Autodesk Mudbox 2014 review
Price: £700 plus VAT
Pros: Top-notch 3D sculpting and 2D/3D painting workflows. Excellent, normal map, displacement and vector displacement man extraction tools. Shallow learning curve.
Cons: Retopologising imported or scanned models requires that models be prepped prior to retopology, which is a bit odd.
Mudbox 2014 is one of the best digital sculpting and 2D/3D painting solutions on the market today. Each release since Autodesk acquired Mudbox in 2007 has introduced important performance improvements and new toolsets and workflows. In this release Mudbox debuts retopology tools for cleaning up 3D models, but they feel unpolished.
In 3D CG retopology is the process of producing a new 3D model based on the topology of a source 3D model: topology refers to a model's polygonal mesh. Retopology has become necessary in CG practice and workflows because dense polygonal details like wrinkles, folds, and textures are common in sculpted and scanned 3D models.
While these dense details look great, the millions of polygons necessary to produce that level of detail makes the 3D model impossible to animate or sometimes even render. Retopology tools allow you to transform a dense 3D model features into one that has fewer polygons and edge flows – and that is practically useful for animation and rendering. The high details are reproduced using normal, displacement and vector displacement maps.
Mudbox 2014 features two primary retopology workflows, Computed Retopology and Guided Retopology. In Computed Retopology, the retopology operation is largely automatic – though some initial parameters may be set.
In Guided Retopology, the artist draws curves and edge loops on the model – in addition to setting parameters to guide the retopology operation. Guided Retopology uses two types of curves as guides. Soft Constraint Curves which [suggest polygon flows]. Hard Constraint Curves tell Mudbox exactly where to place edges during the retopology operation.
I retopologised models sculpted in Mudbox using each of the two processes and both worked very well, barring the occasional crash. Guided Retopology worked the best producing very nice quad meshes and predictable edge flows. However, when models not produced in Mudbox – such as imported models or scanned models –were retopologised, the results were not as promising.
Scanned models are notorious for gnarled topologies with no logical edge flows, holes, polygonal islands and other mesh problems. The promise of retopology is to eliminate these types of problems. Regrettably, before Mudbox 2014 can retopologise scanned models, the model has to be manually prepared either by using Mudbox's new tools Patch, Tighten Selection, and Fair Selection to fix mesh problems or by fixing the model in another program.
The idea of fixing a model prior to retopology is against the whole purpose of retopology operations: to fix topology problems. On a more positive note, once the scanned model is prepped, Mudbox can almost always retopologise the model.
Mudbox also features a third retopology workflow that seems to have been somewhat of an afterthought. Create Mesh from Curves is a tedious method where the artist draws a network of curves on the model. Then based on the curves and some parametric inputs Mudbox produces a best guess mesh, but the process is largely hit and miss.
In comparison 3DCoat's Autoretopo and other retopology tools makes short work of even the worst scanned models. Also ZBrush has unbeatable retopology tools like the QRemesher (released in 4R4) and the even slicker ZRemesher in the current version. ZBrush's retopology tools are unmatched in the industry.
In summary, Mudbox's retopology operations worked very well for models sculpted in Mudbox, and with a bit of effort Mudbox can be cajoled into retopologising imported or scanned models. Regardless of any retopology issues, Mudbox remains a great choice for producing digital sculptures and is unmatched in 2D/3D texture painting. However, since the main new features in Mudbox 2014 are for retopology – and they’re not up to par with those found in the competition, it is difficult to recommend the 2014 upgrade.