CGW asks Luxology’s Brad Peebler about the journey involving its biggest release of Modo to date – Modo 601, which includes tools for character animation, dynamics and retopology modeling.
CGW: Luxology is now 10 years old and you’ve just added another tool to Modo – Character Animation. Can you tell us how the software had evolved and where you are headed?
BRAD PEEBLER: The original strategy at Luxology was always based on having a complete and integrated pipeline solution, but built on a flexible platform that would allow us to reveal as much or as little of that pipeline app as was relevant to the user at the time they are using it. This is why we created the Nexus architecture. From Nexus, Modo is born as well as other “baked apps” such as PhotoView 360 and the Luxology render layer. PhotoView 360 was custom built for Solidworks and the Luxology render layer is provided to Bentley systems for integration into their microstation line of products.
Anyway, Nexus was built with modeling, animation and rendering all fused together at the core from the very beginning but it takes a long time to make a complete pipeline solution that can compete with the current incumbent apps. We released Modo as a focused modeler by using our application baking techniques to deploy only the production ready aspects of Nexus® modeling tech. From there we have slavishly pounded new technologies into Nexus and each time an area reaches production level we push it out the community via Modo. While is certainly another huge leap for Modo, we aren’t done yet.
I’m clearly not going to give specifics about where we are headed, but I can say that there are always interesting bits of technology brewing in the Nexus framework that will get deployed with each new release of Modo. Also, if you look at the trends in 3D you can see that clearly the use of Modo has expanded into new areas beyond the traditional TV, Film and Games targets of media and entertainment. Modo is an artist’s tool and you find artists who can benefit from fast, intuitive high powered 3D graphics in the design world, photography and markets. We will continue to evolve our toolset to cover more areas of the traditional 3D VFX pipeline as well as adding workflow efficiencies and techniques that are relevant in the design world. We are hell bent on making tools that will push 3D into new uses across many markets.
CGW: Modo has always been a very respected design tool, will this new version be even more targeted at VFX and post pros working in media and entertainment? Can you talk about those particular features?
PEEBLER: Character posing tools, new rendering effects and new render management functionality make this new version of Modo even better for creating ultra high quality images that can be used for VFX and post-production. Many of these same advancements also benefit artists working in print advertising, signage, packaging and graphic arts too.
To help you add humans, hands or other characters to your productions, Modo 601 gives you a handy way to pose and animate characters without complicated rigging. Plus, new Skin and Hair shaders make human models more life-like in your final renderings. At the same time, Modo has an incredibly advanced order of operations deformation pipeline coupled with a node based rigging solution so TDs at the highest level of VFX will be able to get their hands deep into the system for complex rigging solutions. Partner that with the asset re-use system in Modo and you have a mechanism to bundle up complex systems in such a way as to allow them to be used by people who have less time to create such rigs but might want to benefit from the tools.
Rendering throughput is also a priority. The Render window in Modo 601 has been re-designed to help you review and improve your renderings. It is now a multi-function environment for rendering, baking, image viewing, image processing and side-by-side image comparison. And a comprehensive new Render passes facility provides a repeatable way to render scenes with alternate settings such as different materials for color studies, or with different item visibility for compositing, or at different x,y resolutions for web and print applications.
The Preview Renderer gets some love too. This renderer is active "while you work" and provides an up-to-date view of your scene with materials and lighting applied. As of Modo 601, the Preview renderer can now be set to render at full resolution so that you can employ it for your final image. Previews can now show motion blur and volumetrics too.
We have some cool new motion graphics functionality in Modo 601, which are great for creating opens, interstitials, overlays and the like. Eye candy!
And speaking of eye candy...volumetric rendering has been added to Modo 601, letting you create blobby objects, clouds and smoke. Another cool feature is "texture bombing" which provides a creative new way to avoid the "tiled" look and efficiently get organic looking textures like mold, dirt or aging effects. You can now render textures on your models with random size and rotation with no UV map required.
A lot of productions are going for a more organic, less "computer-y" look these days. Contour edge rendering in Modo 601 now delivers interior crease details for unique, sketch-like illustrations. Other non-photorealistic shading options in Modo 601 include a half-tone shader and a cel shader for stylized work.
It’s a big upgrade!
CGW: Last year you mentioned that ILM is using Modo extensively for concept art, can you tell us what features in Modo help these type of artists?
PEEBLER: We work very closely with several artists at ILM. They primarily use Modo for concept art, but sometimes the concept art is so close to what is needed for final that we get a shot or a layer in the finished productions. It is really exciting for us and since they are also Bay Area locals, it seems natural for us to work with them. As far as specific features, they are using the whole lot. I think this "all in one" aspect of Modo is actually the biggest thing that attracts the concept artists to Modo. They also find it to be great for experimentation as they have really come up with some innovative applications of Modo features. For example, they rendered curves as tubes to simulate time-lapse "moving traffic" on some of the night scenes in “Hugo.”
On the production side of ILM, John Knoll often leverages the fast production workflows of Modo for “one off” shots. There are several examples of his work in “Super 8,” the latest Mission Impossible and, as mentioned, “Hugo.”
CGW: Would Modo be useful for storyboarding? Does 3D translate in this medium?
PEEBLER: Yes. Animated storyboards are increasingly common and Modo is ideal for this. The Preview Renderer also provides an "over the shoulder" opportunity for the art director to make changes, which is a great feature for planning out shots, or reviewing changes with other project heads. Many users employ Modo strictly to create still images and storyboarding is just a collection of still after all. With the “rig-less rigging” in 601 one could easily imaging roughing out action poses for a character just as fast as they could with a pencil on note cards and with the added benefit of re-use that 3D provides.
CGW: Modo is being used more and more for those working in advertising. What are the most interesting applications you’ve seen so far and why do you think they are gravitating your way?
PEEBLER: Modo was designed to make great art and to make it fast. Because we create our own rendering technology we’ve been able to integrate it at the core of the Modo workflow. Modo was the first production level 3D system to have a progressive global illumination viewport as part of the core workflow. This means that you don’t stop working to do a test render. Modo is always making images for you as you work. This also makes it a lot more intuitive to learn. Drag a slider, see the result- concept learned. This real time feedback has allowed a lot of photographers to make the leap into 3D with Modo. And guess who feeds images to the advertising world? Yep, photographers. Another strong area for Modo in the advertising world is the photo-retouchers who also gravitate to Modo due to the ease of use and photographer-friendly metaphors. Of course, both groups deeply appreciate the preset system in Modo, which makes scene creation very simple. In fact, rather than having to model, the user can assemble a scene from pre-existing assets either included with Modo or from the many gigabytes of free data available via our community share site.
As far as interesting applications, we love it when we hear about Modo being used to render out massive high-resolution panels that are used for billboards and graphics on the sides of vehicles. And lately we are hearing more and more about the Modo users who started in advertising making high resolution stills, using Modo to animate for the same clients as outdoor advertising goes from large-scale print to flat panel screens.
POST: Do you feel like 3D has crossed over and become a standard tool in the production pipeline or do we still have a ways to go?
PEEBLER: The 3D industry is clearly in the "adoption" phase as regards to 3D tools — the "early adopter" phase is pretty much past in most industries. Still, new applications keep cropping up — a very exciting time for 3D, all in all. As mentioned earlier, at Luxology we are really into photography. I think it shows up in Modo, with our support for Photoshop and features like the shadow catcher that automatically casts a shadow on a background image. We see a lot of examples in our image gallery being done that integrate invisible 3D elements that sit alongside photography. Often it is this marriage between real footage and Modo CG that is the most compelling.
CGW: What is next for Modo?
PEEBLER: Although Modo is a 3D tool, our architecture is not limited to 3D. Lately, we have begun experimenting with ways to make the once separate worlds of 2D and 3D more closely integrated. We already have some of this functionality in Modo today. You get a little too narrow if you look at everything through a 3D lens. 2D is perfectly appropriate and even better for some things, we really get that. Luxology is in this for the long haul, and we have some really cool ideas on where to take Modo as a creative tool.