The hottest new tools for 3D artists this spring

The first few months of 2019 have been an exciting time for 3D artists, with a host of updates, plus new apps and plugins. We were met by the news that Allegorithmic and its Substance Suite would soon be part of Adobe (for better or worse), and that Redshift, maker of the popular biased GPU renderer, is now playing for team Maxon (probably for the better). And this was just the first four months – there are more exciting times ahead. Let's take a look at the new releases all 3D artists should know about. 

01. Substance Alchemist

Substance interface, with Alchemist in use

Alchemist offers a new way to create materials

The latest addition to Allegorithmic’s Substance toolset is Alchemist, a part-procedural, part-handmade approach to creating materials. Starting with a basic photograph you can remove lighting artefacts, add wear and tear effects or organic details, like rocks, vegetation and water, then generate height and normal maps and make it seamlessly tile. Annoyingly, the Alchemist beta is only available as part of the Substance subscription. However, despite the recent sale of Allegorithmic to Adobe, we still hope to be able to buy a perpetual license once the app reaches v1.0 status.

02. Smooth Boolean v1.0

3ds Max interface

This plugin helps you produce wonderfully smooth edges, chamfers and fillets

3ds Max-users should definitely check out the first release of KM-3D’s Smooth Boolean. The plugin is used in conjunction with 3ds Max’s ProBoolean functions, and automatically tidies up the resulting geometry to produce wonderfully smooth edges, chamfers and fillets. You simply define the chamfer radius for each object, as well as the number of segments, then let Smooth Boolean solve the mesh. Some users have baulked at the $99 launch price tag, but for the functionality and end results, we reckon that’s a bargain.

03. RealFlow C4D v3.0

RealFlow C4D interface

Version 3 brings some long-awaited features

Back in 2016, Next Limit integrated its fluid dynamics system into a plugin for Cinema 4D. The v1.0 release was pretty underwhelming, but it’s gradually improved. RealFlow v3.0 brings some long-awaited features, such as Alembic stitching (useful if you want to export to another renderer), particle mesh clipping using C4D’s new Fields, sub-frame sampling and lots more. At €695 (£597) it’s still way too pricey, but if you use fluid sims on a regular basis, it’s great to have the functionality built right into Cinema.

04. 3ds Max 2020

Orange robot model

3ds Max has updated its chamfer modifier [Model: Fausto de Martini]

One of the biggest improvements to Autodesk’s venerable DCC app is to its chamfer modifier, which enables you to generate smooth, clean and controllable edges, no matter what the topology of your mesh – other apps take note! There are some impressive performance upgrades too, in both display playback speed and preview renders, plus a host of smaller additions, like Revit import and improved OSL shader representations in the viewport. 3ds Max 2019 is available on a subscription-only basis, for £222 per month or £1,425 per year.

05. World Creator 2.0

Canyon rendered using World Creator

World Creator 2.0 is finally here!

After what seems like an eternity in beta, World Creator 2.0 ($149 Standard, $289 Pro) is finally available for both PC and Mac users. The app leverages the power of your GPU using DirectX or Apple’s Metal to drive real-time terrain generation, using a series of filters to grow, erode and sculpt your ideal landscape. It’s easy and fun to use, but the results can be spectacular, whether you’re rending an in-app image, or exporting massive height maps or high-res meshes for games or VFX shots.

06. LightWave 3D 2019

LightWave 3D interface

Will LightWave's 2019 update help make this veteran app relevant again? [Image: Tim Laird]

After nearly a decade in the wilderness, NewTek's LightWave 3D is back, and following the well-received 2018 release, this new update is a further attempt to make the veteran app relevant in today’s CG world. Top billing goes to new interchange tools with Unreal Engine, updated UV and UDIM workflow, OpenVDB content creation plus Metamorphic, an animatable mesh sculpting plugin now integrated into Layout. With a host of features and just $995 for a perpetual license, LightWave 2019 is well worth a look.

07. Modo 13

Modo 13 interface

Updates to Modo bode well for the 13 series 

The first of three scheduled upgrades to Foundry’s DCC app brings a number of upgrades and new features, not least the integration of AMD’s GPU-powered ProRender along with its denoising system. This is accompanied by an extension of Modo bridge, which now works with Unity as well as Unreal Engine, plus enhancements to Mesh Fusion, Modo’s stellar Boolean modelling tool. Modo’s modelling and UV toolsets gain a number of minor enhancements, too, making this a great start to the Modo 13 Series. A perpetual licence costs $1,799 (£1,379). 

08. Mari 4.5

3D rendered bronze lion sculpture

Mari 4.5 introduces a new material system [Image: Gael Kerchenbaum]

Alongside Modo 13, Foundry has just updated its 3D painting app, Mari (£1,468, $1,912). Possibly taking its cues from Substance Painter, version 4.5 introduces a new material system, which lets you drag and drop PBR textures onto your mesh as a base layer before painting on the fine details. You can also set the app up to automatically ‘ingest’ the correct PBR texture maps from various online resources, and it also has an Arnold shader so that your finished textures will more closely approximate the final render.

09. Houdini 17.5

Robot man surrounded by smoke in Houdini

Houdini's new Procedural Dependency Graph could be an industry game-changer

SideFX’s industry-leading procedural modelling, animation and VFX app continues its relentless development. Houdini 17.5 is based around the new Procedural Dependency Graph, which has been in the works for nearly three-and-a-half years and is described as industry-changing technology. Basically it enables you to parallelise tasks, and set up machine learning workflows. As well as PDG, Houdini 17.5 introduces a GPU-accelerated viewport smoke shader, support for distributed fluid sims and an update to the Vellum multi-physics system. Houdini Apprentice is available for free, while Houdini FX costs up to $6,995 (£5,368), depending on your setup.

10. ZBrush 2019

Cute pink Japanese robot model

The latest ZBrush update comes with a host of useful new features [Image: Oscar Trejo]

The latest free update to Pixologic’s industry-standard sculpting app brings a host of useful new features, including non-photorealistic rendering for comic book and cel-shaded artwork, plus real-world cameras to better frame and render your models. ZBrush 2019 finally introduces folders, includes a new Boolean modelling tool and is worth having around even if you only use the updated ZRemesher to poly-reduce high-density meshes. You can still buy a perpetual license for $895 (£689), but there’s now a rental option for $39.95 (£30) a month.

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Steve has been interested in CG for many years. He’s a regular contributor to 3D World and edited the magazine for two years, and has worked for other magazines including Edge, T3, Official UK PlayStation magazine, Laptop magazine and Windows Visa: The Official Magazine. For Creative Bloq, he mainly contributes tutorials and reviews creative kit.