Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 Posted by Jim Thacker

Get promising free low-poly 3D modeling tool Dust3D

Developer Jeremy Hu has posted demos of two interesting new features in Dust3D, his promising open-source 3D modelling software: automated retopology and cloth simulation.

Dust3D itself is an lightweight modelling tool, geared towards quickly generating low-poly assets for games, or base meshes for sculpts, and uses an unusual, semi-automated node-based workflow.

The software has been available as a public beta since late 2018, but we haven’t featured it on CG Channel before, so now seemed a good time to take a look.

A modelling tool lightweight enough to run on a Raspberry Pi
Dust3D is an extremely lightweight modelling tool: the Windows executable is a little over 20MB – no install is needed – and it’s small enough to run on a Rasbperry Pi.

It has an unusual workflow, with similarities to character rigging as well as conventional modelling.

By clicking in the viewport, users can place a chain of ‘nodes’, displayed in front and side views, which Dust3D automatically converts to a low-poly cylinder.

Adjusting the position or radius of individual nodes converts the cylinder into more complex forms.

The resulting model part can then be manipulated via a simple set of modifiers – Chamfer, Thickness, Subdivide, Mirror – and so on; copied and pasted; or grouped with other parts.

A complete set of parts can then be joined to form the final mesh.

Includes automatic UV unwrapping, character rigging and pose interpolation to generate motion cycles
The resulting model is automatically UV unwrapped – Dust3D supports metalness/roughness PBR materials – and can also be auto-rigged by designating a character or creature’s neck, limbs and joints.

A rigged model can be posed by repositioning nodes to create key poses, which Dust3D can automatically interpolate between to generate simple animation cycles.

Completed models and animations can then be exported in OBJ, glTF or FBX format.

A quick way to generate low-poly assets for games or to use as base meshes for sculpting
Dust3D isn’t geared towards creating detailed assets, but it is a quick, beginner-friendly way to create low-poly assets, either for use in games or real-time apps, or as base meshes to refine in another DCC tool.

There’s even a JavaScript-based procedural modelling system: the software’s example projects include a simple procedural tree asset whose form can be adjusted with slider controls.

Epic Games were clearly impressed, awarding the the project one of its Epic MegaGrants last July.

New in recent beta builds: automatic retopology, ‘marker pen’ modelling system, cloth simulation
To that, recent beta builds of Dust3D add a couple of interesting new features, including automatic remeshing via open-source tool Instant Meshes.

The system automatically converts a base Dust3D low-poly mesh into a more animation-friendly, primarily quad-based mesh with a user-customisable poly count.

There is also a novel new ‘marker pen’ feature, which enables users to create model parts by drawing closed loops to define their silhouettes. It’s hard to describe, but you can see the workflow in this video.

As with Dust3D in general, it looks a quick way of creating models matching reference images – the software’s Reference Sheets system makes it possible to import them as viewport backgrounds.

Hu is also working on simple cloth simulation system, geared towards creating clothing for characters.

System requirements and availability
Dust3D is available for Windows, Linux and macOS under a MIT licence. It’s currently officially in beta.

Visit the Dust3D website
(Includes download links for the current beta)

Read a basic overview of Dust3D’s features in the online documentation

Visit Jeremy Hu’s YouTube channel
(Lots of real-time screen-capture videos showing Dust3D workflow)