Review: modo 501
Expectations are high for the latest version of Luxology’s flagship application, but does modo 501 deliver?
modo handles more complex scenes with ease, especially in 64-bit, provided you have the RAM to take advantage of it
Price: £642 / $995 / €756
or £255 / $395 / €300 (upgrade)
- Improved render speed and quality
- Pixar subdivision surfaces
- Multi-resolution sculpting
- Occlusion shader
- Enhanced depth of field and bokeh effects
- Numerous toolset and UI improvements
- Enhance:modo Texture suite included
Since its inception, Luxology has primarily marketed modo as a modelling tool, and one that integrates easily with a wide variety of different production pipelines.
Over the years, each major release has added significant features to this slick and intuitive package, but – on paper at least – 501 appears to be a consolidation of the existing feature set, rather than the launch platform for new and exciting functionality.
Indeed, 501’s roll out has been a much more low-key affair than that of 401, which was preceded by a number of online feature reveals leading right up to release.
However, after extended time with 501, we can say that while there’s been consolidation of the existing tools, it has more than enough new features to justify its billing as a major release.
A new schematic viewport provides a nodal system with which to build complex rigs and animated scenes
Browsing the modo forums, it’s clear that many expected 501 to be the ‘character animation’ release, but this isn’t the case.
The animation tools have received a fair number of upgrades this time around, and while stopping short of full CA functionality, it’s obvious that Luxology has laid a solid foundation for it to appear in a future release.
The software’s inverse kinematics tools have been improved, and a new node-based schematic view for the animation pipeline makes its debut.
Changes such as these not only add extra functions now, but also hint at major additions further down the
Adding a character animation toolset would require a solid code base to be properly integrated, and 501 looks to go some way to providing this.
New modelling features
The centre object here shows the advantage of Pixar sub-d over regular sub-d (right), when used with weight maps
Modelling is where modo has always excelled, and with 501 the list of improvements is staggering.
Regular subdivision modelling is still present and correct, but Pixar subdivision surfaces modelling makes its debut, and proves to be one of 501’s most invaluable new features.
The advantage of P-sub modelling is that bevels and edge sharpening can be done primarily with edge
weighting, reducing viewport polygon counts significantly, and the Pixar sub-d algorithm gives a smoother result than regular sub-d models.
Objects created using the P-sub/weight map method can also be exported to Maya 2011 (via FBX), which is a huge boon to studios that use modo in their pipeline.
Pixar sub-d models can take advantage of another of 501’s new features – multi-resolution meshes. A model created using Pixar sub-d can have a minimum sub-d level set, and then be divided further using the multi-resolution controls.
In this way, a simple shape can be subdivided several times to enable high-resolution sculpting on the actual mesh, but with the option of returning to the low-resolution model at any time.
All high-resolution sculpt data will still be visible at the higher resolution, but this gives more flexibility in how you handle high-detail sculpt data, such as baking displacement maps for the low-res mesh.
Rendering has been a main feature of modo since 201, and it too has seen a massive number of improvements in 501, both under the hood and in terms of added functionality.
Render speed and quality have both been enhanced enormously, and the preview engine has been given a full overhaul.
In 401, modo’s render preview was no slouch, but the speed improvement in 501 is obvious.
With the new RayGL, renders can be previewed directly in any viewport, which speeds up your workflow immeasurably
Complementing it is RayGL, which gives a low-res version of the preview render in your working viewport and is updated on-the-fly.
501 also sees enhancements in render quality, with new anti-aliasing options, improved depth of field and motion blur, and advanced camera settings with full bokeh.
Displacement quality has been optimised and integrated with the newly recoded bump mapping algorithm.
Both bump and displacement now give far superior results, with lower overheads, although because these use a completely new engine, any legacy files that use bump or displacement maps will need to be checked and most likely adjusted in 501.
Procedural textures have been given some much-needed attention as well, with 501 now offering the Enhance:modo Textures (a suite of 149 new textures and presets), as well as standard procedurals.
Each is fully customisable, and when combined with the new occlusion shader, they can create stunning results, especially when applied as a combination of bump maps and layer masks.
This object is being textured with the new Enhance:modo Textures and occlusion layer masking
Using 501 is just as much of a joy as ever, and users who’ve been with modo for a few years will notice small changes to the UI, and that a few tools and menus have moved.
That said, 501 still feels familiar and snappy, even with the added features.
Modelling with modo has always been a fast and enjoyable affair, and with the new render enhancements, previews no longer feel like a bottleneck in your productivity.
Luxology has also achieved feature parity between the Windows and Mac OS X releases with 501, as 64-bit versions are now available for both platforms.
The new OS X Cocoa build, while suffering from a few (documented) bugs, is solid enough, and Mac users with both Snow Leopard and more than 4GB of RAM will see huge benefits with larger scenes.
There are, however, some glaring omissions from the feature set. Forgetting the aforementioned character animation tools, modo still lacks any form of dynamics, particle or fluid simulation.
A soundtrack option would also seem like an obvious addition given that animation has been present since 301.
modo has been maturing nicely with each new release, but when we first browsed the feature list, we were worried that development may be slowing with 501.
Such fears proved unfounded, though, as the new bells and whistles are very impressive.
Combine this excellent feature set with the fact that the core of the application has been polished to such a high sheen, and you’re undoubtedly left with the finest iteration of modo yet.
3D World verdict
• Pixar sub-d modelling
• Fast, clean renders
• Consolidated feature set
• No character animation
• Glitchy Cocoa release
modo silences the doubters as Luxology release the most stable and feature-rich version of the software yet. Character animation may be conspicuous by its absence, but there’s easily more than enough here to compensate
on Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 at 3:49 pm under Applications, Reviews.
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Tags: 3D software, modo 501, review