I have to admit that I only became familiar with ZBrush last year despite its excellent initial reputation as a hobbyist’s tool. The well-designed 3.5 version was introduced around the time of last year’s SIGGRAPH confab. In very nutshell terms, one could say that ZBrush is a modeling tool. But to say so would be somewhat of a misnomer. It’s actually a digital sculpting tool, which takes its methodology from traditional sculpting techniques.
I wish I could touch on all the tools Pixologic has added in this latest version, but the official document on the new features is an 86-page PDF file, which is a huge amount of progress for a point release. And these changes are only to provide an intermediate stage on the way to version 4!
The most significant tools added to ZBrush 3.5 are ZSpheres2. This innovative technique is a core system within the software that it used for quickly building out the volume of your model, laying out an armature, laying down ‘strips of clay’ to build and refine the surface of a model (ZSketching), and retopologize a high-density model to a simpler one for animation purposes. The tool is almost ubiquitous throughout ZBrush. When in the ZSketch mode, you can easily move the ZSpheres to quickly make changes to the model. Once you have laid out the overall structure of your sculpture, a skin can be generated over with it with a selection of algorithms. And from there, you can use the traditional brushes to sculpt in the details.
More brushes have been added to break away from the original ‘clay’ type sculpting to make hard surface modeling much easier. Texturing and UV editing have advanced tools. And they’ve made the first steps toward integration with other 3D programs with the GoZ file format.
The only drawback is that the program doesn’t abide by any established interface or UI design that has been established 25 years ago with the first Macintosh. So, the learning curve is unnecessarily steep. But once you get it, it’s complete magic. It even makes me a good modeler.