Autodesk Mudbox

Autodesk® Mudbox™ digital sculpting and texture painting software gives modelers and texture artists the freedom to create 3D digital artwork as if they are working with clay and paint. Designed by professional artists in the game, film, television, and design industries, Mudbox combines a highly intuitive user interface with a powerful creative toolset of stencils and brushes to help create ultra-realistic 3D characters, engaging environments, stylized props, and more. Available for the Macintosh® computer and Microsoft® Windows® operating systems.

Mudbox is a high-end modelling and texturing program that's used heavily in the creation of content, mostly for games, films and television. It makes use of a technique called displacement mapping that allows polygonal meshes to be deformed according to the greyscale values in a bitmap. What this essentially means is that you can deform a mesh and 'paint' surface features onto it in real-time, treating the polygons like pieces of digital clay.

Mudbox's interface is very well laid out (although the Save and Cancel buttons are always the wrong way round), with the largest area by far reserved for the modelling window. Most of Mudbox's functions can be broken down into two broad camps - paint and sculpt. Painting has all the standards that you'd expect: paint brush with size and opacity controls, airbrush, eraser and colour picker. Painting on a model can be organised into layers, and the Layers interface mirrors that of Photoshop nicely. Two new brushes are the Clone Stamp and the Dry Brush. The latter is extremely useful for adding fine detail to complex surfaces. On a highly detailed surface, it will only paint over the 'tops' of any displaced detail, leaving lower-lying areas untouched (think dinosaur skin). Holding down the Ctrl key will reverse the effect, painting in the 'cracks' and leaving the detail untouched. This saves a lot of time compared to the old way of having two separate alpha channels in two separate textures.

Sculpting also uses the same approach: just paint onto your mesh to either distort it or produce fine surface detail. The range of sculpting brushes is far broader than the painting ones, but as they're basically doing the same thing, the interfaces are almost identical, with the ability to have various levels of detail residing on their own layers, just like with painting. A very welcome feature is that brushes are applied tangentially to the mesh, so UV 'smearing' is a thing of the past.

The Stamp tool allows sculpting brushes to be modified by adding texture bitmaps to them - and this goes for paint brushes as well. Similar to the Stamp feature is the Stencil, which enables you to project an image over any part of the model and then project that image onto the model's surface using the appropriate brush. Also new in Mudbox 2010 is the ability to perform the Stamp and Stencil operations with mirroring switched on, effectively painting both sides of a symmetrical model simultaneously, which is a great time-saver.

Mudbox now also supports FBX, the de facto standard in 3D data exchange, and has tighter integration with Photoshop. Photoshop, can now have 'live' links to Mudbox, so that bitmaps subsequently altered in Photoshop update on the model with a single click.