Thoughts on modo 501.


Just spent an enjoyable evening in the company of fellow modo users, being shown by Andy Brown the joys of modo 501, the next major release of modo which is due before Christmas.

Andy ran though many of the new features, and with an intro from Brad by way of prerecorded quicktime, I got a feel of where one of my applications (as creativebloke) is heading.

Now before I get to the features I liked, and those I didn’t. I will be upgrading, for the simple fact that modo 501 is 64 bit on the Mac (finally). 

While I irk at having to pay for this as an upgrade, this one feature is easily worth the estimated £250 or so upgrade cost.

Modo on windows is a different, happier place than modo on a Mac, to the extent I was seriously thinking of buying windows 7 to run on my Mac solely for modo, but with 501, pshaw to such thoughts.

Brad’s video dealt (update: the gist is in a video available in the luxology forums) - with the fact that modo had started as a micro application with its core in modeling, and that any additional functionality would need to be in a ballpark of excellence to equivalent micro applications.

So for rendering modo can be compared to Maxwell, for sculpting to zbrush and mudbox. Its a good philosophy, but also reads as don’t expect a full pipeline modo for a few versions yet.

Andy showed the new Pixar subd which works in conjunction with the existing subd toolset, and provides a cleaner modeling workflow, especially into applications which are Pixar subd enabled such as Maya. The new system allows you to remove the need for edge loops to tighten corners, edge weighting works to create corners and edges. It looks cool, and provides a nice undistorted UV, and can be used in with subd’s on the same mesh.

Other modeling enhancements included align points, add point. A new feature is to reserve continuity of edge loop if its being added to curved surface, so in essence by adding a loop it doesn’t effect the shape of the model. Foreground meshes respect background mesh alignment for re-topology, etc. There’s also now a symmetrical falloff.

Mesh paint now gets a drop function where new mesh items drop to the surface of the model, which means I may now use this tool.

A huge one for me is the addition of select diagonal, which selects edges creating triangles, as someone who imports many messy meshes, this is my favourite tool of the night.

There’s a new snapping workflow, much more integrated into the core of modo, rather than being an addition to the tool-pipe. Tool stacks can now be set to default in the document, which is very nice. Andy showed how the new snapping system is much more fluid and it looks really sorted, object snapping was a bit buggy, but looks much improved as well.

Theres a new mesh sculpting option, which looks like a baby zbrush, its looks great, but could be very hardware dependent, moreover modo sculpts won’t goto goz, which seems a shame.

It looks like a nice logical supplement to the existing modeling tools, and may be enough for many artists, but it didn’t make me regret my recent purchase of zbrush.

The new animation schematic view was shown, and it does look easier to understand how you made your assemblies. Its a nodal UI and can work with certain shader elements which is good for scene organisation, but if this is supposed to make animation and rigging intuitive for a larger user base in modo, I remain to be convinced.

Regarding the UI, Modo will create project directories, which is a small but nice addition, along with lockable items (including cameras) which is a right click on the object list and it shows a padlock, simple but good.

Preview is much improved, you can pause IC caching, select to update preview just under your mouse. Finally preview can be set to display final render quality (and beyond), along with the ability to switch fur off and on, and you can use the new ‘Render Region’ tool to select an area in your GL view to update in Preview.

Rendering in general looks to be at least 3 times faster, and it handles many blurry reflections a hell of a lot better. Occlusion is now a texture layer, which means expect many grimy models in next years luxology gallery.

Preview is also available in all modelling viewports which is a big deal and will speed up modelling.

Other quickies are the inclusion of RGBA images which can use their alpha to create a mask without having to set a transparency layer, the shader tree now has a search function, and a beautiful bokeh is now available in the renderer.

So all in all a solid upgrade.

Andy then wrapped up by showing whats happening with the SDK, some nice new procedural textures are being bundled with 501, and other developers are building, tree generators, and procedural geometry, which is a bit like parametric shapes in cinema 4d, just cooler.

Oh and Eric Soulvie is developing a dynamics system……..yup a third party developer is creating a system most users would feel is core. Don’t know how much this will cost and Andy assured us this won’t mean that modo will become like cinema with a core vanilla application which is only fully realised with the addition of bundles.

Still this has me worried about modo’s future direction, as I went to modo as I wasn’t prepared to buy fprime for Lightwave, and I liked modo as its a true one version application, and it would be a disaster to lose this.

But for now we have a solid update in 501 people, and the for the speed increase in rendering, general model and UI enhancements and the joy of 64bit on the mac, it will be easy to justify the cost.