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Mudbox vs zBrush: what should a beginner learn?

If you are new to sculpting, this is the big question that you want answered: should you learn Mudbox? or zBrush?

When it comes to sculpting, most people think zBrush. In fact, most people are surprised that I teach Mudbox at all, and I get a lot of question about when I am going to do some zBrush tutorials.

But there is a very specific reason that I teach Mudbox.

Mudbox vs zBrush

Most students looking to learn sculpting already know a 3D package like Maya, or 3DS Max, or Blender.

And that’s why I tell them to learn Mudbox.

Sculpting is its own art form. Learning how to sculpt isn’t like learning Maya. Maya is primarily a technical package, whereas sculpting is primarily an artistic discipline. When learning to sculpt, we don’t want to wrestle with a completely new set of tools and UI.

This is what makes Mudbox great. It is basically the same as Maya/Max, just with sculpting tools bolted on. That means no time is spent learning the software – just learning to sculpt! And those sculpting skills will transfer over to any other sculpting tasks – so learning zBrush later will be MUCH easier.

In fact, Mudbox is so easy to pick up, that it is actually the first CG software that I’ve had fun using! I can’t recommend it enough, just for that reason!

The problem with learning zBrush

With zBrush, the case is reversed. zBrush’s user interface is non-intuitive and non-traditional. Learning a program like Maya doesn’t help understand zBrush at all.

Using zBrush, you start from scratch. You can’t leverage anything else you know. So you’re not learning sculpting at all – you’re just learning how to use zBrush. You’re not spending time being creative, you’re spending yet more time learning technical tools and workarounds.

Now, this is what we do when we learn Maya! And this would be perfectly fine – if zBrush’s UI was an industry standard. But it isn’t. Maya is.

So why learn two totally different ways of thinking?


Mudbox vs zBrush: Different toolsets

Up to this point I haven’t even mentioned the different toolsets between the two packages. zBrush definitely has the edge in sculpting functionality – but it isn’t the hands down winner. A talented artist can accomplish anything they want in Mudbox.

Similarly, Mudbox has much better texturing tools. zBrush has polypaint , however, and most artists can make it do what they need it to do.

There are two big differences: zSpheres and Autodesk integration.

Difference 1: zSpheres

The one bit of functionality zBrush has that Mudbox lacks is zSpheres – the ability to very quickly block out a mesh using sculpting tools. Mudbox doesn’t have anything like this at all.

In Mudbox, you have to use one of the existing base meshes (like the human body or the dinosaur), or you have to create your base mesh in another package.

If you know Maya, this isn’t a big deal – I prefer modeling to create my basic shapes. And modeling means you focus on getting a better base mesh. But some people really love zSpheres!

Difference 2: Autodesk integration

Mudbox works seamlessly with Maya, 3DS Max, or Softimage. The Send To feature makes transferring assets from one program to the other a snap.

In comparison, zBrush requires more of a workaround to get to Maya or Max. This is yet another technical hurdle zBrush puts in the artist’s way.

Mudbox BONUS: sculpting in MAYA!

There is an added bonus to learning Mudbox: Mudbox’s sculpting tools are being integrated into Maya. It seems likely that at some point, you won’t ever have to leave Maya to sculpt. When that happens, you just have to learn a single package – Maya!

In fact… Autodesk has also shown a working demo of a zSpheres-like tool in Maya. When this feature goes live, this will be a big game changer in terms of functionality for artists, taking away zBrush’s biggest advantage.

The takeaway:

Since Maya/Max are the industry standards, you’ll need to learn one or the other to work professionally. And since you have to learn it, you may as well take that knowledge and leverage it to the hilt –  use what you’ve learned to start sculpting in Mudbox almost instantly!

13 thoughts on “Mudbox vs zBrush: what should a beginner learn?”

  1. I’m with you on this. I added Mudbox to our curriculum last year, and was blown away by the work the students – all of which were new to digital sculpting – produced using it. We’re in the middle of that module now this semester, and the progress looks to equal or surpass what was done last year.

    Bring on Mudbox “M-spheres” (hey, why not take a stab at naming them?)

  2. all of that is good … but that mean i must have base mesh …. and base mesh mean references … but if i don’t have any references… with zbrush i can shape sphere to character head with some anatomy knowledge it will be realistic… i didn’t tried mudbox before but can i made something like that in mudbox???

    1. Mudbox includes base meshes for a generic head and body, starting from those is pretty easy. For more customized shapes, like a four armed character, or an arachnid, you’d have to create the custom meshes outside of Mudbox. I mean, technically you could start with a sphere in Mudbox, deform it to look like your new base shape, and retopologize with Mudbox’s retopo tools, and accomplish much of the same functionality as zBrush. But it is a lot easier in that case to just model in Maya, especially since it is assumed in a production environment that you’ll be using both sets of tools.

  3. also when it come to detailing you have many tools micro or nano mesh is so powerful also shadow box…i agree mudbox the best for texturing

  4. I agree with the most of your purpose but don’t forget another one: Pilgway 3D Coat, really efficent tool for sculpting, uving and painting textures.

    Sincerely yours

  5. Shame that Mudbox is now EOL, I’ve heard this from the horses mouth, not going to name any names, but you can take is as written. Mudbox basically didn’t have any development last year, as the Maya team now owns the Mudbox coding, so put all the development into integrating Mudbox into Maya, instead of developing for the people that actually paid for the stand alone Mudbox app, and pay subscription each year, disgraceful really. And AD are still letting people buy desktop subscriptions and continue maintenance subscriptions without telling their customers that they are basically throwing money away, Autodesk’s view is that they cant compete with Z-brush, and that only Maya users are interested in a Mud+ Maya integration, which is not true. The truth is that Autodesk have their fingers in too many pies, and as a result had to lay of development teams, and pass on those apps to the remaining development teams, resulting in half baked upgrades or no development at all. Autodesk is really falling apart, and their new rental only policy is basically giving the middle finger to freelancers, hobbyists and small start up studios. No more perpetual licences, no more upgrade packages, and they are slowly forcing maintenance subscription members onto rental agreements by hiking up MS prices to unpalatable levels. Very sad times, and their excuse is that everyone else is doing it, but it doesn’t make it right, I think Mudbox still has huge potential, it could take a few leaves out of Substance designers book as far as object painting goes, and material editor interface. There was a promise that Mudbox is not EOL and that it will have future development now that the integration into Maya has ended, but after a meeting last Friday, its definitely EOL :-(( Question is, how do we all get our subscription payments back for the last two years?…

    1. Yes, I’m hoping they integrate more sculpting features into Maya before they sunset Mudbox. I did see an Autodesk vid previewing a feature that looks like zspheres. So hopefully they are still working on things.

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