When 3D sculpting was first introduced, incorporating the high-resolution features of a sculpting application into your model was a big deal but not anymore. Now, a sculpting application is more of a necessity than a bonus detail. In the world of digital sculpting, there are currently two big names in 3D modeling tools every modeler knows about; Pixologic’s ZBrush and Autodesk’s Mudbox. Both sculpting software application packages are great and as a modeler, picking out one can prove to be an overwhelming task. If you are having trouble deciding on which 3D modeling tool would be better for you, then you are in this right place. This article will give a comprehensive and thorough review of both Mudbox and ZBrush to help you choose the one that best suits your requirements as a modeler.
Which software you should choose: Mudbox or ZBrush?
First off, before delving into the differences between both sculpting tools, it is pertinent to understand what each tool is about;
Mudbox is a 3D modeling and texture painting software package. Mudbox was developed as a part of Autodesk’s 3D software line so modelers can seamlessly integrate the application directly on other software packages in the Autodesk line. Mudbox is a convenient tool because of the cross platform compatibility it offers for its users. A disadvantage with using Mudbox here is the limited number of mesh objects to sculpt.
ZBrush, on the other hand, is Pixologic’s digital sculpting tool. The ZBrush interface is easily navigable such that even new users would have no problem understanding the workflow and utilizing the app to its maximum capacity. The software allows modelers to explore their creativity by offering a wide range of options to work within modeling surfaces, tools, and functionalities. One major advantage sculpting on ZBrush offers is the ability to sculpt on both 2.5Dimension and 3 Dimension viewpoints.
Both sculpting software application – ZBrush and Mudbox are great tools with similar functions in that they were both designed to allows artists sculpt high-definition characters. While they have a fair share of similarities, each individual software pack comes with its own set of unique features and tools that differentiate them from the other. Both have their pros and their cons but at the end, it all comes down to the modeler’s personal preference in each specific task. Below, we will compare Mudbox and ZBrush based on the basic techniques involved in 3D sculpting in order of execution.
The first step to sculpting a model is the formation of geometry; the base geometry you work with is a major determining factor in how your model will turn out. In digital sculpting, this geometry is called the mesh. As an artist, you can either create this mesh model in the sculpting tool you are currently working with or import it from another application. The typical mesh objects you would find readily available on most sculpting apps include spheres, planes, cubes etc. Ideally, the more mesh creation options you have available to you, the easier and more convenient the sculpting process will be.
ZBrush offers a wide selection of mesh creation options with a variety of objects available to the artist. Essentially, with ZBrush, an artist can work with every object in the pack. The most unique and innovative mesh creation tool on ZBrush is the ZSpheres, ZSpheres can be used to build up character bodies from the scratch to any complex shape the modeler has in mind simply by creating virtual supporting framework known as the armature. ZBrush also features two unique tools – ShadowBox and Dynamesh. ShadowBox allows the artist to create complex pieces on hard surfaces via a masking mechanism which is achieved when two or more marks intersect. With Dynamesh, modelers can easily disconnect and reconnect all the parts of the mesh with ease and flexibility. When it comes to mesh creation, ZBrush is so complete you can build an entire character without having to import a single mesh object from another sculpting app. To cap it all, any mesh object you create using ZBrush can be exported to other apps as well.
There are plenty of online courses you can take that will teach you how to create amazing characters and terrifying creatures In Zbrush. In my opinion, the courses taught by Justin Goby Fields, who is a renown 3d character and concept artist, are probably some of the bests.
Compared to ZBrush, the number of mesh objects available on Mudbox is relatively fewer. Modelers using Mudbox more often than not will need to import 3D mesh models from other applications for their base geometry. To simplify the mesh creation process for the modeler, Mudbox parent software Autodesk offers close integration with other applications in the Autodesk 3D modeling line so the modeler can conveniently import mesh objects. Mudbox also has a retopology feature which enables the user to form base geometry from sculpted models. However, for mesh creation, considering the flexibility and the sheer number of mesh objects options, ZBrush is the better tool here.
Brushes are used to tweak, fine tune and define the details on your 3D model. Just like in mesh creation, the more brushes you can access, the better your model will come out. With limited access to brushes, the modeler cannot be said to have total control over the details on the model.
ZBrush offers a wide selection of custom brushes with several more available for users working with the LightBox browser. The brushes on ZBrush have multiple varying functionalities; while some brushes have the Move feature where you can pull out shapes from your model, some have a ClayBuildup feature which allows the artist to build up material on the surface of a sculpt. With the DamStandard brush, you can easily sharpen the creases and edges on your model. Beyond the wide range of brushes to choose from, ZBrush also puts the modeler in total control of the brush set by allowing for modification of the stroke types and brush parameters. In the 2.5D canvas, however, the sculpting process is somewhat different from what you get with objects in the traditional 3D canvas.
Mudbox provides the same basic library of brushes as ZBrush. The Grab brush functions like ZBrush’s Move brush in pulling out and moving things around while Mudbox’s wax brush is similar to the ClayBuildup brush in ZBrush for building up material on the model. The drawback with Mudbox is that it does not give its users the same control over the brush settings as ZBrush does, however, the software puts a lot of focus on brushes modelers more commonly used in sculpting. Mudbox really shines through in its vector displacement map where artists can easily form creases and undercuts on their own. With the number of brushes available to users in the library and the control given over the brushes, ZBrush once again outperforms the Mudbox here.
Texture painting is one of the finishing touches modelers add to their models. While it is not an essential technique in sculpting, it has gradually become mainstream in digital sculpting and more importantly, it is available as a feature on both ZBrush and Mudbox.
ZBrush utilizes a polypainting technique to draw textures as enabled by the complexity of the polygon mesh. How does this work? The higher the number of shapes that make up the base geometry (which is the mesh) of your model, the finer the details of the texture the model is likely to have. Essentially, the model is painted based on its resolution. While a high-resolution texture coloring may seem like a good thing, ZBrush doesn’t really produce good texture paint for characters in low resolution. On the good side, however, with ZBrush, users do not have to worry about the UV map untangling process on the models as users can immediately begin painting on models once sculpting is done.
In texture painting, Mudbox provides a feature rich, easy to use and advanced texture painting workflow. Texture painting on Mudbox is on a multi-layered workflow not affected by the resolution of the model. In other words, here, even with a low resolution sculpt, Mudbox can still bring out incredible texture painting. The amazing thing about texture painting with Mudbox is that the effect is instantaneously allowing the artist to see the effect of the painting on the model as soon as it is applied. This live effect is available on any material the user is working on. Additionally, with Ptex on Mudbox, the tedious process of UV mapping is eliminated as well. Texture painting is without a doubt Mudbox’s strong point and for this one, Mudbox has an edge here over ZBrush.
Retopology is simply the formation of new, optimized topology over the sculpts. This topology becomes the actual mesh used in character creation with the sculpted detail and painted textures applied as maps. This technique is an essential part of sculpting as it enhances the overall look of the model. The process of creating a new topology is enabled by automated methods and techniques which creates a new mesh using mesh flow and polygon count parameters of the sculpt.
The retopology feature of ZBrush sculpting app is enabled by a function called ZRemesher. Mudbox, on the other hand, uses the Retopologize tool to build its topology. The individual tools on both sculpting software apps are quite functional so the better option, in this case, is dependent on the personal style of the artist.
Map baking can be defined as the calculation of normal maps created from the comparison of the sculpted high-resolution objects with retopologized lower resolution models which are used in the production process. This is the last stage in the 3D modeling art of sculpting.
Map baking in ZBrush is achieved in a rather unusual way. Here, the artist has to first divide the new polygonal geometry into smaller sections and then map out the details into the now subdivided mesh. Then on the final mesh, the artist will calculate the normal and displacement maps to bake maps. So far, ZBrush is the only sculpting app that uses this map baking technique
The baking map technique on Mudbox is a lot more versatile and flexible than ZBrush’s map baking functionality. Here, the artist can work on different levels of a single geometry or even a totally different geometry to bake maps. Additionally, the artist can customize the bake settings suit their preference. The settings are automatically saved such that the modeler can easily return to the already saved format in the future should the need for reuse arise. Mudbox’s flexibility and versatility make it a better sculpting tool in the case of map baking.
Conclusively, it is important to understand that what constitutes the “better” sculpting tool is solely dependent on the personal style and preference of an artist. For example, a modeler who struggles with geometry creation would appreciate the vast selection of mesh shapes available on ZBrush over the limited options on Mudbox. On the other hand, a modeler who enjoys texture painting would rather go for Mudbox which makes texture painting less of a chore than the ZBrush tool. Overall though, a lot of 3D modelers are more likely to lean towards Mudbox rather than go for ZBrush. The cross-platform compatibility Autodesk offers to Mudbox is not to be an underrated functionality here. Modelers love the enhanced and seamless workflow they get owing to the integration of tools and programs from Mudbox on other multiple designing software in the Autodesk line like Maya, 3DS MAX, Adobe Photoshop, etc.