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'The Official Luxology modo 301 Guide': Sculpting Techniques

In this sixth and final excerpt from The Official Luxology modo 301 Guide, author Daniel Ablan shows how to sculpt landscapes.

All images from The Official Luxololgy modo Guide, Version 301 © Course Technology.

This month VFXWorld concludes its excerption of the Thomson Course Technology book The Official Luxology modo 301 Guide, which will give VFXWorld readers a chance to build, layer, model, animate, texture and render with modo. Skills are taught using projects that take the reader from simple modeling to complex tasks, taking advantage of various tools and options along the way.

When it comes to modeling in modo, there really has been no limit to what you can create. That's even more true with modo 301's sculpting capabilities. This book is designed to show you all of the techniques available to you, through written word and visual examples on the DVD. This chapter will take you into another project in which you'll model a landscape. From there, you'll use modo 301/302's sculpting tools to shape it, then texture it and later you'll add the environment. You'll see how modo's micropolygon displacement works and how powerful it is.

Building a Landscape

Landscapes traditionally have been a chore for 3D artists. This is because to properly create them, you need a lot of geometry. A lot of geometry means a lot of polygons, and a lot of polygons means a lot of render time. But the team at Luxology introduced micropolygon displacement in modo 201, allowing you to create and work with simple objects but render with millions of polygons. How is this possible? The micropolygon displacement feature generates additional polygons at render time. The goal is that finer details can be achieved without physically modeling them into the base object.

You can then add to the details achieved through micropoly displacements and with modo's bump map capabilities to generate some terrific looking models. But how are these two techniques different? What determines the micropoly displacement over a bump? Let's say you build a landscape, such as the one shown in Figure 1. A basic model, which can be built from DEMs (demographic elevation maps), or just free form with various modo tools. It's simple in the 3D workspace, but the render shows a more detailed model. In most cases, this will work well. The subdivision in this image comes from a procedural noise applied as a bump layer in the Shader Tree. Figure 2, on the other hand, is the exact same model with the same procedural noise applied as a layer. Micropolygon displacement is activated within the Render Properties panel in the Settings category. Notice the fine details in the image. These details are not bump maps, which are only a visual effect. Micropolygon displacements physically change the geometry. This allows you to create minute details that are almost impossible to achieve from modeling alone.

[Figures 1 & 2] A typical landscape model, simple in the viewport, and then subdivided for the render (left). A typical landscape model, but with micropoly displacement turned on. Much finer detail is achieved. 

Creating landscapes can be an expression of your creativity or something more specific built from real-world references and data maps. This next project will show you how to create a landscape. It's simple in its approach, but the techniques will demonstrate that the possibilities are endless.

[Figure 3] A flat plane subdivided four times will be the basis for a simple landscape model.

  • 1. Clear out modo by selecting Reset from the File menu.

2. Add a 1-meter unit primitive plane to the workspace by holding the Shift key and clicking the Plane primitive in the Tools tab.

3. Press the a key to fit the plane to view. Feel free to rename the Plane listing in the Items tab to Landscape.

4. Make sure you're in Polygons selection mode. Then press Shift and the d key to subdivide the polygons. Choose Faceted, and click OK. Now repeat this three more times. You'll have something like what's shown in Figure 3.

Note: Pressing Shift and the d key calls up the Subdivide Polygons command, which offers you a Faceted subdivision method for flat objects, Smooth for round objects, and an SDS Subdivide option. This method is very useful for subdivision surface–based objects that you need to subdivide. The SDS Subdivide option can also be directly chosen by simply pressing d in the viewport.

When building a subdivided plane, you can also do this: Draw out the flat plane rather than holding the Shift key and clicking to create a 1-meter unit. Then, after you drag out the plane, drag with the right mouse button to create multiple segments.

  • 5. Press the Tab key to turn on subdivision surfaces for the model. While it doesn't look like much now, it will momentarily.

[Figure 4] Using the Sculpt tool from the Deform vertical tab you can easily deform geometry. 

  • 6. Now, you can very easily shape this model. You're going to use a combination of modeling tools for the general slopes, but then use displacements for the details. Select Sculpt from within the Scale Tools category on the Deform vertical tab within the Tools tab.

7. In the Tool Properties panel, change the Offset Mode to Absolute. Then, set the Offset Distance value to about 80mm. The Smooth Amount value is fine at 30%. The Smooth Brush Size value should be set to 60. From there, click and drag on the model. You should see bumps appear, as shown in Figure 4.

  • 8. Hold the Ctrl key, and click and drag. You'll set a negative distance.

9. To quickly change the Sculpt brush size, right-click and drag in the viewport. Then left-click to apply the tool.

10. Go ahead and shape out a nice landscape. When you're finished, save your work. Figure 5 shows an example.

Note: Another way to use and adjust the Sculpt tool, as well as other tools, is to work directly with the Auto-Haul Display. Open Preferences from the System menu at the top of modo. Under the Display heading, select Tool Handles. Change Auto-Haul Display to On. When a tool is selected, you'll see a visible measurement appear in the viewport. You can click and drag on it to adjust a selected tool's value.

[Figure 5] Applying a positive and negative distance on the subdivide plane, a simple landscape is created. 

Note: If you want to change the distance of your sculpts, you can adjust the setting in the Tool Properties panel. However, doing so will change all of the sculpt operations you've already applied. So turn off the tool, turn it back on, then change the Distance value. The previous sculpt operations will remain as you set them. However, you could keep the setting at Adaptive, not Absolute, and adjust the strength on the fly with the middle mouse button. It's the best way to work.

Each excerpt from Daniel Ablan's The Official Luxology modo Guide, Version 301 will help you discover the power of Luxology modo. The book covers the latest version of modo, which features new animation and sculpting capabilities as well as enhanced creative control for the user. Learn step-by-step how to use the modo interface and each tool and feature as you work within the application, from getting started to saving the final product. Skills are taught using projects that take the reader from simple modeling to complex tasks, taking advantage of various tools and options along the way.

The Official Luxology modo Guide, Version 301 by Daniel Ablan. Boston, MA: Cenage Course Technology, 2008. 456 pages with illustrations. ISBN 13: 978-1-59863-497-6; ISBN 10: 1-59863-497-6 ($49.99).

Dan Ablan's love of 3D animation sprang from a job as a corporate video producer. Along the way, he discovered 3D animation and within a year, formed his own part-time animation business. Ablan is now president of AGA Digital Studio Inc., a 3D animation and visual effects company in the Chicago area. AGA Digital has produced 3D visuals for broadcast, corporate and architectural clients since 1994, as well as post-production services. In between animation jobs, Ablan writes books on the subject. He is the author of eight best selling international books on 3D animation. He is also the founder of 3D, a website dedicated to 3D learning. He has written columns and articles for multiple magazines and has been teaching seminars since 1995 both across the country and at AGA Digital Studios. Ablan is also editor-in-chief of HDRI 3D Magazine, a magazine dedicated to animation and digital imaging.