An in-depth overview of the ZBrush 4R8 release and its features
The Pixologic guys have delivered once again, an awesome upgrade, packed with new and improved powerful features!
During the last year’s ZBrush Summit we saw a little demo of what the new tools could look like and they certainly set the stage for another groundbreaking moment, like when Dynamesh, ZRemesher or ZModeler were introduced… do you remember how the ‘CG world’ looked like before any of those features?
I had the pleasure to be part of a fantastic BETA testing group of artists and I’ve been playing with these new features for a while, so in this post I’ll give you my impressions, I’ll show you the new and improved features and I will share some of the tests I did during my time with the BETA of ZBrush 4R8.
This is a list of new features (most of them), but based on my experience using them, I have divided it into 3 sections:
1. GAME CHANGERS
3D Gizmo (and deformers)
VDM brushes (vector displacement maps)
2. FANTASTIC ADDITIONS
IMM brush selector
Brush ‘Create’ menu (inventory)
Brush with consistent depth
3D Text plugin
3. THANKS FOR THESE TWEAKS!
ZSpheres to Dynamesh
Easy ‘underscore’ for subtools
Font scales up with UI
3D print exporter plugin
A lot of things to process, I know, which is why I’ll try to be brief on describing each item in the list and I’ll let you guys decide which features you want me to focus on, for a more in-depth tutorial/guide (leave a suggestion in the comments at the bottom of the page).
We saw this in the ZBrush Summit 2016 demo and ZBrushCore users already have access to this feature. The gizmo is essentially a way to manipulate your models and subtools in a more efficient and more ‘streamlined’ way (like the transform, scale and rotate interface you’ll find in other 3D applications like Maya, 3Ds Max, etc).
What makes this Gizmo so good and useful, is that it makes it really easy to move the pivot, re-center orientation, re-center subtools to grid and freely rotate and translate object. Some of the best features of the Gizmo (I think) are the ‘centre to unmasked area’ and the ‘link multiple subtools’!!!! (so yeah, no need to use transpose master to move just a couple of subtools together… amazing!).
With the 3D Gizmo selected, you can click on the list icons (far right) to link/unlink the subtools you want to move together. you can simply mask out the ones you don’t want to move. In the example below, I used the selection tools to isolate the little joint, I masked it, then I inverted the mask and position the 3D Gizmo by clicking on the ‘location’ icon (third from the left).
To complete the effect of an ‘opening mechanisms’, I enabled radial symmetry before rotating on the ‘Y’ axis.
You think that is cool? well, that is nothing compared to the BRAND NEW deformers! (these are absolutely amazing!). I think the new Deformers:Bend Arc, Bend Curve, Deformer, Extender, Flatten, Multi Slice, Taper and Twist are going to be an absolute treat for anyone sketching and exploring shapes in ZBrush. Additionally, you now have a quick access to the Interactive primitives from the same window.
Clicking on the little cog icon at the top left of the Gizmo gives you access to a pop-up window where you can choose a new primitive (which will replace your current subtool) or select one of the brand new deformers.
ZModeler along with the new 3D Gizmo and deformers make box modelling so much faster. When you switch ON a deformer, you’ll see a series of coloured ‘cones’ this are the manipulators. At first, they might look confusing but you can just hover over them and there is a bit of text that tells you what each one does (angled, radius, etc).
There are so many applications for these deformers, here is a quick test I made using FiberMesh and the Bend Curve Deformer:
Are you getting ideas already?
Another really cool feature is that you can actually customise and create your own gizmos. This is really cool!
Under Preferences, find the subpalette called ‘3D Gizmo’ and you can flick through the ones that come with ZBrush 4R8. To make your own, you can load the ZTool called StandardGizmo3D.ZTL from the ZStartup > Gizmo3D folder (I suggest you make a copy of this file before editing it as this is your standard 3D Gizmo).
You can use any tool in ZBrush to modify the Gizmo file, but there are certain rules or things that you cannot change (otherwise it won’t work). Make sure you keep the subtool order and the layers names, and the colours of each subtool as they are.
EDIT: There is a brand new tutorial series that introduces Booleans in ZBrush 4R8 – Watch it HERE.
Booleans is not a new concept in ZBrush, but there is a chance you haven’t heard much about them until now. You’ve probably have noticed these little icons on each subtool, next to the Polypaint ‘brush icon’:
Those are boolean operations and they have been there for a while. The problem was that using them was a cumbersome process and it required some tweaking to get exactly what you wanted.
With ZBrush 4R8, we now have real-time Booleans. To see this feature in action, you’d have to enable ‘booleans preview’ from the new button at the top left of the UI or from the Render Booleans subpalette withing the render palette. Personally, I consider this the most powerful feature of this upgrade. Real Time booleans allow you to have instant feedback of the action you are processing (obviously more evident with subtracting or intersecting).
Not only this is happening while you manipulate the affecting mesh, but it’s an operation that works with most of the other ZBrush features like array mesh (this is truly amazing). Here is an example of how I used the real-time Booleans in a more organic way:
Here is a simple test using Surface noise:
Using Nanomesh with booleans to create intricate patterns
Using Curve brushes with Real-Time Booleans is an easy way to create cuts and crevices. In the example below, I added a new subtool (the cube) and set it to subtract. Any curve will act as a subtracting mesh over the sphere:
Obviously not just curved brushes but Insert brushes as well. In the image below, I used very basic shapes (cylinders, spheres, etc) to build the robot and a few IMM brushes with booleans to generate details.
If you are familiar with my work, you probably have noticed that I’m not really a hard surface sculptor, but with this feature, it’s time to get into the game! Is so easy and FAST!
Working with booleans is really addictive, just watching the boolean effect happening in real time is quite mesmerising.
A point that is worth highlighting is that booleans work in a ‘preview’ mode, but once you are done with the booleans there is a one-click operation to create the mesh and it’s surprisingly fast!
The button to Make a Boolean Mesh is under a new Boolean subpalette in the Subtool palette
While you are in the boolean ‘preview mode’ you have access to some handy tools to check the integrity of the mesh like the ‘Show coplanar’ or the ‘Show issues’ switches under the Booleans render palette.
Another fantastic option is the ‘start group’ concept in the subtool palette. This feature allows you to have multiple groups of booleans within the same tool so you can have a hierarchy. In the image below, for instance, you’ll see that I’m using an object to cut a hole through the ‘wings’ of the tiny robot, but because I set the ‘wings’ as a START group (clicking on the arrow next to the boolean icons), the body of the robot is not getting affected by the object I am using to subtract.
Basically, every time you set a subtool as the start of a group, all the boolean operations below it will affect only that group and not the one above it.
Real-Time Boolean is an amazing tool that can be used in many different ways, but when it comes to hard surface modelling, it is just the best thing I’ve ever tried… you can create very precise and complex structures very quickly. Here is another test using mostly the booleans operations:
EDIT: There is a brand new tutorial series that introduces Booleans in ZBrush 4R8 – Watch it HERE.
Vector displacement maps is also not a new concept, and the ability to export these map has been in ZBrush for a while. However, in this new iteration of Zbrush 4R, you now have the ability to create your own vector displacement maps that can be used with your own brushes!!! (this will take the ‘double action brushes’ to a whole new level).
VDMs can quickly be generated from a plane, and there is a project file that ships with ZBrush that is all set up for this. What sets VDMs apart from alphas, is that they are not using a grayscale but RGB colours instead.
You might remember back in the day when normal maps were introduced, they pretty much deprecated the use of bump maps. VDMs use a similar concept, they also use an RGB texture as data input, so the ‘displacement’ of the points is not limited to one direction – height (grayscale) but in all directions (XYZ = RGB).
VDMs is like alphas on steroids! So you can use them to modify the behaviour of your brushes but with much more control. With the new IMM selector (more on this later), you can even have multiple vector maps in one single brush
The image below, is just a quick test of a character built mostly out of custom VDMs in a SINGLE BRUSH:
There are some new buttons in the brush palette where you can quickly ‘grab’ the sculpted plane and turn it into a VDM (you’ll see it as a grayscale image but with a ‘3D’ text on the thumbnails.
And if you were already thinking about it… the answer is YES, you can change the brush stroke and all the brush settings to further modify the way that your brand new VDM is applied to the surface
There is a caveat when creating VDMs. You can subdivide the plane but you cannot modify the topology, so no Dynamesh, ZRemesher, ZModeler, etc… just the good old subdivision level workflow to add details.
There are also a couple of additional sliders within the Deformation subpalette to relax and morph back to the plane. These two new attributes are really helpful to maintain the shape of the square plane, which ensures the accurate creation of the VDM.
Here is the final render of the Mushroom I showed you before in the Booleans section. I used VDMs for the details of the big mushrooms and all the little blue ones, are actually from a single VDM brush.
This is another incredibly useful and versatile feature. Now, with the click of a button, you can interactively turn and edit a shape or mesh into an alpha, or an alpha into a 3D mesh. You can create a simple shape and use it to create different alphas on the fly.
There is also another awesome feature, that I personally find really useful, which is that now you can store multiple alphas in the same brush! Basically, you don’t need 10 brushes each one with a different alpha anymore, you can have one ‘master’ brush with multiple alphas in it (you can quickly select them from the new ‘brush shelf’ or IMM selector).
Up to this point, we have access to some amazing IMM brushes and we could access the full list of meshes available to ‘insert’ from the brush > modifiers subpalette or simply by hitting ‘M’ in your keyboard.
But now, we have this really cool shelf ‘thingy’ where we can see the meshes available at all time (of course if you don’t like it, you can move it or hide it from the IMM subpalette within the preference menu) but I think is a fantastic workflow improvement. I personally prefer it on the left so that I can keep more of the vertical space.
You can drag the arrows to make the icons bigger or smaller and you can click and drag anywhere in this ‘shelf’ to find the mesh you want (like you would in lightbox).
But, you might say that this is not such great thing… it’s like having a tiny lightbox for your brushes. If that is what you think, allow me to introduce you to the following trick…
Take any IMM brush and drag it to insert a mesh into your existing tool, now select the 3D gizmo, and then simply click on any other of the available meshes to instantly swap between them and see what looks best on your model… awesome! (only works if you select the 3D gizmo before selecting a new mesh from the shelf).
A great new addition to the ZBrush brush system. These brushes are probably the best starting point to create new brushes using VDMs. They are also great when used in combination with the new lazy mouse options (more on this later).
This is a subpalette that has been added to the Brush palette and it is related to the ‘IMM selector’. Having multiple VDMs or insert meshes in a single brush is fantastic, but you need something to manage what you have in each brush, this is where the create brush menu comes into play… This subpalette allows you to control the inventory of those VDMs or Insert meshes you have in your currently selected brush.
In this example I’m reducing the number of VDMs in one brush, using the ‘Delete Mesh’ button to remove unwanted/repeated VDMs:
This new palette is also the new location for the buttons to create a new insert or nanomesh brush. You can easily delete stuff from the brush or copy them between other brushes.
Also, you might have noticed the ‘Create MultiAlpha Brush’ button this is what I mentioned earlier about having multiple alphas in one brush. However, this is the part that I left out… with a single click, you can convert ALL of your subtools into alphas that will live in ONE BRUSH!!! (the orientation of the mesh is respected):
I should have named this section just ‘New lazy mouse’ as there have been various enhancements to this feature, like holding shift to guide the length and angle of the stroke before it is applied. However, I think the most significant of the Lazy Mouse updates is the consistent depth, and it deserves its own title…
You’ve probably know that, in ZBrush 4R7, the middle line of a mesh usually has a more pronounced effect when using symmetry (as it is doubling up the effect of the brush on -X + X). This new brush feature fixes that issue.
Even better, you can now pick up the stroke from where you left off, with the exact same stroke depth!
To achieve this effect, you need to store a morph target. This will ensure that the depth is maintained even when you overlap two or more strokes. Also, with the ‘LazySnap’ you can control the distance from where the new brush is going to snap to the previous one (if you are doing a continuous line with various strokes).
This is another feature that debuted on ZBrushCore and has now been added to 4R8. You can easily change between languages and the UI will update immediately. You can even create your own language which is cool.
Not necessarily a new feature but now you can cut down the steps of inverting a mask. While dragging your mask, you can hold ‘Ctrl’ and ZBrush will now mask whatever is outside the mask selection.
You’d be surprised how useful is this! (also, you don’t have to keep holding Ctrl after you click and drag)
This is one of the things that I always wanted to have in ZBrush. The 3D text plugin simplifies the whole process of creating text in 3D and you can even load SVG files. I found this extremely useful when used in combination with the Booleans to engrave models and to add details with the help of the new deformers.
This it’s a very cool addition that adds another layer of complexity to your brushes. This feature is almost like having the pinch or inflate effect, available to all the brushes and not just to the Standard brush (from modifiers). In this example below I’m using Alpha 18, and the ‘Low Magnify’ slider is set to a high number which means that the alpha will get magnified (a bit like inflating the alpha) where the low pressure in the stroke is applied (beginning and end of this example).
These attributes can be found in a new subpalette under the brush palette called: Alpha and texture.
This is a pretty self-explanatory feature and it is under the Alpha palette and I found it particularly useful for creating the effect of an oil painting brush:
ZSpheres adaptive skin now defaults to Dynamesh, which speeds up the workflow a bit. I personally prefer to do this manually after tweaking the volumes of the initial adaptive skin. You can always specify this from the adaptive skin subpalette (the Dynamesh resolution slider set to 0 will give you the original method).
Finally! We can now rename subtools with ‘underscores’: Subtool_01_excellent which I do really appreciate. but it also makes one of the tips from my ‘dealing with subtools’ post, obsolete.
For high res monitors, the UI font now scales properly so it doesn’t look fuzzy. (I’ll update this section soon, with a screenshot of my Mobile Studio Pro at a higher resolution).
With a shiny brand new name, the updated 3D Print Hub plugin gives you more control over the exporting settings for 3D printing. If you own a FormLab printer you should be able to print with the click of a button… I haven’t tested this myself, but if the FormLabs guys send me a printer I’ll update this section haha ;).
I personally have a custom flat UI that makes everything look less busy and I ALWAYS remove the background gradient, which is why I really enjoy the new subtle look of ZBrush 4R8 (like ZBrushCore UI).
The steps to customise the UI are still the same, so if you are interested in creating your our UI layout, this post might be of interest to you.