Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 Posted by Jim Thacker

Pixologic ships ZBrush 4R5

Ryan Kingslien demonstrates Panel Loops in ZBrush 4R5. See more 4R5 videos on Ryan’s YouTube channel.

Originally posted on 24 December 2012: scroll down to the foot of the story for updates

Pixologic has released ZBrush 4R5: another major, free update to the industry-standard sculpting package.

The release is the second major update to ZBrush in six months and the fourth in little over a year, previous free updates having added features like true clay-like sculpting, hair and retopology.

New modelling and topology options
The most significant actual new features this time around are probably the new modelling and topology options.

The new Panel Loops feature (demonstrated above) covert a model’s PolyGroups into panels of polygons with an editable custom bevel, ready for extrusion – for example, to create instant armour or surface detail.

PolyGroups are also used to calculate the new Polish by Feature option, which “intelligently improves your mesh’s shape without sacrificing volume”.

But perhaps the most interesting new topology option is Delete Loops, which automatically removes all of the edge loops that don’t contribute to a model’s shape for a given angle setting.

As well as being a way of streamlining geometry, Pixologic notes that “pushing the limits of the Delete Loops settings can be an interesting way to explore alternate designs … derived from the original polygon structure”.

ZBrush 4R5’s new Posterize feature generates cel-shaded effects, either as a conventional 2D rendering process, or applied directly to the model in 3D. Demo image by Oliver Milas.

ZBrush 4R5 also adds a new Posterize option: effectively cel shading, but you can apply the effect directly to model in 3D, as well as in the conventional way: as a 2D effect during rendering.

Output can be fine-tuned via the Outline function and some quite sophisticated tonal Step Curves controls.

Judging by the demo images we’ve seen so far, the results are fairly standard for non-photorealistic output of this type: an interesting new way to present sculpts, although for more sophisticated options like hatching or natural media effects, you’ll need a more specialist NPR package.

Nice smaller things
But arguably, the changes in ZBrush 4R5 that will make most difference to most users are those to workflow.

ZBrush now offers incremental Quick Saves (10 by default, but you can go up to 100 via the Preferences settings), with the option to Auto Save after a predetermined period of time.

There is also a new semi-transparent See-Through Mode for the GUI, enabling you to check reference images – or simply look at email – without having to switch windows.

The new Dynamic Brush Size option automatically adjusts brush size according to the distance between the model and the camera: the further in you zoom, the smaller the details you create.

Watch demo videos
And finally, there is mouse wheel support: not an essential feature, but as we can testify, one of those things you really miss when it’s gone.

For once, there aren’t any official demo videos in the announcement thread on ZBrushCentral, but former ZBrush product manager Ryan Kingslien is beginning to rectify that on his YouTube channel.

ZBrush 4R5 is free to existing users, or $699 to new ones – although, given the number of free updates that Pixologic releases for every paid one, you have to wonder how many of those there are left.

Updated 2 January 2013: Ofer ‘Pixolator’ Alon has posted a timelapse video on ZBrushCentral showing Panel Loops and Polish by Features in use to refine a rough DynaMesh sculpt into a detailed science-fiction vehicle.

It’s an intriguing demo, since it shows how a conventional-looking hard-surface model can come about through a very unconventional organic sculpting workflow. You can watch the demo here.

Read a full list of new features in ZBrush 4R5

Watch Ryan Kingslien’s demo videos of ZBrush 4R5