Digital sculpting programs have revolutionized the process of modeling highly detailed 3D objects. ZBrush, Mudbox, and 3D Coat all offer unique strengths and weaknesses. Blender also offers a sculpting mode that is surprisingly powerful. Maya offers a sculpting tool for its standard mesh editing, but it is not a true sculpting function.

Maya

The sculpting tool in Maya is basically a glorified move/scale/rotate transformer. It just pushes brutishly pushes vertices outward and that is all. Simple enough but Maya’s sculpting tool is extremely problematic when you are working on highly detailed organic models, which is extremely annoying because this is when a sculpting tool is most appropriate.

Sculpting in Maya is problematic because:

1. Maya sculpting loses symmetry almost immediately even on duplicated instances. The higher the poly count the quicker it loses symmetry (even using a duplicated ‘mirrored’ instance). You are left with  having to model a single side or repeatedly delete one side and keep updating the duplicate. It becomes extremely annoying.

Now if you are looking to add “asymmetry” for realism, as no bifurcated organism in nature is mathematically precise, then this is useful.

2. Maya sculpt really does not do anything traditional mesh editing can not do better. The whole goal of using sculpting tools would be to achieve a level of control over geometry that traditional mesh editing lacks. There is nothing the sculpt tool in Maya offers that can not be done quicker and easier than using soft select and transformations.

3. The lag at high poly models makes the tool useless. Zbrush can handle millions of polygons, Mudbox can handle hundreds of thousands. If you get into the tens of thousands with Maya the viewport lag makes it impossible to model anything.

4. No real-time geometry updating options. The sculpt tool does not have the ability to add or remove geometry. It can only manipulate the mesh as is.

5. The lack of any non-destructive sub-division levels makes it extremely diminishes its use-value.

Maya’s sculpting ability is a decent tool and is useful for certain situations. It does not offer modelers a true sculpting experience though.

 

Blender

Blender offers a true sculpting function. But it is by no means as efficient as ZBrush, not even Mudbox. BUT it is rapidly being developed. With other animation apps development is often times kept in the dark, over-exaggerated, or left to speculation. We started this comparison keeping money out of the equation (Maya is expensive and Blender is open-source). Blender’s track record of keeping development transparent means that they can trusted with what features are being focused on.

Blender currently has a native sculpt mode. There is no need to export and re-import or worry about the hassles and time involved. In Blender what you see is what you get. Some of the features Blender sculpting offers:

1. A range of brush presets: clay build, grab, pinch, standard.

2. Ability to add textures with alphas to brushes. This allows for absolutely limitless customized brushes. You can even piggy back off of ZBrush’s community as the same textures applied to a ZBrush brush can be applied to a Blender brush. Go here for loads of free brushes.

300px-Monster_head_multires_sequence3. Ability to add a non-destructive geometry modifier via the Multiresolution Mesh Modifier. Blender has the ability to add a modifier to a base mesh, allowing the modeler to manipulate the base mesh at a projected higher poly count. This keeps the GUI viewport extremely fast and allows Blender artists to work with a much more detailed object with out lag. It also means that any mistakes made can easily be removed. This is exactly how ZBrush works with its resolution levels, however, Blender does not work in 2.5D space, and it can not get as detailed as ZBrush.

800px-Blender2.66_dyntopo_la_piedada

Pietá by adesypersefone

4. One word: Dyntopo. The multiresolution mesh modifier or standard sculpt mode offers great features and flexibility. The drawback is it does not add/subtract geometry. The dyntopo function does. It allows a modeler to start with a cube and just start sculpting naturally. She can build up areas, remove areas, smooth areas. It is very similar to real-world sculpting with clay and the level of detail is amazing.

There are some caveats to using dyntopo.

  • can not be used in junction with multires mesh modifier
  • automatically tesselates object (quads are turned into tris which can be a deal breaker for animated objects)

So Dyntopo is not perfect, but it is purty gerd. There are even workarounds a modeler can do like convert the tesselated object using a modifier. Going back to Blender development being so quick to improve I feel that a dyntopo function with quad capabilities is not so far off.

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