Key release: Modo 401
Thursday, 20th August 2009 at 8:30 am
Luxology’s latest update has much in store for game developers
Product: Modo 401
Internal disagreements in the workplace are never a desirable situation - but sometimes good can come out of them.
Modo is actually a byproduct of such a dispute. Originally working at Newtek, the developers of Lightwave, an internal disagreement about a complete rewrite of the system caused the company’s vice president of 3D development, Brad Peebler, to leave and start Luxology with the app’s two lead developers.
Almost five years after the initial release, Luxology is back with version 401 of the increasingly-popular tool.
At first glance, many of 401’s improvements may look as if they’re geared towards other industries. Take the new light and shading features: volumetric lighting makes its first appearance, closely followed by photon mapping, tone mapping, blurry refraction and dispersion. All great, but surely of more use to those working on offline renders?
Not so, says Peebler: “Of course, in terms of relevance to games, you can say that all of these features are useful for rendering cutscenes. But, it’s important to remember that everything you can render can also be baked – it’s just rendering through your UVs rather than through the camera.”
For example, one of the other major new features in modo 401 is fur. Rather than being limited to just making fuzzy critters, though, the fur system is extensible enough that it can render eyebrows, eyelashes, hair and even sturdier stuff like paintbrush bristles. And, because it all gets resolved to polygons before render anyway, says Peebler, you can bake shadow and displacement maps that take this into consideration. “If you do a surface render it’ll catch the shadows and shading from the fur and build in into the texture maps, and you can bake normal maps through the fur.”
Modo 401, Luxology
Speak to most 3D tool developers and it’s hard not to get a sense that games are just a very small piece of the overall picture; that real-time 3D use doesn’t drive the development of the product. You might get that impression from Modo 401, in fact. But some big studios are not only putting modo at the centre of their content pipelines, they’re also getting use out of the new rendering engine and ‘ancilliary’ features.
One such studio is Black Rock, which has used Modo extensively in the development of the forthcoming Split/Second. “They use subdivision surfaces so that they can build the low-res cage for game use, and then for the cinematics they can subdivide that up and down to get much higher quality models,” says Peebler.
Black Rock also utilised another new aspect of modo – presets. Like their name implies, presets are pre-built assets, materials and environment/lighting configurations that can simply be dragged and dropped into the viewport.
“These guys didn’t have a licence to use real-world cars, so they had to build their own car designs. They wanted them to actually be cars that, since they wouldn’t be ones you could actually see, would be cars that you’d want to own. So they used our global illumination to do mock renders during the design phase of the cars, and then also used our preset system – dragging and dropping materials, environments – to create beauty shots for marketing materials.”
Another studio that’s using modo for more than just modelling is id. “They’re using Modo as the core of their pipeline for Rage,” Peebler continues. “They’re using it for environments, for characters, for a lot of their texture baking, and for level design. They can model, paint, sculpt and bake within a single application. The artists there have even created their own custom tools and layouts to maximise the efficiency of modo for their use.”
But it goes beyond just these two big names – Peebler reveals that, going through its userbase on a market analysis exercise, the firm discovered that of its top ten customers by volume, a whopping seven of them are games companies.
“We really do have a high adoption rate in the games space,” Peebler continues. “In fact, much more so than in television and film in fact. I think that comes down to the fact that we do have such detailed and robust baking tools integrated with those modelling tools.”
Well, they’re certainly doing something right.
While the high profile developers are certainly a boon, Luxology also has a huge amount of customers at the other end of the spectrum, too – small, independent developers or freelance artists.
“We’re finding that a lot of freelancers out there, and a lot of iPhone game developers, flocking to Modo,” explains Peebler. “A lot of our growth has been recently amongst the freelance crowd, because we’re less expensive and we don’t require maintenance contracts. Some people who have been laid off recently want to strike it alone, and we have a lot of people who are doing just that, starting their own one or two man shops. Modo’s price point and feature set is perfect for those sorts of environments.”
And for these guys working on lower-end platforms or products, the team is still dedicating a large amount of its time to improving the core modelling tools available in the suite.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the gloss of rendering and animation enhancements, but we’re a native polygonal modeller first – even our subdivision surfaces are just polygons. In Modo, you have direct access on every vertex, so you can go in push and pull those verts numerically if needs be. It has the flexibility that low-poly modellers need, and we still spend a tremendous amount of time on these tools.”
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