Review: Can MODO 701 Make its Mark on Animation and VFX?
When it comes to rendering, MODO has always been strong. But with the release of 701 it is now twice as fast, and also boasts quality improvements. The render preview tab was introduced in version 401 and still to this day is an extremely popular feature with long-time MODO users. It allows for realtime render feedback whilst using the shading tree, which is a huge timesaver. But when it comes to rendering out a scene, does MODO hold up when compared to the likes of Mental Ray or Renderman? In terms of quality - absolutely. However it's not all plain sailing. The network rendering and render management tools in MODO can be buggy. While this may not be an issue for those rendering still images, it will be a pretty big problem for studios producing animation or VFX work. This is definitely something The Foundry will need to address if MODO is to be become a more prominent part of the animation pipeline.
But the real hero of 701 is the new particle system. This was an essential addition if MODO is ever to become a serious end-to-end 3D application for animators and visual effects artists. It is perhaps a happy coincidence that this feature landed in the version released after Luxology merged with The Foundry, although it was certainly on the cards long before that. Given that this is MODO's first generation set of particle tools, the functionality here is particularly impressive. But what's missing are quick and easy ways to get up and running with bread and butter VFX particle work - smoke, fire, explosions, fluid simulations. Much of this is possible in MODO but it's nowhere near as straightforward as in Maya, for example, where we have a number of presets to create these effects quickly. Dynamics were introduced in 601 but have been more tightly integrated in the latest version, and feature improved performance. There’s certainly scope to produce top quality VFX work in MODO, the problem is that because the tools are quite new, we aren’t really seeing it yet.
It's clear with 701 that The Foundry are positioning MODO as a more rounded 3D application, clearly with a goal to drawing in animators and VFX artists. And perhaps one of the more potent signs that The Foundry are serious about this is the fact that at SIGGRAPH this year the the Linux version of MODO was released. With more and more animation and visual effects houses switching to the Linux platform, this definitely puts MODO on the map for those studios.
But one of the biggest barriers to really making that breakthrough into animation and visual effects is that, right now at least, there just aren't many studios who are using MODO for this kind of work. As a result there aren’t many skilled animators or VFX artists who are familiar with the product. This is perfectly understandable considering MODO hasn't been around for quite as long as its competition. However, it is something of a paradox. People aren’t producing animation and VFX in MODO, because people aren’t producing animation and VFX in MODO. There exceptions to this and MODO is definitely starting to build some momentum. For example, Matt Burniston’s short “The Mega Plush” (which is almost complete) has been produced entirely in MODO and looks particularly impressive. It’s clear that MODO is ready and waiting for talented animators and VFX artists to start unlocking its potential.
And all this potential doesn’t have to come at a price. MODO represents fantastic value at just under $1,500 for a single user license. The only other major 3D application sitting at this price point is, wait for it, LightWave. And while on paper LightWave may be the more “feature rich” application, it just isn't as much fun to use as MODO (and arguably it’s nowhere near as productive). And that really is the point. When Peebler and his colleagues left NewTek more than a decade ago their aim was to create a new breed of 3D application. MODO may be different, but it’s different by design. Peebler and his team dared to take a risk based on their conviction that there must be a better way to do things, and they should be applauded for that. Thankfully their risk looks to be paying off. With the release of 701 MODO is now a highly competent and well-rounded 3D application. But perhaps their biggest achievement was in creating something that is so easy to fall in love with. Unlike Maya which sometimes feels like a necessary evil, it’s difficult not to find yourself rooting for MODO. This does however make it all the more disappointing when it falls down.
But can it start to make significant gains into animation and VFX pipelines? It’s highly probable. With the experience of The Foundry in this industry, and the passion of Brad Peebler and his team, the likelihood is that it’s only a matter of time before we see studios using MODO to produce world class animation and visual effects. One thing is clear: MODO is certainly up to the challenge.
Paul Younghusband previously served as editor of Visual Magic Magazine and has contributed to publications such as Animation World Magazine and VFX PRO.