Tuesday, March 26th, 2013 Posted by Jim Thacker

Luxology ships Modo 701

The new particle engine may be one of Modo 701’s most eye-catching features, but it’s far from the only one. Below, we’ve picked through the mass of documentation to bring you the highlights of Luxology’s latest release.

Luxology has released Modo 701 (or strictly, MODO 701, given its new official branding).

The announcement was made last night during a webinar to show off new features in the software, and the first copies of 701 were actually shipped during the one-hour session.

The highlights of a ‘monster’ release
As we reported earlier in the month, Modo 701 represents a significant update to the software, with a feature list that ranges from new particle, dynamics and animation toolsets to changes aimed at pipeline integration.

“It’s truly a breakout release for us. It’s a monster,” commented Luxology co-founder Brad Peebler.

While many of the new features were already known from the original announcement, or from the sneak peek videos that Luxology has released since then, last night’s session helped flesh out the remaining details.

In particular, Luxology showed off some interesting new sculpting and retopology workflows – and provided context for its claim that Modo 701 is “as much as 175x” faster then previous releases.

Below, we’ve sifted through the mass of demo videos to pick out the highlights of the new release.

Particle simulation and particle sculpting
One of the most eye-catching features of 701 is the procedural particle engine. Particles can be influenced by a standard range of forces, such as wind and gravity, and can interact with rigid body dynamics simulations.

As with Modo’s existing rigging workflow, particle simulations can be created by applying presets, or through a full node-based workflow to create more complex schematics.

A range of Particle Modifiers (pMods) can be wired into a network to control particle behaviour. The video above shows a Look At modifier; other videos on the Luxology website show the Random modifier.

Interestingly, particle systems can be converted to meshes with the new Particles from Mesh option. The resulting ‘4D’ mesh can then be sculpted with any of Modo’s standard tools.

“When we implement these features, we design them to play well with one another,” said Peebler. “You can literally use any of your modelling tools to model a baked mesh cache from the particle system.”

The video above shows a simulation being baked to a 4D mesh, the Constrain to Background operator used to move and conform that mesh to new geometry, then the mesh cache being pushed back to a particle sim.

Improved dynamics
Particles can also interact with rigid body dynamics, thanks to the new ‘eval layer’ within Modo 701, which enables the software to cache simulations, and for different types of simulations to interact.

The eval layer significantly extends Modo’s dynamics capabilities, previously confined to those provided by Eric Soulvie’s Recoil plugin, which was integrated into Modo 601.

“A lot of the challenges we had with the implementation of [the Bullet physics dynamics library] before is due to the fact that we didn’t have a true simulation layer,” commented Peebler.

“What Eric did with Recoil was clever and worked quite well but wasn’t integrated to a level we really wanted.”

Modo 701 implements what Luxology calls ‘live sims’: the option for a user to manipulate a simulation directly and see the results displayed interactively.

“[Having a complete dynamics layer] means you can do things like grab a soft body dynamics mesh and shake it around and see the result in real time,” said Peebler.

New animation options
The updates to animation workflow also reflect a desire to provide users with immediate visual feedback.

The new Time Haul tool enables users to scrub or loop through part of an animation without losing the current frame. On releasing the mouse, Modo reverts to the keyframe specified.

The video above also shows another interesting new feature of Modo 701: editing animation by manipulating motion paths directly in the viewport. A Copy to Shadow option preserves the old animation curves.

There are also 19 new channel modifiers, enabling users to create more complex animation schematics. The set includes a new Sound channel modifier, which can wire up audio to “pretty much anything in the scene”.


The existing animation toolsets have also been updated in interesting ways, with the graph editor receiving a significant overhaul, and Dynamic Parenting becoming a drag-and-drop process.

Collectively, the new features make it easier to refine animations by manipulating a scene directly, a workflow with some similarities to sculpting.

“I think of animation similarly to modelling: rather than refining a shape, you’re refining a time,” said Peebler.


Better sculpting and retopology workflows
Sculpting workflow itself has received a significant overhaul, as demonstrated by Luxology creative specialist Greg Brown during the webinar. The demo starts at 02:30 in the video above.

In the footage, Brown demonstrates applying a displacement maps from an external sculpting application like ZBrush to a multi-resolution mesh in Modo, fixing UV seam issues rapidly with the Smooth brush.

“Not only does this enable us to add more detail, but we don’t have to go back and forth between an external sculpting tool and Modo,” he said. “If there’s a problem, we can just go in there and fix it.”

Brown also illustrated the process of baking and editing displacement maps in Modo itself, including new, more accurate raycast displacement maps: something you can see at 15:15 in the video.

“This is going to enable you to add hundreds of millions of polygons worth of detail to your meshes,” he said.

Retopology workflow has also been enhanced: the new Contour tool enables users to draw edge loops onto the surface of the model that can then be linked to form continuous geometry via new options in the Bridge tool.

New hybrid sculpting workflows
Throughout the demo, Brown repeatedly stressed that the new tools “play nicely” not only with the other pipeline tools like ZBrush, but with Modo’s existing toolsets – opening up the possibilities of new hybrid workflows.

This is particularly evident at 38:50 in the video, where Brown demonstrates baking render curves into a mesh, leading to a discussion of a new ‘hard-surface sculpting’ workflow.

“This is going to allow you to be able to produce things nobody else is going to be able to produce in any other application,” he claimed.

Improved viewport performance
The webinar also provided some context for Luxology’s claim that performance in Modo 701 has been increased “as much as 175x”, with a live demo of a 60-million-poly model being manipulated in real time.

On an HP Z Series workstation with a 2.9GHz dual six-core CPU and 48GB of RAM, Brown gets a frame rate of around 15fps, and notes that the figure would be around double that if he were not streaming his screen.

Interestingly, the demo machine does not use a workstation GPU, although the games card it is using – Nvidia’s GeForce GTX Titan – is very much the top of the range.

Peebler notes that since Modo’s RayGL viewport rendering mode is still CPU-bound, processor speed and overall system memory are more significant to performance than graphics memory.

A striking demonstration of Modo 701’s RayGL performance is provided in the video above, which shows an environment from Wes Ball’s short film Ruin.

The display updates reasonably fluidly while displaying almost three billion polygons with full GI. According to Peebler, the scene has been imported directly from Modo 601, and has not been optimised further.

Plays nicer in visual effects pipelines
As the sheer size of Luxology’s online tour illustrates, there are a lot of other new features in Modo 701: notably the new Item Shaders and an improved physical sky.

However, the changes that may ultimately do most to grow Modo’s user base are those that affect the way it integrates into a VFX pipeline: changes that bear the influence of Luxology’s merger with The Foundry.

As we reported earlier in the month, The Foundry’s development team has ported Modo to Linux.

In the webinar, Peebler confirmed that the new Linux version, now in open beta, is feature-equivalent to the existing Windows and OS X versions, although the plugins and add-on kits have yet to be converted.

Luxology has also overhauled Modo’s Python support to give the “same degree of access” as a C++ plugin.

Both will be significant features in the overwhelmingly Linux-based, Python-savvy world of high-end VFX, and open up the possibility of greater interoperability with The Foundry’s own tools.

“We do have plans to connect Modo to Nuke, Katana and Mari,” commented Peebler. “We’re not going to go into specifics yet, but we’ve already validated workflows.”

New features, new price
Modo 701 is shipping now for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. The price of a single copy has increased by $300: to $1,495 for a node-locked licence, or $1,795 for a floating licence.

Anyone ordering before 15 April will receive a copy of Luxology’s NPR Kit, normally sold for $199. The trial version of Modo 701 is not yet available, but you can pre-register for it via the Luxology website.

Take the Modo 701 feature tour on Luxology’s website

Watch all of the Modo 701 sneak peek videos on The Foundry’s Vimeo channel

Pre-register for the trial edition of Modo 701