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modo 202 Review: A Worthy Upgrade?

Steve Sullivan, director of R&D at Industrial Light & Magic, tells Barbara Robertson about the new interactive previs system ILM is developing.

Massive Ent., a studio in Vivendi Games Sierra Ent. division, is using modo for World in Conflict, the upcoming Cold War strategy game for the PC due in spring 2007. All images courtesy of Luxology. 

Early last month Luxology once again had customers singing their praises by providing another worthy and free upgrade to modo, their flagship application that combines 3D modeling, texturing and rendering. modo 202 is another welcome entry in what is fast becoming a go to piece of software for many studios as well as a number of independent artists. The update includes many improvements in addition to a surprising amount of all new functionality for an update. It is worth noting here that Luxology is to be commended for offering so much in a free update, especially at a time when their competition is offering quite a bit less in expensive, less worthy updates. That same competition is also incrementing a full version up, for less than stellar additions. Among the many additions in modo 202 is a marked improvement in performance; rendering times, in particular, are greatly improved. Modeling, painting and workflow are all addressed, giving the entire app overall a bit of attention and a polished feel.

Modeling in modo has always been smooth; the new functionality in modo 202 keeps that flow. Thicken is an excellent new modeling tool that is similar to a standard bevel but different enough to be beneficial. A good example is creating a simple pillow type of object. Starting out with a simple plane, a user can get the shape roughed out with minimal fuss. Once the user has determined the appropriate silhouette for the pillow they then activate the Thicken tool, which is located under the Basic modeling tools by default. Once activated a few values can be adjusted and in no time the object is created and can either be a full volumetric shape, with no confused normals, or inverted if that is the users intent. The tool is not revolutionary, but likely to provide great value to those looking to speed up production tasks. Also new to modeling in modo 202 is the option to display objects with a bounding box only: a simple addition but one that will prove very important to users working with very large scenes. Similar in usefulness are new grid view options aimed specifically at game artists. The game and unitless grids allow for greater flexibility without resorting to any special efforts for a game developers tools group. Rounding out the modeling improvements in modo 202 are some UV layout tweaks. Chief among them is the overlap feature, which, though not unique to modo, is a welcome and worthy addition. Both 3ds Max and Maya have a similar feature, which helps artists to see where the UVs are overlapped by displaying the offending polys in a unique color. Again, this is a minor production oriented improvement, one that is likely to show its value over time. UVs have gotten some extra help with the new pinning and relax features. Relaxing UVs is useful for those complex high polygon objects that would take much longer to unwrap without. The ability to both pin and relax at the same time is good stuff.

modo was used by DNA Studios for Warner Bros. recent animated feature The Ant Bully. © Warner Bros. Pictures.

The most interesting of the new texture features in modo 202 is the ability to paint an existing image onto a model, using something Luxology calls Image Ink. This is very much like cloning an image in Photoshop, the difference being that users paint from a 2D image onto a 3D object. There are enough options to make this a tool worthy of consideration for production, think standard digital brush tools. The way this all operates is well thought out. For example, the 2D image is displayed on a semi transparent plane on top of the 3D object. Once the user begins to paint, the plane and image are hidden. Only the brush strokes show the image as it appears projected onto the model. It is this kind of design that has always made modo a pleasure to use. On the same track is the ability to also stamp images onto 3D models, very useful for placing logos onto vehicles, or adding specific to detail to characters.

After spending some time with modo 202, users will find themselves pleased with the improvements. Those who have not yet tried modo should take this opportunity to give it a go. The app has matured into a solid, production worthy contender, one that can compete right alongside and, in some cases, exceed the more well known competition. The future looks bright for modo, and even though Luxologys plans for the software havent been announced, they have alluded to their grand vision. Without hesitation, I would bet on modo becoming bigger and better, and possibly a bit more animated in the near future.

New licenses of modo 202 sell for $895 while upgrades from modo 201 are free of charge. Upgrades from previous versions of modo cost $395. All versions are available in either Windows or Mac OS X flavors. Luxology also offers a free 30-day evaluation version of modo 202, which includes many sample files and an exploration guide.

Fred Galpern is currently the art manager for Blue Fang Games, located just outside Boston. He is also a Maya instructor at Northeastern University and a co-creator of the game development program at Bristol Community College. Since entering the digital art field more than ten years ago, Galpern has held management positions in several game and entertainment companies, including Hasbro and Looking Glass Studios. He began his art career in comic books and also has interactive, print and web design experience.