Jon Jordan has a look at the progress on lighting tool modo 401, as developer Luxology slowly reveals more information on the new technology.

TOOL FOCUS: modo 401

modo 401
Company: Luxology
Contact: +1 650 378 8506

Maybe it’s a mark of getting older that anticipation becomes as pleasurable – if not more – than the main event. If that’s the case, then technology companies are becoming increasingly mature.

At the same time Android phone users have been on tenterhooks thanks to the ‘partial rollout’ of its Marketplace, so Luxology has been slowly showing the ankles of the latest version of modo.

Currently being teased out as a ‘partial reveal’ on the company’s website, so far new capabilities include volumetric lighting, fur, replicators, and more light and shadow options.

“Modo 401 has been one of the most challenging new releases for our development team,” says chief architect Stuart Ferguson. “As modo has matured, it has required our engineers to expand the feature set with new and powerful capabilities without sacrificing the ease of use and smooth work style that has been a hallmark of modo’s user interface design. Hopefully as people explore this new version, they’ll see the potential inherent in the features we’ve added, while feeling the reassurance of a system that has grown to fit the industry’s needs.”

More realistic lighting is always one area of development for art tools. In modo 401, the volumetric lighting solution enables you to simulate the effects of scattering due to small particles in the air. You set up the effect using the preview renderer, while you can texture them via the shader tree.

More generally though, modo’s rendering system will receive numerous enhancements in 401. One such is Light Linking, which enables you to link lights to specific meshes so only they are illuminated.

The quality of the interaction between light and transparent objects is also improved by features such as the dispersion options, so you can colour refraction rays, and controls for setting up the properties of reflective surface layers used on cars and the like.

Underlying these are updates to modo’s rendering core, notably the preview renderer. This will now update immediately as performance is no longer dependent on scene complexity. You can also use any camera you want to, and the global illumination-style options from the offline renderer are made available.

As for the fur system, it works as collection of sculpting and rendering tools that enable you to grow and arrange fibres to model materials such as fur, hair, grass or tinsel. It is integrated within modo so you can use it in conjunction with texture maps, while the direction of growth can be controlled using directional texture maps. These can be sculpted like vector displacement maps, or you can use curves as guides. Attributes such as length, flex and root bend can be used to animate the fur.

Replicators are a way of adding vast amounts of detail to your scene at render time, but because they work on an instanced system, there is little additional processing overhead. The system means any mesh item can be placed in scene, with its density, rotation and size controlled using modo’s texture layers.

Although no release date for modo 401 has so far been been announced, purchasers of the current version, modo 301, will receive an upgrade to modo 401 at no additional cost when it’s released, probably sometime in March.

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