modo 202 Reviewed, an ArchViz Tool
By Wm Alexander
Wm Alexander is currently a freelancer serving the 'World' through ArchViz and Commercial CGI & animation for broadcast. Using modo almost exclusively for Modeling buildings all the way to potato chips & bags. Frequently using modo to camera match and set up for extensive matte painted texturing & 3D effects. Using C4D and Max to texture and render for compositing in After Effects & Shake.
modo is said to have a cult following amongst the ArchViz community. Why then is a 3D application known for its subdivision modeling capabilities, in its early to middle stages of development, gaining favor so strongly in a specialized 3D discipline such as Architectural visualization? The answer is not where most might believe it to be, unless of course you have used modo to model. Until the release of modo 202, it had a rather sparse material capability and no rendering engine. Simply, it was a modeling application with some very strong UV and UV unwrapping tools. The 202 release has a very strong rendering engine and material capabilities, but no camera animation abilities, except for automated turntable type animation. Why is modo so attractive compared to the other 3D applications used through out the ArchViz community? The best way to review is to run through the key points relative to ArchViz in the application.
Graphic User Interface
Fundamentally, modo does everything it can do right now just as all other major 3D applications do. What does set it apart is how the artist interfaces with the application and the level of control over the application. Its user friendly, right down to the point of having all the popular 3D applications mouse and keyboard mapping for short cuts.
OpenGL - OpenGL is a key component of the modo experience. View port navigation and response is among the best of all applications. Having modeled in modo and rendered in other applications the same heavy models, modo wins on view port display, period. Can you slow modo’s display down, oh yes, but it holds up much longer than most before seriously bogging down and slowing your workflow. The Data group is standard application stuff.Let us move deeper into the GUI next. Everything is accessible from the main toolbar, of course. There are a number of layouts in the LAYOUT dropdown menu for modeling and UV editing. Ranging from what you see below to a very sparse 3D-all viewport for maximum visibility layout. You can create a new window and call up any layout, form, list etc. inside that window. For that matter every docked menu in the GUI has the same capabilities.
However you want it, you can have it. In addition to the preset Layouts, many modo users simply modify the user interface quite extensively "as they go", optimizing the GUI according to the task. If you decide you want to have a front view of your design say with a photo in the background, plus a floating color palette, the materials editor and a render preview, you can!
The viewports have a very robust set of controls and operations. You can change views from the view pop up menu or 'ctrl-space' for a pie menu. The display pop up menu functions let you do all the standard wire frame to texture, texture shaded, advanced OpenGL, gooch toon shading, cell shading and reflection. The control over display does not stop there either. You can set any display property. Shade options for wire frame displayed over texture; colored, uniform or none. The same is true for the background layers. Then there is an assorted selection of visibility options
The icons for mouse or tablet navigation are next in the viewport. Every window has a 'widget' (a triangle on its side). There you have access to display anything that modo will display. Viewport navigation brings us to another key asset when interfacing with modo, the keyboard keystrokes. The vast majority of very common keystrokes performed exclusively by the left hand. Leaving your right hand to work the mouse and move a very short distance to do numeric keypad entry. From a physical movement point of view, this is probably the most efficient default way of working yet in a 3D application. Viewport navigation uses the 'alt' and RMB to arc ball, rotate, Alt-Ctrl to zoom and Shift Alt to pan. Seems a bit awkward at first, but considering the space bar drops tool functions and selects through vert-edge-polygon "selection mode", and the shift and alt keys are used with many of the command short cuts. Add some left mouse button functions such as a freewheel rotation of the scene and polygon selection zoom navigation in a view port is extremely fast.
Selection of elements and working in the viewport is very efficient too. Selecting elements by point click, a painting or brush movement and lasso, with element highlighting. The lasso switches to circle, rectangle, ellipse. The ability to select facing and back facing elements using the lasso style is the difference between using mouse buttons, with no need to change settings anywhere. Working with the elements is nothing more than a right click of the mouse button away. That brings up contextual menus to work with the elements. Cursor is over the background, selection menu and over geometry a menu related to the selected elements and associated tools. Items, Polygons, edges and verts all having specific tool sets for manipulation of geometry. With many, more keystrokes such as ‘L’ for loop selection, shift-up arrow to increase selection. modo also has definable selection sets recalled from a menu dropdown or the info and statistics view.
Transforming is robust and efficient also. 'W' 'E' 'R' and 'T' short cut keys, which you will.notice are still all left-hand. The first three are move, rotate and scale, the T brings up a gizmo with all three functions. The individual functions have planar handles (circles) in addition to axis constraints. Display and center aspects of the gizmos are determined by "Action Centers" in 3D space. In that drop down you can setup a wide and flexible range of locations related to geometry and the transforms. The default and automatic seem to be the most flexible. You can move the gizmos anywhere and affect the transforms. The rotate gizmo is of course position dependent for that transform. Generally, for ArchViz work the size of the overall project related to the small details having the ability to put the gizmo into view is incredibly valuable. All the transforms have numeric entry’s in the tool properties for very precise and 'almost' cad like accuracy. Even the Rotate transform has an alternate 'Shift_E' having a single axis rotation, with numeric entry and a slider bar for very accurate angular movements.
This area is the workhorse of organizing and controlling a scene and multiple scenes. It's the best of all all applications rolled into one package. Like layers in AutoCAD/Max it has a C4D Object view feel with Null capabilities and FormZ like Ghosting controls for modeling. The ability to intelligently group and toggle display of meshes in the view is critical for working on complex Architectural Scenes. The Ghosting displays non-active items as a wire frame. As mentioned before you have viewport control over how the wire frame displayed for visual understanding and contrasts. The ghosting of background items used with the geometry snaps. You can snap to the foreground "active item" or background. A click of a check box switches between them while working with any active function. The Ghosting also used to define the 'B' function of Booleans. The item view is simply flexible and straightforward. Note the other tabs in the view also.
Below the item list in the default modo 202 view is a tabbed view. The item property tab shows position and rotation for an item. Items are groups of meshes, modeled groups, (nulls), cameras, lights, texture locators and backdrop 'objects' in modo. Something to note here the mesh items or containers of meshes can be set up in hierarchies. Great for having a structures component all grouped by building and for character rigging of the low poly assets for animation.
The Tool Pipe Tab allows you control over the tools listed in the pipeline when used on the model. You can turn off the 'E' entry in the tool pipe, 'V' visibility of the gizmo and whether it is active on the mesh. Similar to turning on and off modifiers and modifier stacks in other applications.
Info and Statistics
This tab is probably the most valuable view for troubleshooting and special selection in modo. In this view, you can evaluate the active mesh in the viewport by vertices, edges and polygons. While modo 202 does a good job with keeping things clean while modeling, there is user error and situations that create geometry with coplanar elements, as with any application. modo allows 2-point polygons as part of creating and working with curves. These 2 point polygons, although rare, do not play nice with many of the edge and polygon tools and need to be found and eliminated as part of a mesh. This list view makes it easy. Polygons>Vertex>click the plus button to select in the view port, DELETE. … Being one example of many uses for this deep level of selections and ability to evaluate your mesh with out a lot of work.
All the typical parametric primitives full control over size location segments axis of origin. You can numerically enter or use the handles and transforms in the view ports to create. Unit primitives drop down list below have fixed unit primitives, a patch sphere, and what 3D application is any good with out the 'Texas teapot', and access to all the transform through Icons. More transforms dropdown, axis rotate, tack and element snap. The center selected dropdown give axis and plane options for the centers. Falloff dropdown lets you set up fading effects of the tools, linear, radial, cylindrical and more. The Set pivot point sets the pivot/center for the item 'Mesh’. The Add Geometry section has some of the common mesh editing tools handy for use right after creating a primitive. Thicken (Shell) and Bevel being the most useful for ArchViz modeling. Below that, section is the edit drop down. Cut, copy, paste selections and the paste tool. The paste tool is really cool, paste the selection anywhere. In conjunction with snaps a very powerful tool. Another keyboard function to note is the use of the shift key to invoke a command/tool again. Similar to hitting enter in AutoCAD to repeat the command. The past tool as an example will only paste one copy at a time. Clicking in another point in space only moves the location. So with the click shift you can create a forest of selected objects which is rather fast.
They are a number of tools here for free from architecture. (Tab not shown)
The axis slice tool slices based on number of slices or size for each axis. The tack tool is handy for 'tacking' geometry to specific points. For ArchViz the Bevel and extrude tools are most frequently used to create polygonal based openings, glazing frames and the likes. Having both numeric entry and gizmo based tools one can quickly make things look 'proper'. Using the shift key to recall the tool makes performing individual inset and shift (extrude like) operations as fast as you can move and click. The option to group polygons and apply the tool is also available. Overall, the mesh edit tools are great for design and creating ArchViz elements. One area that these really work the best in is reference image based modeling. Either putting an image in as a backdrop or as a material on a plane you can very quickly divide a mesh up, not unlike drafting (construction lines) to define openings, windows, doors and so on. Then use the bevel and extrude tools to accurately put depth to your structure.
The commands available in this tab are subdivide and Boolean related. The subdivide command, most commonly used for subsurface smoothing subdivision, does have a faceted subdivide. This is great for hard surface work. The Booleans are standard fair. modo does do well with Booleans, though it does not inherently merge vertices with close proximities during the Boolean functions. Cleaning up Booleans is typical in most applications. The Solid Drill and Drill commands offer methods such as Core Tunnel slice and stencil. Depending upon the function, you can also apply a material to the Boolean polygons, core tunnel, subtract...Stencil giving one a chance to clean 'joining' vertices and edges.
There is an environment Shader with full capabilities to affect Global Illumination through an environment material, image based and so on. The default environment textures are constant, 2 color gradient, 4 color gradient and CIE overcast. Covers the full range of typical ArchViz needs. Certainly enough options to get a decent sky influence match to composite a real sky image in place of heavier render times for High Dynamic Range Images.
The Light Materials have control over the light color and intensity. You can build layered materials just like materials for meshes to create whatever kind of lighting effect one can think of. The intensity controls "Radiant Exitance” measured in cd/m squared. If you’re used to % intensities you just can scroll the intensity up and down using a widget to the right of the data box. Though having some real world units can help close in on realistic materials and lighting if you are so inclined. There are full ranges of typical types of lights to apply light materials to. Directional, Spot, point (omni), area, dome, cylindrical. Aiming these bad boys can take a little adjustment in thinking if you are used to using targets, either by transforming and view general changes in the view port. The OpenGL support here is very good and accurate in the raw view ports. The render viewports which can do a lower or higher res render are additional tools for lighting scenes faster than waiting for the full blown renders. You can also adjust placement of the lights directly through a 'light' view in a view port. The more general controls such as light color, shadow color, the % effect on diffuse and specular are present in a texture layer tab. The Light tab itself controls intensity, as stated above, shadow type to none or ray trace. Light dependant controls include spread angle and samples for softening the edges.
The actual render engine controls are broken into 4 tabs, Frame, Settings, Global Illumination, Region, Camera & Lights (if selected in the item list).
Frame area on the tab has the resolution units, pixels-defined workspace units. The frame width, height, dpi and pixel aspect, all in one place too. Buckets, rendering buckets can be defined to optimize the render speeds and write to disk. Tone Mapping has the exposure controls, Multiplier and gamma settings. Along with a check box to clamp colors, very important control for the more dynamic range images such as .hdr, .SGI and others. Outputs allow you to use other than the shader tree to output the rendered color and Alpha information. The color information can be used to render an image through the shader tree, ambient occlusion shader, world normal, surface ID and Segment ID. Obviously, the AO option is very valuable as well as the lesser-used World normal for use in ArchViz
Region Tab (no image)
When Render region is activated this allows for selecting a specific area through % of top, bottom, left and right. A good way without community cpu / net render capabilities to distribute large scenes to other computers. Yes, the licensing is flexible like that. "You" the owner can use full blown modo on multiple systems without license transfer and some of the other gyrations of other applications.
For the camera enthusiasts, this a dream, come true. Beyond being able to position the camera coordinates you can choose between perspective and orthographic. A focal length, the film width, height, offsets and fit are independent of the render frame aspect. Lens distortion for the fisheye look or even matching CG renders to other (all) images with lens distortion, with real-time feedback-renders in the render views. Focal Distance can be automatic or defined and yes F-stop settings. In addition, blur length as a percentage.
The render engine and material capabilities are very extensive, flexible and really suited to any high quality photoreal or enhanced photoreal CG ArchViz work. It gets better yet the render frame window. The actual formal render to image function allows you to cache 10 renders, count ‘em 0-9. You can view all of them then save all of them, none of them, or just the beauty shots and see the alphas too. Along with a full display of how the render is progressing, numeric system values and a view port display of GI points. Then when the GI is complete the buckets fly. What actually renders is controlled by the functions in the render drop down list in the main toolbar. Typical visibilities and of course bake texture.
Baking texture requires uv mapping. The UV tools in modo are among the easiest to use and understand. Even works well as a stand-alone UV-painting tool, not going into great depth, however the level of control and how it works is very artist friendly, Well as friendly as UV mapping can be. Compared to other major 3D applications and UV-painting apps Luxology has found ways to make the flow just move faster, easier and generally work better.
Not so perfect
Now this is a glowing review of what modo can do and its possible benefits for the ArchViz communities. Now not everything is perfect. This is an application being developed from the ground up. The obvious lack of at least camera animation if not full animation at this point makes modo a modeling or still rendering application only, although rumors are rather positive in that area. modo can be buggy and a bit crash happy. I can testify that much of my experience with is directly related to not having current display drivers...like really current. Luxology does seem to make great efforts to trouble shoot and work with the display card manufactures to overcome those issues mostly caused by the advanced use of OpenGL technology. The online support manuals for 202 are, as of this review, not been fully updated from 102. A real frustration at times with the new render engine and shader tree. Other than those issues, many problems are end or new user related ;)
Editorial Update: These manuals are updated and are available in each user's account as of Sept 04, 2006
Luxology has done a great job supporting modo. Even the lack of current manuals, at this time, is countered by training material produced by Luxology and others like Dan Ablan, that ship as part of modo. Watching the videos covers the full range of getting you up and working with modo. It is really a community-based application and with those like Dan Ablan writing books and creating extended video training for modo 202 the application is really well supported.
A great amount of effort has gone into pointing out key aspects and general workflow in modo for ArchViz allowing the readers to make informed decisions about the application. Many extended aspects such as scripting and macro creation are not covered, though incredibly easy to use and powerful tools in modo. What is hard to really get across is the ecomony of movement using keyboards and pointing devices build into the workflow of modo. One can only evaluate what degree of benefit, through using the application in a production environment. Most everyone seems to express a real desire for and growing appreaciation of the application who have used it in earnest. So much is riding on Luxology developing the animation capabilites for modo. Having used and watching modo develop from 102 through 202, the likelyhood of these tools being inline with the quality of modo to date could be very impressive.
In closing, modo's workflow is polygonal at its roots and thus really best suited for those who like to model ArchViz in that manner! Without support for importing cad drawings, it is not a perfect match at face value for ArchViz. The basic polygonal workflow in any application can be emulated and enhanced in modo. If you find yourself spending large amounts of time cleaning meshes, creating complex meshes in your 3D application on top of the 3D cad imports, just find you're better off modeling than re-using the 'supplied' geometry, or just would rather or need to model from images, ... modo has many advantages for ArchViz. The render engine and material shader tree are very powerful in its own rights for ArchViz. If you use UV and painting tools as part of your workflow modo is hard to beat. Even being a good tool to light and bake illumination to texture. Using those textures in other applications for animation purposes. Overall, if you think modo could enhance your workflow and tool set, it's certainly worth a test drive and compare to what you are using now. Find out how some or all of the possibilites build into this application, for all CG artisits, may better your workflow.
You must be logged in to post a comment. Login here.