The first release of Mudbox from Autodesk is just the start, co-creator Dave Cardwell tells Developâ?¦

TOOL FOCUS: Mudbox 2009

Product: Mudbox 2009
Company: Autodesk
Price: From $299
Contact: +44 207 851 8000

As the name suggests, Mudbox 2009 isn’t a typical sequel to the 3D sculpting tool first released in 2007. Like the alleged joke about US movie goers concerned that the madnesses of King Georges I & II had somehow skipped their attention, the ‘missing 2007 versions’ of Mudbox, not to mention the 18 months between releases, was due to developer Skymatter’s acquisition by Autodesk. To that extent, the 2009 moniker sees the package in marketing step with new siblings, Maya and MotionBuilder, which are released in October, and the November-bound 3ds Max.

Meanwhile, the relocation of the three co-founders – Andrew Camenisch, Tibor Madjar and Dave Cardwell from New Zealand, New Zealand and South Korea respectively – to Toronto accounts for some of the lost time. Most of the original development team remain outsourced in Eastern Europe, although they have been augmented with in-house Autodesk staff from Canada, with a special concentration on image processing talent. The split between the two groups is around 50:50.

Cardwell says that what is effectively Mudbox 2 was in development long before the Autodesk deal, however, and it didn’t really influence the main areas the team wanted to – or knew they had to – improve. “There were three key areas we wanted to focus on: overall performance; texture painting; and then this whole category we call rendering and presentation,” he explains. Still, in fulfilling that checklist, pretty much all of Mudbox 1 ended up being rewritten. “The only things that are the same are some of the staff images and the file open and save system,” he says. “Everything else is new.”

The overall philosophy of the product remains the same. “We’ve always focused on solving real production problems,” Cardwell enthuses. “We weren’t software developers who decided to make a product and then asked people what they wanted. Everything we did was born out of working in a production setting and every feature we added to Mudbox was designed to solve a production problem, not fulfil a marketing bulletpoint.”

One example he points to in Mudbox 2009 is support for Cg shading integration; part of the rendering and presentation features. “It means artists will be able to visualise their texture maps and mesh in the lighting that’s based on their shaders, not our shaders,” he says. “Getting artists to use shaders that will match what their game engine looks like will be a valuable thing. That’s the reason behind these features – it’s allowing artists to work in an on-target environment, whether that’s the final game or the film render.”

More fundamental is the package’s vastly improved performance. “We had some limitations in terms of the poly counts in Mudbox 1: we used a sort of point shading mode but now you’re able to rotate your scenes with proper shadows and HDR lighting. We also had to redo all of our brushes so now you can interact with your models without jumping back to a low resolution,” Cardwell says.

Finally there are the texture painting tools, which were seen as vitally important, if only in terms of better competing with established rival ZBrush. “There’s a whole slew of things that come along with painting tools such as 3D layers and all the good stuff you would expect to see. There’s also a lot of things that people haven’t done before in terms of memory management and being able to paint across multiple UV titles,” he explains.

But the story doesn’t end here. As well as development of an SDK (see boxout), there’s plenty of new goodies to expect now that Mudbox is firmly embedded in the Autodesk Media and Entertainment stable.

“We didn’t get close to doing everything we wanted to do,” Cardwell ends. “There are some key areas we’re currently working on but haven’t been able to get to just because of time constraints – so expect a lot from Mudbox over the coming months.”

Extending the fun

One of the main areas of Mudbox currently undergoing development is an SDK. “We’ve worked tremendously hard on it but it won’t be rolled out to people with Mudbox 2009,” Dave Cardwell explains. “We’ll be releasing it to certain customers in an alpha setting because we want a few clients to test it so we can get it right before we release it to everybody else.

“Lots of companies have custom tools and we want to make sure they have the flexibility to use Mudbox in ways that are not just convenient for Max and Maya,” he continues. “At Siggraph, we had a games summit and I’ve just done a tour in Japan and met with top studios over there, and so far the response has been very positive. We’re excited about what we’re releasing now, and the way we’re architected the software to be open and extensible means we think people will be excited to get their hands on the SDK in future too.”

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