For over 20 years now Pixologic has released its annual ZBrush upgrade, and this time followed it up with an additional point release. Although this 2021.5 release may offer nothing in the way of a revamp or interface redesign, it does add more power into already established areas of the program. (Also note that an even newer 2021.6 release is already available, which builds further on the release reviewed here).
The most noticeable new feature in 2021 was the addition of a Dynamics panel adding cloth functionality. This was a well-needed addition as competing programmes like Blender (and others in our best 3D modelling software roundup) have already added strong dynamic cloth tools and specific cloth brushes are available in their sculpting featureset.
The 2021 release also brought MicroPoly, which adds tiling of meshes from the Dynamic Subdivision panel, giving you more options to make highly detailed cloth and weave products like baskets. ZModeler also received Edge Extrude to help with retopology and single-sided polygon options. What didn’t make it into the ZBrush 2021 release was provided in the .5 update, and there are some pretty creative additions. Let's find out how ZBrush 2021.5 shapes up.
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ZBrush 2021.5 review: New tools
Thick Skin, available from the Tool palette, gives a way to add clay with any brush, but restrict its height or depth. At first, it feels like you are using a Layer brush that only lifts the surface of a sculpt to a specific height, but as you learn how to combine brushes and alphas you quickly see where the strength in this new feature lies. It can give you a very sculptural look as if you are actually using clay in the real world, and feels much more like you are creating a fine art piece. You can utilise the feature on low-polygon sculpts that are using Dynamic Subdivision, or more often on high-poly sculpts.
As it is restricting the height that the surface can raise, you can make use of features like the Drag Rectangle stroke and add predictable patterns or animal scales with your own Alphas. This version also gives the Deformation panel a further boost with the Contrast slider, allowing you to enhance those details by simply increasing the amount.
Sculptris Pro received some improvements in this release. Remember that Sculptris Pro is the feature in ZBrush where you can add localised detail using dynamic tessellation. This basically means you get geometry where you need it, and not all over the mesh as you do when you run DynaMesh. Sculptris Pro meshes can now be partially hidden as you work, giving you the ability to work on high-resolution sculpts.
ZBrush 2021.5 review: Creative improvements
Preview AO is a real-time ambient occlusion setting that improves the look of the sculpt as you are working on it. You can access it as you would expect from the Render palette and there are options for quality, intensity, radius and even blur. It is a nice addition as it improves the look of the mesh without having to use a BPR render, helping to speed up the process.
Curve Helper gives you much more control over using Insert Multi Meshes, meaning it’s now a breeze to create elements like pipes, chains, laces, ropes and cables. Instead of just dragging out a curve onto an object you can now draw out a full chain of ZSpheres and use move, scale and rotate to accurately place your item.
Features like MicroPoly make life so much easier for tasks like chain mail, textured materials and anything needing a repeatable pattern made from true geometry. When it is activated from the Dynamic Subdivision palette, it adds a shape to every polygon and they can then be affected by the 2021 Dynamics settings.
ZBrush 2021.5 review: Modelling updates
ZModeler is the ZBrush polygon modelling toolset and it is already packed with a ton of tools to enable you to manipulate points, edges and faces rather than sculpt on a surface. This update sees the addition of Slice Mesh, allowing you to slice up your topology along an Edge Crease. You can crease multiple edges and keep the hard edge. There is also a PolyGroup Fill that lets you identify where to add details, and many more little updates to this much underrated toolset inside ZBrush.
This version finally sees support for 3DConnexion devices, a must-have request from those working in CAD where the use of SpaceMouse products is the norm. It enables you to add a certain freedom to your viewport navigation that you would only otherwise get in VR or similar.
ZBrush 2021.5 review: Should I buy it?
ZBrush 2021.5 is a solid release, and you can’t pass over the fact that Pixologic has given free upgrades for over 20 years now, which is almost unheard of these days. Users are beginning to wonder when an interface redesign is due, but until then I’m sure we will continue to see feature-rich releases like 2021.5.
Get ZBrush for $39.95 a month, $179.95 for six months or $895 for a perpetual license, from the Pixologic website.