Thursday, January 29th, 2015 Posted by Jim Thacker

Pixologic ships ZBrush 4R7

Pixologic has shipped ZBrush 4R7, the latest – and much-anticipated – free update to the digital sculpting package, adding the new ZModeler poly modelling system, a bridge to KeyShot – and a 64-bit version.

Announced last August, and originally due out before the end of the year, the release has been one of the most eagerly anticipated in Pixologic’s recent history: earlier this week, posts asking when it would ship were appearing almost hourly on the release thread on the company’s forum.

Create polygonal models as intuitively as organic forms
The biggest single addition in ZBrush 4R7 is probably the ZModeler brush, a new polygonal modelling system that aims to make working with polys as intuitive as organic sculpting – or close to it, at least.

The brush uses a system of Actions (modelling operations) and Targets (the parts of the geometry to which Actions are applied: anything from single polygons to Polygroup borders).

As well as standard modelling operations, Actions include new ‘intelligent’ options like QMesh, which combines some of the functions of traditional extrusion, welding and Boolean tools.

A Repeat Last option repeats the previous Action, automating repetitive tasks; and there’s a new dynamic subdivision system, which can also be used to create real-time bevel effects.

Together, these options promise to reduce the number of tools and number of individual actions required to create polygonal geometry, making the modelling process faster and more fluid.

New surface instancing and geometric array tools
ZBrush’s instancing toolset has also been extended, with the new NanoMesh and ArrayMesh features.

NanoMesh is a kind of amped-up version of ZBrush 4R4’s Insert Multi Mesh, distributing hundreds or thousands of geometry instances – rocks, debris, leaves – across the surface of another mesh.

ArrayMesh is a reasonably traditional geometry array system, but combined with ZBrush’s other tools, the results are rather reminiscent of GroBoto, blurring the line between organic and inorganic forms.

In both cases, everything is editable in real time, with changes to both the base mesh and the positions of the instanced copies resulting in an immediate viewport update.

Or if you don’t want to create surface details using instanced geometry, the Surface Noise system now supports more than one noise source at a time; while the BPR render mode will render the result as displacement – described as “like having a displacement map without needing to create the map”.

Rendering with KeyShot
ZBrush’s rendering options have also been extended with the ZBrush to Keyshot bridge: a $149 extension that provides a live link to Luxion’s KeyShot renderer.

Although KeyShot and ZBrush share similarly intuitive, artist-friendly design philosophies, KeyShot is definitely priced like an industrial design tool, and some ZBrush users have balked at its cost.

Accordingly, if you don’t want to shell out $995 to $1,995 for a full copy of KeyShot 5, the new KeyShot for ZBrush offers a full feature set and no limitations on render size – but only imports from ZBrush.

Its MSRP is $349, including the bridge plugin, but early adopters get a further $100 off.

New 64-bit edition and FBX import/export
Other feature updates include ZRemesher 2.0, a further overhaul of ZBrush 4R6’s retopology system, and updates to the TransPose and texture-projection systems.

However, for many artists working in production, two of the key changes in ZBrush 4R7 aren’t the new artist tools, but under-the-hood improvements: ZBrush now comes in a 64-bit edition, and exports FBX files.

The former makes it possible for ZBrush to access more than 4GB of RAM, making it possible to work on much larger assets in real time; the latter makes it possible to get more data out into a production pipeline.

The 64-bit version is a ‘developer preview’, which means its users won’t officially receive support, although Pixologic claims that it has been fully tested and should work “flawlessly”.

Pricing and availability
ZBrush 4R7 is available now for Windows and Mac OS X. As with previous releases in the ZBrush 4 series, it is a free update for registered users. New licences cost $795.

Pixologic has confirmed that 4R7 will be the last free update before ZBrush 5 – but considering that this will be the first paid version in five years, that’s still pretty incredible value for money.

Read a full list of new features in ZBrush 4R7 on Pixologic’s new product website
(Includes demo videos of most of the key features)