Modo 102
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 3 (March 2005)

Modo 102

While Luxology is a new company in the world of 3D software, many principals of the company are seasoned veterans, many of whom created NewTek’s venerable LightWave 3D. The company’s first product, Modo, is a robust, easy-to-use 3D polygonal and subdivision surface modeling program.

Modo runs on Windows 2000/XP and Mac OS X. Like any graphics application, Modo loves memory and a good OpenGL graphics card. I loaded it on an HP xw8200 Windows XP workstation, and the installation went very smoothly. Modo’s look and feel are attractive and well thought out.

Based on Catmull-Clark surfaces, Modo’s subdivision surfaces support advanced effects, such as creasing.

Modo’s interface is based on a modular design with all menus, functions, and 3D viewports existing in separate windows. These modular windows offer lots of flexibility and can be arranged in virtually any layout imaginable. In the 3D viewports, Modo has two navigation methods. The default method is similar to LightWave’s navigation, a nod to the company’s heritage. The second method mimics (Alias) Maya’s navigation method of using the ALT key in conjunction with a three-button mouse. Because I use Maya a lot, I chose the latter method. Modo has a few little navigation tricks up its sleeve, such as a way to spin a model in a viewport automatically so you can view it from all angles.

Modeling in Modo can be handled in any number of ways. I could sculpt the primitive shapes provided or build surfaces from scratch using curves or one polygon at a time. For creating symmetrical objects, such as characters, Modo offers nice mirroring tools.

Modo’s subdivision surface implementation is fast, responsive, and supports N-gons, polygons with more than four sides and a sticking point in some packages.

Editing with Modo is straightforward. Again, many of the tools are reminiscent of LightWave, but with many added features. Selecting components of an object-such as vertices, edges, and polys-is intuitive. Selecting an entire edge loop, for example, is as easy as selecting one edge and an arrow key. The software seems to have a wealth of built-in intelligence.

One of my favorite editing features is a simple concept called an Action Center, which lets you reposition the center point of any editing command. Many times, you’re restricted to a pivot point determined by the 3D application, but Modo’s method of a user-defined pivot point is flexible. Modo offers an intuitive way to set falloffs interactively as you edit, supplying a lot of control over how the surface deforms.>

Modo has plenty of other benefits-such as the ability to extrude, slice, or bevel parts of a model- and it has a few unique tools I haven’t seen elsewhere. One is Sketch Extrude, which lets you draw the extrusion freehand while the model updates in real time. Modo has some basic texturing utilities, the most important of which is a UV editor to assign textures to a surface. Modo can model morph targets that can be exported to LightWave or Maya. Modo also keeps a command history, which can be turned into scripts and saved as custom tools. Customization is fairly easy; in fact, scripts can be written in Perl.

Modo is largely a modeling application, so you’ll need to get the models into other packages for animation and rendering. Per-haps Luxology is targeting the Maya and LightWave crowds, as these are the two main formats that Modo uses to save its data. Luxology was smart in using other vendors’ file formats with which to save its work, making it easy to add Modo into an existing Maya or LightWave pipeline.

Modo should be popular with those who use polygons and subdivision surfaces with Maya. Its robust tool kit adds a lot to Maya’s fairly basic polygonal tools. I can see Maya artists modeling polygonal models in Modo.

As for the future, Modo is just the start. Built around a 3D operating system, called Nexus, Modo can be extended into any area of 3D, including rendering and animation. I hope Luxology continues to update the software and apply its expertise to other areas. Modo was easy to learn, and, once I got the hang of it, I was modeling more efficiently than in other packages. Its broad set of tools and intuitive interface make modeling an enjoyable process. Anyone who is serious about creating polygonal and subdivision surface models should check out Modo.

George Maestri is president of Rubberbug, a Los Angeles-based animation studio specializing in character animation.

Price: $895 ($695 introductory)
Minimum System Requirements: Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP and an Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon processor or Mac OS X 10.2.8 with a Macintosh G3, G4, or G5 processor; 512mb of RAM; 100mb of hard-disk space; an OpenGL-enabled graphics card; 1024x768 or greater monitor resolution; and a DVD-ROM drive.