ZBrush 2023 is the latest version of the CG sculpting tool that has been dominating game development and fiom VFX for almost 25 years. Now used by the likes of Electronic Arts, ILM and Epic Games, it has become the industry leader for asset creation in games, films and visualisation. If you’ve watched The Avengers, Iron Man, Avatar or Pacific Rim, then you’ll have seen what ZBrush can do in artists' hands.
ZBrush is an established tool that has been fine-tuned over the course of many development cycles, and you learn more of its general features in our ZBrush tutorials list. This latest offering continues to enhance existing tools and brings rendering right to the heart of the artist’s workflow with the new Redshift integration – read our Redshift review for more on this renderer.
The inclusion of Redshift was the inevitable fruit of Maxon’s acquisition of it in 2019, and ZBrush in 2022. This move reflects the growing trend within the 3D industry. We’ve seen this with Chaos Group acquiring the likes of Enscape and Cyclindo, and in recent times Maxon has been doing the same.
Maxon's vision is to provide artists with an end-to-end 3D visualisation ecosystem and this is gradually becoming a reality. You might ask why including Redshift is so important. ZBrush artists were previously limited to Best Preview Renders (BPR), which lacked the level of realism and functionality required for production-quality output. In this ZBrush 2023 review I test Redshift's integration and the new tools on offer; read our how we test software guide for more details of how we review.
ZBrush 2023 review reveals great flexibility
The integration of Redshift enables high-quality rendering within the ZBrush workflow, eliminating the need to export to a third-party renderer. One of the best things about Redshift in ZBrush is the drag-and-drop material capability. Standard and MatCap materials are still available, but if you’re after off-the-shelf delivery of top-quality, production-ready materials then Redshift delivers. Artists will also love the Redshift sliders, which make it simple to customise results. Getting top-quality renders into the hands of users ushers in a new era for ZBrush.
As a majority of ZBrush users are creating characters, subsurface scattering capabilities are paramount. Maxon knows this and has ensured this functionality is front and centre. But before you think this sounds like the best news ever, it bears noting that subscribers only get access to the CPU version by default. The more established GPU option will require more investment, subscribing to either Maxon One or Redshift itself. I’m not a fan of this bolt-on approach as I think that if you purchase a piece of software, it should all work out of the box.
Sculpting tools improve in ZBrush 2023
No ZBrush update would be complete without the addition of new and improved sculpting tools. A notable new sculpting tool is Slime Bridge, which makes the creation of slime between two surfaces much easier than before. This might sound like a niche tool, but in reality it can be used to create any mesh that has slime-like properties such as sinew or gloopy liquids.
The setup is as simple as it could be. Just create a mask on each island and use the controls to customise the output. This tool is not only fun to play with, but will speed up the process of creating these types of meshes. As for an improved sculpting tool, we’re treated with a reworked ZRemesher. Through a cache created the first time a model is remeshed, the time required for subsequent remeshing is greatly reduced.
Remeshing requires a lot of trial and error, which meant users would have to undo their work, assuming they hadn’t gone too far forward. A new Retry button lets users repeat remesh operations with different settings without needing to revert. All these remeshing improvements make the workflow much more streamlined, enabling creators to focus more on creating and less on processing.
Further improvements have been made to Sculptris Pro, the implementation of symmetry when moving models off the centre axis, and new functionality to fill masked shapes. Apple users will also appreciate native support for M1 and M2 chips, so it could be time to upgrade to one a new Apple MacBook Pro (M2) or an Apple iPad Pro.
The bottom line is ZBrush 2023 is the best CG sculpting software around at the moment and has built on the fundamentals of the tools artists have come to love. The integration of Redshift into ZBrush proves a superb addition, though I feel the need for a subscription to get the best results is a little cheeky.
This article was originally published in issue 297 of 3D World Magazine. You can subscribe to 3D World at the Magazines Direct website and get 3 issues for £3. The magazine ships internationally.