04 - Advanced 3D

When we began our project, we decided to avoid expensive 3D modeling software such as Maya since we knew we would not be able to afford licenses for all of our students. In fact, a full license for Maya would have used up most of the budget for our mini-dome workstation. We found that Autodesk had a program for educators that gave out free licenses, so we used that to evaluate the program and begin learning it. It is likely that as we continue our production work and expand our capability, we will use Maya more. It has already given us more flexibility to use a variety of 3D file formats, and allows us to exchange files with volunteer game designers and animators.

Similarly, ZBrush is commonly used in professional workflows but is too expensive for our current budgets. A donation by Pixologic of three copies of ZBrush allowed us to begin learning the program and trying it in our project. Within a few months, Pixologic released Sculptris, a free entry level sculpting tool that was adopted quickly by our students (see the Basic 3D Modeling page).

ZBrush is a professional 3D sculpting program that is widely used in character creation. It can result in figures with millions of polygons, making them unsuitable for use in real-time game engines, which require simpler digital assets in order to run with acceptable frame rates. In some cases, an operation called Decimation can reduce polygon count while maintaining the appearance of high detail. 

However, most ZBrush workflows for Unity call for the creation of a low-poly version of a figure that is saved before further detail is sculpted. Once a more detailed version is created, a normal map is generated which, when applied to the low-poly version, gives the appearance of higher detail. This fairly complex workflow means that including ZBrush requires a much higher level of skill than construction using simple shapes and smooth surfaces.