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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!

29 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.

  6. I wouldn’t call ZSpheres a biggest ZBrush advantage. But instead, there more types of brushes, and polish by poligroups algorithms.

    Havent used Mudbox for 4 years though so I dont know what new they added. I’d assume all software have dynamesh and dynamic tessellation now.

    If they move Mudbox into Maya and if it’s sculpting capabilities are as good, I’m all for it. Maya modelling tools are much better than ZBrush, and good modelling + good sculpts at same time, I want it.

    1. Dynamic tesselation was _just_ added to Mudbox, in the latest update.

      I definitely agree with you, I’d love to see the entire sculpting workflow fully transition to Maya, it would make my workflow so much smoother!

  7. Sculpting software has always been easier for students to wrap their heads around. I was 3DS Max student once, on the side I picked up ZBrush all on my own like it was second nature but this was at a time when Pixologic had impressive video tutorials to go with their software. Many years today (no longer a student) I don’t really recommend ZBrush anymore if you already own it then just keep it.

    Pixologic like many software companies has hit its rough patch, they no longer innovate and zero innovation leads to stagnation. Also I would add ZBrush today is allot harder and heavier to learn than it was at version 3.5, although there were less features then, you had more control over what you were trying to do than you do now. And lets face it its UI sucks, until they hire a better technician to fix it ZBrush is losing on allot on the practical use scale. Its awkwardness is its weak point, some people like it I never did but that didn’t stop from learning it but I wouldn’t go back in time.

    I have tried practically every software out there. Now I’m focusing on Maya LT + Mudbox they are a powerful combo for game design and Maya LT comes with Stingray which is a major bonus. Learning Maya LT or Mudbox is allot easier now than it ever was, free video tutorials from Autodesk reshape the landscape.

    I gave up my Modo 12 freshly bought license for Maya LT, it was the worst experience out the door. Took them two bloody weeks to refund me. I will never go back to Foundry software, Autodesk software can be refunded within twenty fours or less big effin difference and you can cancel your subs at any time with none of that node locked nonsense.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience! Very interesting to see you landed on LT + Mudbox. Stingray definitely looks cool but unreal and unity are so entrenched, it seems like an uphill battle.

  8. I have ZBrush, Maya LT and Mudbox.

    ZBrush negatives:

    – Horrible UI why can’t Pixologic listen to its own community here?

    – Terrible UV tools. You need an external program for topology regardless their claims.

    – Horrible camera view, as in you are the camera looking at the scene. So there is no actual zooming, more like focusing your view.

    – Impossible to export color/texture maps as its a ZBrush only feature.

    – No hardware accelerated graphics, maybe good or bad for some.

    – Too bloated like a swiss army knife with way too much to learn on top of the basics. It doesn’t help as they keep adding more useful for some useless for others features.

    – Basic animation for posing exist but you have to buy a separate tool for animating.

    – Complicated learning curve, ZBrush if I had to sum it up is for hard industry vets. Most users myself included will never get beyond the basics.

    Mudbox negatives:

    – Straight forward UI none of that Wacom crap, well I guess you can but its not a requirement. Its designed for mouse/keyboard users first.

    – Amazing simple tools lacks the often massive library of ZBrush brush sets on the other hand a smaller well defined set of tools is actually both a plus an minus here. Plus that MB tools can be cutsomized to your liking, minus would be not that not much I guess.

    – Unlike ZBrush MB is not an app that stands on its own, your objects must come from external software like Maya in order for you to actually make use of it.

    – Depending where your coming from it be a negative swaping between MB and Maya to edit/modify your work. On the other hand this provides a more logical process.

    – Several leagues easier than ZBrush and even easier to master in a week.

    ZBrush positives:

    – Buy once and get free upgrades for life.

    – You can quite literally scale your models to billions of pixols.

    – Life like texturing and mapping you can even create reflective and refractive surfaces with complete light and shadow projections.

    – Easy to pose your art.

    – You can create art here without any need of any external software period.

    – Just look at every major block buster hit example Avatar.

    Mudbox positives:

    – Simple and fewer things to learn but plenty to master and more easily.

    – Mudbox and Maya have direct integration period. Importing and exporting in and out of the programs is as simple as the click of a mouse button.

    – It uses hardware excelleration as in gpu this totally annihilates ZBrush practically on pumpining out real pixels on screen.

    – Mudbox has access to Ptex.

    – Billions of real poly/pixel count here, so don’t go overboard unless your gpu can push it.

    – Working in MB is like working with mud vs ZBrush which feels more like clay. Though this point is really dumb even by a long stretch.

  9. I totally agree with what you said above Mr James & also the breakdown details from zuneguy ,, I can add few notes:
    I used ZBrush frequently since version 2 when we had to install Java for it to work on our PCs.. what I really feel about ZBrush that they much relied on propaganda for it by using talented sculptors & artists making sweet statues with it, believe me, many people are attrarcted to ZBrush exactly for this reason (example: how many times you see beautiful naked woman sculpted in ZBrush or detailed superhero or detailed zombie made in ZBrush that their pixologic forum display all the time while looking at mudbox to hardly see a sculpt for a horse with non-correct proportions or a human head like a 7 years old kid learning to draw)

    That’s the trick attracts many people to ZBrush, but in reality, its UI is very bad -example: Polish function scattered in several places, 3 or 4 polish sliders under “Deformation” menu & a button of Clay Polish under “Geometry” or sorry I don’t remember exactly -here we go- . & many other things like that, I don’t wanna mention how manytimes I see ZBrush fanboys trolling forums attacking anyone complain about such bad UI design…. don’t let me talk about ZBrush’s document size if it’s more than 1000 px wide then when you pan your 1 million poly model you see the display stutters/lag !!! I love that you can reach over 20 millions easily on old PC but lagging all the time while navigation !?

    In my opinion, the only program out there that was able to compete or beat ZBrush is Mudbox but sadly Autodesk almost killed it or turned it into a zombie software (alive like not alive) & it hired for it some dev teams I saw horrible replies from them to the users during past 2 years (someone complained about small thumbnail size in the UI in windows PC, the tech support guy tells him that this is not an issue on MAC ! is this a reply ! as if he says that they are not managing to modify or fix or change anything)

    Sorry if I talked alot but in general, 2 things attract people to ZBrush (beautiful digital sculptures made for it using some talented artists, & its huge library of ready made brushes & repeating welded items through (IMM insert meshes along curves) , otherthan that ZBrush is a serious mess.. & as long as Autodesk is not willing really make Mudbox back on track again for real -we will see what their Mudbox 2019 will be like- then ZBrush won’t go any better than how it looks like currently.

  10. Mudbox 2019 is released by now, & after a look at it & comparing it to how important enhancements & features we need & community requested “that are not existed in this 2019 release”, I now honestly saying it: No More Mudbox for me from now on, I am switching to ZBrush.

  11. I found this page after searching for an alternative for zBrush. The UI is driving me absolutely nuts. Almost cried from relief reading this.

    THEN I realized the one and only – James Taylor – wrote the damn thing and life is so much brighter. Getting Mudbox now.

    Thank you sir!

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