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Tooling Around: Luxology's Bennett Talks Modo

The latest ‘Tooling Around’ feature, which profiles and interviews middleware and tools developers about their products, talks to Bob Bennett of Luxology, developer of Game Developer Front Line Award-winning 3D modeling software modo.
For the latest in Gamasutra’s ‘Tooling Around’ feature, which profiles and interviews middleware and tools developers about their products, today’s interview is with Bob Bennett, vice president for marketing with Luxology, developer of 3D modeling software modo. The program, currently in its second iteration, is described by Bennett as a “modeler with benefits”, featuring a polygonal and subdivision surface 3D modeling environment, a paint toolset and Shader Tree and an integrated render engine. While modo has been designed with the aim of providing a complete and independent software package, Bennett says it “plays well with others”, meaning it can also be used “in conjunction with other software products, both 2D and 3D”. “Many of the use paradigms are very familiar to artists even if they have not used 3D before,” he comments. “A good example is modo's layered method of adding textures and color to models which is familiar to any Photoshop user. Some people use modo to produce final renderings - others use only a part of modo, such as the UV editing.” In January modo won Best Art Tool in Game Developer’s most recent Frontline Awards, which Bennett notes was “quite an honor” for Ludology. We spoke to Bennett recently and asked about the company, the development and refinement of modo and its use within the industry. When and why was Luxology formed? Luxology reached its fifth anniversary in January 2007. The company was formed to create 3D products that provide a superior workflow for artists and that took advantage of modern hardware like GPUs, multi-cores, pressure sensitive tablets etc. Fast feedback to the artist is a priority for our developers, many of whom are artists themselves. What were the aims and goals of the company at this time? To create a 3D software product that made people go, ‘Ahhhh’, and promotes flow. A lot of it comes down to getting the details of things like navigation and selection working beautifully. We like things in modo to behave just as you'd expect them to. Details matter! How did you realise the need for a product like modo? Existing 3D software at the time seemed to be largely a collection of algorithms and tools that did not offer a pleasing overall experience for the artist. We wanted and want to bring back the fun, the creative rush, of producing 3D. Frankly, we wanted to build tools of the type we ourselves want to use again and again. What was the development time on the product, and what challenges did you run into in preparing the product for industry use? We spent three years developing the Nexus architecture that is the foundation upon which modo is built. And we have been shipping a product called modo that is built from Nexus. We have a very experienced team of developers, many of whom have been working together for 10 to 15 years together. One challenge we had was in the area of user interface development. We wanted to be able to tweak and adjust that as late in the development cycle as possible and not have to go thru a coding process to make even major changes to layout, tool presentation etc. The solution was to make the user interface completely customizable by not just us, but by any modo user. This has resulted in a product that literally can be adapted on the fly according to the task at hand. How has modo developed over the time you've been producing it? The first version was a pure polygonal/SubD modeler. The next version, modo 201, added 3D paint and a very fast renderer which we built from the ground up. Next comes modo 301 which will add network rendering, item animation and sculpting plus many, many other improvements. How have you acted on feedback to improve the product? The modo community is extensively involved in the evolution of modo. It is actually even difficult to draw a line between us and our users as there is a constant flow of ideas and content back and forth. We get a lot of our energy from the great models and images that our customers post on our website and that can be seen in our gallery. How does the product work on a technical level? At the core it is a command driven system that has a very plastic user interface so it can present itself in many, many ways. Under the hood, a ‘toolpipe’ is at the heart of modo. The toolpipe - which is exposed in the user interface itself - allows combinations of tools, action centers and falloffs (think regions of influence) to be created in virtually any combination. modo is so customizable that even the commands themselves can me tailored to fit a given situation. The system is also extensively multi-threaded. The renderer is no afterthought - it is welded directly into the modeler so there is no hesitation when a final render is requested and this enables a lit render preview window to be brought that shows you a rendered result as you paint or model. The product is available on both the Mac and PC platforms and a single modo license lets you run on both computers. There is no hardware dongle and no annual maintenance fee. The product is scriptable in LUA, Python and PERL. How important is it for you that modo is self contained, and what are the benefits for you in doing this? For some users, modo is essentially their complete pipeline. Product or package designers can go from concept to final presentation quality rendering with modo right out of the box. Animators will typically use modo as a modeler and transfer assets built in modo to another animation system downstream after modeling and UV'ing. We have had a heavy and continued focus on making UV editing in modo as pain free as possible. We have actually had people tell us that what was once considered a dreaded chore is now close to being fun. Whether modo is used as a self contained product or as part of a larger suite of software is completely up to user. modo plays well with others. We do believe that the ability to have a tightly integrated modeling, painting and rendering environment provides a strong synergy for those who tap into it. What are some of the more notable examples of the product's use? Rather than talk about this, it is best to view the many images in our gallery. I think those speak for themselves. modo is extensively used in product design, 3D packaging, architectural visualization and is also at use in many game, post production and even feature film companies. We have a very strong international base of customers. Who is currently using the product? Oh, you want me to name names? One has to be very careful about this! id Software and Massive are two games companies who have been generous about letting us mention them as references. We have many, many other games companies using modo that I would rather not list as we do not necessarily have permission to reveal the nature of their internal toolsets. What do you see as the next evolution of modo? We have recently published an advance look at the next version of modo called modo 301. We have had a great response to it! modo 301 adds sculpting, network rendering, item animation and a ton of user interface and other enhancements like a new snapping system that seem to be popular with those who have seen our demonstration videos. It will ship in Summer 2007.

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