2015-04-09

Digital Clay: the magic of Sculptris


Digital Clay: the magic of Sculptris


So this is my first attempt at modeling with Sculptris, a free digital sculpting program, that is so well designed almost anyone can use it. I've had some experience with 3D Studio Max but never really got the hang of it when it came to modeling, but in Sculptris this felt way more natural. Programs like 3DS Max are designed for more than just modeling and can get awfully complex, but Sculptris is designed for sculpting, the interface is very straightforward and the ball of digital clay you start with is so malleable, allowing you to work with perfect symmetry, it almost feels like magic... 

Color and lighting comes from the material I chose, there are many cool presets. There's also a Paint mode, but I haven't tried that one out yet.

Where to download itSculptris was created by this one person, Tomas Pettersson, but is now owned by Pixologic, who also hired Pettersson for a while. You can download it from their website. You have to complete a little questionnaire first, which is a teeny bit annoying but you do get Sculptris at the end of it.

Dynamic mesh tessellation: this would be the main feature of Sculptris. For those not familiar with these terms, mesh is what the wiring of polygons is called in 3D programs, it's the digital clay that you mold. While using Sculptris' tools on your mesh, it dynamically subdivides polygons where necessary, which translates into more detail and a smoother shape, without you having to worry about it and you can just focus on shaping your sculpture. Of course, if you're not careful, you can end up with excessive and unnecessary polygons or even collapse part of the mesh (when the "clay" starts to look all twisted and weird), but this is common to all 3D tools, the polygon mesh is very malleable but you still need to treat it as software, not real clay. 
  
Other views. It's not super polished but it's a pretty grotesque creature anyway. I was more concerned with getting the overall shape and general look.

Symmetry: One of the neatest features of Sculptris is that it solves the problem of symmetry for you in a no nonsense way. You only need to mold half of the initial sphere and the other half automatically mirrors what you are doing, creating a perfectly symmetrical image as you go. You can turn this feature off and do everything yourself. The only problem with the symmetry feature is that once you turn it off, if you decide to turn it back on, it will mirror everything that you did so far, disrupting your asymmetrical design. So you can either work with perfect symmetry or without it, but you can't switch back and forth without breaking your design. I guess the sensible thing to do if you want asymmetry in your model is to work all the symmetrical aspects first, then turn symmetry off and work on the asymmetrical bits.

Tutorials: The Pixologic site from where you download Sculptris has some tutorials. I also liked this tutorial on Vimeo in which, even if the audio is not optimal, the basics are explained very carefully and thoughtfully. Some tutorials may be using older versions of Sculptris but there doesn't seem to be much of an interface difference with the latest version.

I created it many years ago, and now I've 3D sculpted it. The reference for the face was Mike from Monsters Inc.

Version used: Alpha 6. This is apparently the stable release. I don't know whether they'll continue developing it further, it doesn't seem like it... I'm guessing this might be either because Pettersson left the company or so that Sculptris mainly helps promote, and doesn't get to compete with, Pixologic's main product, Zbrush, which is awesome software but terribly expensive. 

Problems encountered: Sculptris crashed several times (for the record, I used it in Windows 8, although the problem may lie on the level of detail of the sculpture). However, if it does crash and you open it, it will have saved most of the progress you made before it stopped working. I would still recommend to save often. There also seems to be no "redo" function, you can only "undo" any steps you make. I just created many saves with different progress states to compensate. Maybe there is a work-around somewhere but, also for the record, I used a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet and every time I hit the "step forward" button from the radial menu, it would just undo stuff instead of redo. Despite this, Sculptris is an amazing tool and, like I mentioned, for what it allows you to do, feels almost like magic...