Thursday, May 3, 2012

Trying to Learn ZBrush, Hitting Lots of Land Mines

After having a lot of fun with the free Sculptris program, and with the need for a more fully-featured 3D modeling program, I decided to buy ZBrush a couple of weeks ago.

Unfortunately, it been a tough road trying to learn it.

I was running into a problem early on where I'd get out of Edit mode (3D editing) and couldn't get back into it. Going from 3D mode to 2D mode is strictly one-way. There are any of a number of ways to do it by accident, and once you do, there's no Undo. After about a week, it stopped happening to me, and now it's not so much of a problem. At first, though, I had no clue what was happening. And the "getting started" information was no help, nor was a search on the terms I could think of on the web site. There were dire warnings on Pixologic's site about saving a 3D object as a 2D image, then not being able to reload and re-edit the object even when you believed you saved it. I hadn't encountered that particular problem yet, but that wasn't my problem.

Finally I found an old video tutorial that's not featured in their "online classroom" any more that explained what is happening, and since I've seen that I've been able to mostly avoid running into the problem, and recovering when I do. Before that, I'd already developed some techniques on my own to tiptoe past that particular land mine.

New Land Mines

Since then I've had my work go *poof* on me in several different other ways. It's not exactly inviting you to explore its features when this keeps happening. My most recent (about ten minutes ago) was trying to add a new subtool to a project.

When I got started, I was mostly just sculpting shapes out of one object, or "subtool" in ZBrush parlance (a single mesh.) I learned how to add additional objects to a scene, but it was awkward enough for me with what all else I was trying to master that I was just avoiding it until later.

Now I've gotten to where not having separate pieces is more of a problem than dealing with adding, aligning, etc. the additional objects.

So I was working with a sort of cartoonish fox head. I had the basic head pretty well sculpted. I added a pair of eyeballs as separate spheres (which is a lot cleaner is Sculptris--there you can add a pair of objects simultaneously and move them fluidly around your reflection plane. In ZBrush you add one, position it, then, so far as I know now, create a duplicate and position it by guess and by golly to a position that matches the first one on the opposite side of the object you want it in. All very clunky.) I decided to do the teeth as separate objects as well. So I appended a new subtool, picked a Cone3D object, used the clunky sliders in the Deformation menu to move it (isn't that a Transformation, not a deformation?) Then I scaled it down to about the right size and slid it more or less in place.

Then I wanted to sculpt its form a bit. I wasn't entirely sure whether it was a primitive or a mesh, and I wanted to subdivide it to create more detail (rule: NEVER be ignorant about ANYTHING in ZBrush. You must understand absolutely everything, it would appear, in its entirety to avoid ending up with nothing to show for your time.) Well, I clicked the "Make PolyMesh3D" button in the Tools menu.

And the complex sculpt I'd gotten to a good state over the prior hour went *poof*. No warnings, no undoes, no saving throw. The head and eye subtools are gone. They don't appear in the available tools when I click "Append" in the subtool directory. I've found things that I thought went poof there a couple of times. Should I mention the times I did a save and had things disappear from view? In those cases they reappear when I click back in the work area. They just disappear to startle me, is the best I can figure.

But my fox head is gone and unrecoverable.

Yeah, I know I should save more often. As it is, I do save very often. I'm filling my hard disk with minor deltas of my fooling around and hoping this starts to be productive projects. I'm disinclined to save every time I click a button. I could wish that when I'm going to click a button that deletes subtools with no means of recovering them I'd get a nice warning, like I do on so many other things that aren't recoverable. I do get warnings on lots of other things, many of which I don't understand what it's asking me or the consequences of my choices, but at least I get a wake-up that lets me save before I start spelunking through my possible answers.

Not All Bad, But Jury's Still Out

The program has a lot of cool capabilities. But the question is whether I'll be able to get through all the trouble to really be able to take advantage of them. I'm two weeks into working with it, and I've got less to show than I had with one afternoon with Sculptris, or for that matter, one day with Sculpt-Animate 3D or Lightwave on my old Amiga over 20 years ago. There are a lot of places where I just don't feel like I've got much control, I'm just hoping for the best, or trying to jigger things with hand and eye.

A lot of sculpting tools behave in odd fashions--at times. If they were like that all the time I'd be able to at least avoid trouble. But they cause geometry problems that are difficult or time consuming to solve. There are other times where you're trying to do something just the way you have been all along, and nothing, or almost nothing happens. Then, suddenly, on another attempt, it shoots off, out of control.

I'm really hoping to make this work, because there's a lot I'd like to get out of this program in producing models for my CNC milling machine. But, if I don't start getting more out of it pretty soon, well, $700 is just too much for me to not ask for my money back. Especially after all the time I've put into watching training videos, reading documentation, and just working with the tool trying to get somewhere that I can reasonably predict the results I'm going to get--without even starting to talk about how much time it'll take me to get those results, yet.

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