without the need to use the Transpose Master.
This is very convenient when you want to move just one or two subtools at a time and don’t want to convert the whole mesh to a TPoseMesh.
Contact also makes it possible to ‘animate’ models using multiple subtools on the Timeline.
Masking has now been moved from a simple brush option into an altogether new selection process, which allows for a much greater functionality.
The masking bushes are still selected from the brush menu but the control key is used to activate them. Masking brushes will now work in symmetry when you drag a lasso or marquee.
There are also new strokes for the masking brush, such as curve, circle, lasso and square, which are very useful for creating mechanical forms, especially in ShadowBox. Selection marquees are also now classed as brushes, which may take some getting used to, but the change does allow for more masking and selection options.
Spotlight is a new texturing tool - here you can see photo reference materials loaded into its viewport
Another major addition to the ZBrush workflow is a texturing tool called Spotlight. This has been designed to streamline the process of bringing multiple images into ZBrush, manipulating them, and projecting them onto your sculpt as textures or masks.
You can even use Spotlight in conjunction with Timeline, to create reference image planes in the document window and store model positions in relation to the planes.
This new tool saves with all the image data included at full resolution so you can have Spotlights which you open for various projects that contain all your favourite reference for a particular subject.
For example, you could set up a skin Spotlight, as well as ones for various types of animals and characters, which would enable you to keep all your favourite reference in one file, ready to load into ZBrush and use as needed.
Spotlight even contains a suite of photo-editing tools which can reduce the need to call up Photoshop at all.
For those who still like to use it for texturing, the ZAppLink plug-in is available as an open beta for ZBrush 4.0.
Better colour-map support
- Multi Map allows you to extract Displacement, Normal, Texture, Ambient Occlusion and Cavity maps with a single click
Replacing the MultiDisplacement plug-in used in previous versions of ZBrush, the Multi Map Exporter tool is available as a free download from Pixologic.
With just one click, Multi Map will extract and export displacement, normal, colour texture from PolyPaint, ambient occlusion, cavity maps and meshes.
Multi Map allows you to extract multiple colour maps for UV regions, which means that, for the first time, ZBrush can support UV space outside 0 to 1 for colour texture maps.
When you consider that HD geometry supports PolyPaint, this is extremely powerful.
For instance, you can now divide your model into 1 billion polygons, create texture with PolyPaint, then import a mesh with multiple UV regions and extract 8k maps for each.
Those levels of power and resolution have never been possible in previous versions of ZBrush.
New Best Preview Render
Pixologic has created a new rendering mode called Best Preview Render (BPR), which can antialias and render your document in high quality, much faster than the Best render option can.
One of the best aspects of this new renderer is that it creates accurate 3D shadows.
The shadow quality in these new renders is truly fantastic and pushes the value of ZBrush as a rendering tool.
The BPR will automatically generate various render layers, image, depth, shadow, occlusion, and mask layers with a single click.
Renders can now be exported and composited in Photoshop. This new mode will also support shader enhancements such as SSS. By editing some of the standard materials or using ZBrush’s included skin shader, you can create incredibly fast subsurface scattering renders.
Pipeline and productivity
An exciting point for pipeline artists is that GoZ has now been fully implemented. This is a plug-in that interfaces with 3D applications such as Maya, Max, Cinema 4D and modo.
By pressing the GoZ button in ZBrush 4.0, your ZTool is exported to Maya (or other 3D apps) with colour, normal and displacement maps set up.
You can then name the geometry edits in Maya and press the GoZ shelf button to return the edited mesh to ZBrush and retain all your subdivision levels and details.
This kind of functionality is a huge boon for artists who are working in a production pipeline and need the freedom to edit the base mesh while sculpting and texturing is already underway or even completed.
Tech matches imagination
Pixologic has taken a huge step forward with this release – it truly is a tool created by and for artists.
The company has also purchased Sculptris, the hugely popular sculpting tool, and hired its creator as a staff programmer. This adds another innovative programmer to the ZBrush team and paves the way for an increased number of developments over a shorter timeframe.
ZBrush 4.0 is the first version to be simultaneously released for Mac and PC, and this will be standard with all future versions, so one platform won’t need to wait for work to complete their update.
All-in-all, this is one of the biggest and most far-reaching ZBrush updates.
Many of the new tools will change the way that users create inside ZBrush, allowing them to stay within one program longer.
Additions such as BPR and Timeline hugely expand the possibilities of the images and animations that can be created.
Tools like ShadowBox and Spotlight allow geometry to be built with the speed of drawing, with the latter providing new freedom in texturing that will aid creativity.
In addition, the tools introduced in the last version have been further refined and matured into a workable process for creating hard-surface forms. This kind of organic evolution in the toolset is appreciated and users will now truly start to embrace ZBrush for creating any kind of shapes, no matter how organic or highly refined they may be.
With this version, ZBrush has matured to the point where the level of the company’s technology has caught up with its imagination.
ZBrush 4.0 is a fitting release to mark Pixologic’s tenth anniversary. Pixologic is now creating tools that you didn’t realise you needed, but when you start using them, they’re indispensable.
3D World verdict
This release offers a great mix of new additions, improvements and bug fixes.
- More stable saves to reduce corruption
- Saving project files to contain all your work
- Hard-surface brushes now easier to use
- New features and a non-standard interface could confound ZBrush novices
By Scott Spencer
on Monday, November 22nd, 2010 at 12:18 pm under Applications, Reviews.
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Tags: Pixologic, review, sculpting, ZBrush