Our series of CAD software reviews continues with Mudbox, an artistic and sculptural type of program that is a simple program to pick up and use as an intermediate level program once you’ve outgrown the beginner and basic CAD softwares out there. Although it’s not a free program, it’s small monthly fee for the features it offers is nominal. Tom Hazzard shares what sets this program apart from the other CAD software programs out there suited for creating creative and artistic 3D print models.
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Mudbox CAD Software Review
I’ve got another in our series of CAD software reviews for you today, and this post is brought to you by our sponsor, MakerBot. We’ve been reviewing a lot of different CAD softwares in the last couple of months. Every time I find a different one, they usually fall into one category or another. They’re a parametric CAD program or they’re more of a surface based modeling program or it’s a beginner program, sometimes a cloud based CAD software.
This one is a little different. It’s sort of in the same family as ZBrush, which we have reviewed maybe two months ago. It’s really unique and I’m really impressed with it. It’s Mudbox CAD software, which is an Autodesk product. Mudbox, as a CAD software, is more of an artistic, sculptural type of a program. Even though ZBrush is also in that family, I have to tell you, after checking this out and working with it a bit, Mudbox I think is a lot easier to learn to use.
I want to definitely emphasize that point, especially for the students and educators out there who may be interested and scratching their heads with what CAD program to use for creating artistic creations of any kind to 3D print. I’m sure a lot of you that have been working with TinkerCAD and 123D by Autodesk, you work with those for a little bit and you outgrow them pretty quickly. Where to go from there? I got to tell you, I think Mudbox is a really good one to use and to try.
Mudbox CAD Software Price Point
Let’s talk about some of the specific details about Mudbox CAD software and then I’m going to get into what really sets it apart, what some of the advantages are. Let me cover first, this is not a free CAD software. I want to make sure to put that out there. There are a lot of free software out there, some that’s very basic and some that is ultra complex. Something like TinkerCAD is free and is very limited and very overly simplistic. Something, which was the one we reviewed recently that is really comprehensive and is free, is Blender.
Blender really impressed me because it is a very comprehensive free software that I think professionals can use. It’s also incredibly complex. I think it would take years to become proficient at it. I think Mudbox is a little different. I think you can get up and going very quickly. There are other, some of the cloud based softwares that are more complex.
I remember we reviewed OnShape a few months ago. That is another parametric, more of an engineering I think type of a CAD program, similar to Solidworks. It’s free to a certain level and then you can pay monthly if you want to use it. The cloud based CAD softwares can tend to be free or less expensive.
Back to Mudbox, it’s not that expensive. There’s a cost for it but you can pay $10 a month to have complete access to the software. It’s not cloud based. You download it to your computer. If you want to pay monthly, it’s just $10 a month. If you want to pay for a whole year, it’s $80 a year. That will save you $40 if you can swing that.
I think back to when I was learning CAD, which was about I think 1986. I was in high school and had a part time job in an architectural firm. They trained me in AutoCAD, which was really the only CAD program or the most widely used one at the time. It was only a two-dimensional program in the beginning.
At that age, if I had access to something like Mudbox, I had a part time job and I could have afforded $10 a month. That probably would have been about two hours of work for me a month out of my pay to pay for it. Would I have paid $10 a month to have access to a program like this? Yeah, I think I would have. I don’t think it’s going to break the bank. Autodesk feels they need to charge for it and that’s fine. It is not free but I think definitely worth it. Let’s get into why.
Mudbox CAD Software System Requirements
Some of the other system requirements I wanted to cover quickly, I almost forgot that, is that this CAD software takes about a gigabyte of hard disk space. You’re going to download this and install it to your computer. It’s really similar to how the Adobe Creative Cloud works where you have a monthly subscription and then you download the program to your computer.
I guess that the software checks online to make sure your subscription is up to date so you can use it every month. Similar thing there. A gigabyte of hard disk space and four gigabytes of RAM is the minimum system requirements. That’s pretty typical of a lot of CAD programs today. I don’t think that’s out of the norm.
Artistic Expression with Mudbox CAD Software
Now, let’s get into really what sets Mudbox apart. It is a sculpting software. I had heard others talked about it before in past episodes. We had an interview with Bridgette Mongeon who is a professional sculptor in Texas. If you missed that episode, go back and check it out. You might want to go back and look at that. She talked about using Mudbox. I didn’t really use it, I didn’t understand it at the time. I just took her word for it, “It’s a good program.”
I finally had a chance to check it out. I can really see why she likes it. Because I’ll tell you, I think for especially a non-technical person who is more of an artist type, or a student who is just learning and playing around with different CAD softwares, trying them out, seeing what’s going to work for them.
If you’re doing more creative type projects that are not really dependent on exact tolerances and exact dimensions and you don’t need to make something parametric. If you’re definitely in more of an engineering field, I don’t think Mudbox is for you. If you’re in a more creative field or have more creative interests, I think you should look at Mudbox.
Here’s the thing, using it is not a very technical exercise. You don’t have to spend a ton of time really digging into what are all the different commands and, “If I want to do this, what does this program call it and what’s the right process to do it?” It’s really not like that. The tools are very intuitive. In the simplest sense, when you’re sculpting, you are either building up on top of a form or you’re cutting into and digging away at a form. In really much the same way you would if you took a block of clay and were manipulating it with your hands or different tools. It’s really very similar in principle.
You have to start with some kind of a 3D primitive. Mudbox doesn’t let you really create those primitives within the program because it’s part of Autodesk’s suite of products. It is meant to import and export files to their other programs, like 3D Studio Max or Maya.
I’m not suggesting you have to do that to use this program. In fact, I probably wouldn’t do that at all. I would probably build myself a solid object in Rhinoceros, my favorite program, and then bring it in to Mudbox to do other things with it. I’ll go into what that might be in a bit.
I think the major point is that you’re not going to spend a ton of time learning commands of a software program that is different from other software programs. Even though principles are the same, sometimes you use different programs, the commands are different. It gets quite confusing. This is really simple. You just learn how to sculpt. Just like you would learn how to sculpt physically with your hands. It’s really easy to pick up, and honestly it’s a lot of fun. I haven’t had so much fun with a program in a long time.
ZBrush vs Mudbox
I’ve got a couple details I want to get into with this program. Before I do, I want to make some comparisons with ZBrush because that’s another very popular program, very professional program. It’s similar in that it’s not a parametric CAD software. It is not something that really most engineers would use. It’s more of a creative program that is used for creating creatures or characters for video games and other CG type of applications. I think there’s a lot of similarity.
ZBrush definitely has a lot of tech tools in there and has its own language and its commands that you do need to learn. They’re not the same things you would find in a Maya, a 3D Studio Max, a Solidworks or Rhinoceros or a Blender. Their commands are unique and a lot of the tools are unique to that program. Mudbox really has, like I said, a more intuitive interface and it’s really easy to understand.
To me, conceptually, it’s really very much like using a paint program. Whether that’s simple Microsoft Paint, which I don’t know if it’s still is but it was included with the operating system on every Microsoft product. It was pretty intuitive what you could do with it.
The same thing with like a Photoshop. You know you can do pretty much anything with a pixel that you want to do in Photoshop, in terms of coloring it and shading it and dealing with layers and then different kinds of patterns and things and using different tools like a clone stamp, for instance, things like that.
Mudbox very much works the same way. You would start with a 3D primitive. Obviously there’s just a cue block. There’s a simplified human head. There’s all sorts of different primitives you can start with to sculpting. Plus, like I said, you can create your own and import them. They’ve got very good import file options for you.
You’re going to start with essentially, think of it like a block of clay in some shape that is roughly the same size and has some basic relationship to whatever it is that you want to make. Then you’re using these tools and you’re literally either building up material essentially, adding material to it, or pulling material up from the sole geometry you’re starting with, or you’re pushing it down and conceptually taking it away.
One of the cool aspects of these tools that they have to do this is the difference between building up and taking away from your geometry is as simple as hitting the command key or the option key, depending on your operating system. On the Windows system, the command key.
If you use one of these tools, you can change the size of your tool to be larger or smaller. You can set how hard or soft or how effective to the degree to which it will build up from a surface or cut into it. You can address that range. You can build up a whole lot or build up very little at a time.
It’s like you are sculpting and adding to it. If you hit the command, it just does the opposite function. This is true of all of their little commands. Every command that performs a certain function has an inverse command or action associated with it you access just by hitting that command key. I thought that was pretty cool and very intuitive. Like I said, these things are pretty easy to pick up.
The geometry itself is mesh based. It’s got vertexes all in it. Just like STL files have a mesh associated with them and the more polygons you have in it, the finer it is. The fewer polygons in it, the more coarse it is. This all has to do with how fast your computer can process everything. It also goes to quality. They have the ability, in Mudbox, you have what are called subdivision levels. I like this.
On the fly, as you are modeling something, you can essentially increase or decrease its resolution on the fly, depending on your needs at that time. It’s just a matter of, “I need to do some more fine detailed work or I really want to smooth something out really well. I want to increase that subdivision level.”
I think there’s six or so, maybe more, but there’s six or so subdivision levels. You can go up to level four, five or six if you want to do really smooth fine work. Or if you’re trying to speed through some things and your computer, your processor is being taxed a bit, you can reduce the subdivision level and continue in a more simplified way.
Intuitiveness of Mudbox CAD Software
One of my favorite things about Mudbox CAD Software, and I think why I really think I’m going to use this program. I think I’m going to start adopting this into my process. I don’t often say that in a review because programs are pretty complex. I was very impressed with the Blender program, when I did that review, as to how comprehensive it is to do so many things within one program and it’s free. But talk about complicated to learn, I would have a lot of downtime if I were then to then go and switch from programs I use now to relearn Blender. I’m probably not rushing to do that right now.
Mudbox is so easy to pick up and use. I think I can be productive and effective with it, really, right away. What I’m intending to do with it is when I’m creating a design for something that I want to 3D print, one of the things I always try to do is create a design that really makes it so that the layers of a 3D print …
I think this is true whether you’re using FFF 3D printing or SLA 3D printing from one of the resin based printers. I want to create things, designs that are going to make the layers less obvious or almost going to disguise them to a degree.
One of the ways you can really do that is with textures. I don’t know if any of you have ever been out to a Microsoft store or out to a Staples where they have some of the MakerBot printers are sold there. They have sample prints sitting around all the time. They have this little nut and bolt, that are functioning nut and bolt, that screw together.
The surface of that is knurled edge. I think I’ve mentioned this in a past episode. That knurled edge, really what it is, is the textured part of the nut and the bolt so you could grab it with your fingers and turn it and tighten it. You have some grip strength. But that knurled texture, still what it really does that I find is cool is to hide the layers.
When you look the way the light hits that texture, it takes your eye completely away from the fact that there are these linear layers that have built this part up. Really, your eye focuses on the actual geometry that was created there.
Mudbox, in sort of a painting sense, you can paint textures of all different kinds. Putting in any kind of a different image file as a reference. A JPEG, PNG, whatever, that’s sort of a texture map if you will. You can use that as a basis to not create a painted two-dimensional appearance of the texture on the object.
You can actually paint and have it interpret that as a three-dimensional texture. You can change how quickly it repeats or overlaps itself in order to have a wide range of possibilities of creating this really incredible surface textures on an object you create.
Any of you that are really major users of Solidworks or OnShape or like me, even Rhinoceros, which is a program that is geared toward creating more organic like forms in a CAD program. Creating surface, physical surface textures, is not something these programs do very well, if at all. I bought a plugin or two for Rhinoceros to do just this. Some of them work better than others to create some textures.
When I started checking out Mudbox and I saw how easy that is to create either a positive relief or a negative relief texture in an object, I’m like, “Wow, this is fantastic.” I think this is how I will adapt it and use it in my process.
When I’m creating my main model in Rhinoceros, I’ll export the file, bring it into Mudbox and can do a lot of texturing and a little more sculptural modifications to it that are much harder to do in my normal CAD program. That’s where I get super excited to have this stamp tool.
Also, they have a few different tools to try to accomplish it that you can use. It’s really like 3D painting. On top of that, if you do want to actually paint with color and texture maps, UVW maps, for after your geometry of your object is finished and you want to then actually paint the surface.
Let’s say, you’re going to send it out to a service bureau after you’ve tested printing it out on your desktop 3D printer. You’re going to send it out to a service bureau and get one of those gypsum 3D prints done that also prints color on the surface. You’ve got to have color information on your model. Mudbox CAD software does have the actual paint capabilities in terms of 2D painting, not manipulating your geometry, but 2D painting on top of your geometry in order to create a complete model for any purpose. 3D printing or using in renderings or as a character in a game program. Lots of really good tools for doing that.
Learning Support for Mudbox CAD Software
The other thing I want to point out is they have, within Mudbox, some one minute movies. Little videos that when you are first starting to learn this program, you can just watch a quick little series of half a dozen or so one minute movies to get yourself acquainted with what certain tools do and then have at it. Go in and start working with it. They also have some larger video tutorials.
I also found a wealth of video tutorials out on YouTube from other people that either teach Mudbox in classes or to other groups, or just because they’re interested in creating tutorials. Whatever way you want, that’s cool. There’s a lot of resources out there. As there are with I think most CAD programs these days. If you need some help, it’s really not going to be that hard. It’s not far away.
I think if you are a more creative person and more artistic and appreciate more artistic disciplines rather than learning the mechanical systems of commands and how to manipulate and create geometry, you might give this a try. At $10 a month, you can just do it for one month and then stop. If it’s not your cup of tea, you’ve only wasted $10. I guess I would argue that’s not wasted. You’ve educated yourself a little bit and didn’t spend very much doing it.
Final Thoughts on Mudbox CAD Software
I have to say, I’m a fan. Check out Mudbox. Very impressive. You don’t need to use any of the other Autodesk products. A lot of these other Autodesk softwares, like 3D Studio Max and Maya, are very expensive programs. Only professionals who are going to use them or that have corporate budgets that can afford to pay the more than $1,000 a year. It used to be you’d buy the whole program.
I was looking online and it seems they’ve all gone to more the annual subscription. It’s pretty darn expensive. I wouldn’t recommend that for anyone who’s just learning and just experimenting with what CAD software to use. You really want to know you’re going to use that all the time if you’re going to spend that much money.
Mudbox CAD software itself is very inexpensive. I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t give it a shot. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. I’d love to hear what some of you have to say if you’ve used Mudbox or experienced it. I’m impressed, but that’s just one opinion.
Let me know. Please reach out on social media anywhere @3DStartPoint. You could also leave a comment down at the bottom of the blog post or email us at info@3DStartPoint.com. Love to see some photos, images you might have, even if you have any videos you’ve done of any of the things you’ve created, we’d love to check it out. We can highlight that either in these comments on the blog post or maybe in a future episode.
- Mudbox CAD Software
- Other 3D Start Point CAD Software Reviews
- Intro to Mudbox – LIVE In-Class Demo with Mr.Brooks
- Mudbox 2017 Tips for Creature Creation -Live Stream
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