Review of Maxon BodyPaint 3D

BodyPaint 3D is a painting, texturing, and mapping software program. It is uniquely designed so that painting can be done on a 3 dimesional object at the same time as it is done on a UV mesh. See the tutorial I wrote for creating image maps of Poser figures. However, this tutorial should also give the new user basic information for creating image maps.

I believe that it is very important for readers to know the knowledge base of reviewers. All too often I read a review that states a particular program is an easy one to learn, and I find it isn't. This usually happens when an experienced person in a particular field reviews the program. The reviewer has the advantage of building upon his experience. But I sometimes like to write a review from a different perspective. This review, I believe, will complement the other reviews of which their are a few.

I am an experienced 2D artist having used Photoshop and similar programs for many years. While I have dabbled in 3D and do know Poser fairly well, I do not possess a background in 3D. But to use 3D programs, one must jump in and learn the language of 3D. I found that after I had finished my review and written the first tutorial, the concepts percolated in whatever brain I have left. I understood a lot more of the program than I thought I did and began to realize that BodyPaint 3D went far beyond my review.

I had read some articles and reviews about this program and decided it was one I wanted to review. I was especially interested in how it would interact with Curious Lab's Poser and ProCreate's (Corel's) Bryce 5. I will review it from the aspect of how it performs as well as how easy it is to learn. I don't really like to use the term "easy" because it is not a criterion for judging a product. Basically I will describe the learning curve and how well the manual helps a newcomer to understand how to use Body Paint 3D

The minimum requirements are 64 MB of RAM, MacOS 7.6.1, PowerPC; Windows 95/98/ME, NT 4 SP3/ 2000 and a Pentium. The Windows version comes with PaintShop Pro 7. The price on the Maxon web site is $595.

I am reviewing this program using a Pentium III 850 with well over the minimum requirements for RAM.

The manual has two parts.The first part describes the program while the second part consists of tutorials. The manual covers a lot of material. The first part is over 400 pages while the tutorial section is about 100 pages However, I found that the tutorial contained in the manual itself in the chapter entitled BodyPaint 3D Basics was an excellent way to initially start to learn the program. As I went through sections of the book, I used this tutorial to familiarize myself with concepts and terms. Also, it was useful in experimenting with some of the different tools.

An overly simplistic statement of the purpose of BodyPaint 3D is the creation of texture maps. For those who don't know or understand texture maps, I will give a brief explanation. If I took a sculpture of a face without any painting on it, it would appear to have shadows and highlights but no color other than the basic color of the clay. If I wanted to paint it, I would hold the model and apply paint. If I then could unwrap this layer of paint and spread it out flat, I would have a very basic texture map with coordinates of U and V. BodyPaint 3D allows for the creation of these maps using using different texture map projection modes. In flat mode, for example, the object can be painted and the strokes will appear on the texture map in real-time or the texture map can be painted and the strokes will appear on the model in real-time. Both the model and the texture map can then be saved in various formats as well as exported. This concept applies to other modes as well.

However, BodyPaint 3D also has other built in features. I am always interested in whether a program has enough import and export filters to keep it flexible. BodyPaint 3D can import and export from and to the popular 3D programs and save maps to all the standard 2D file formats. Body Paint 3D allows the user to paint in up to ten different material channels with one brush stroke. This is a part of the RayBrush Technology which allows for the user to paint in a pre-rendered view in real-time.

BodyPaint's tools can be customizeable. It is very easy to change and save the size and feel of a brush. There are many types of preset brushes - acrylic, oil, pen, chalk as well as specialty brushes such as welding, rivets. Spacing of strokes can also be controlled from a coarse or jittery look to a fine, smooth look. Colors are easy to add and delete from the default palette. Specific palettes can also be created and saved. The whole interface is, also, customizeable. Palettes can be docked and undocked easily. An object can be viewed from many angles simultaneously.

At first glance, The BodyPaint 3D interface appears different than other programs, especially if one is 2D oriented; however, for those people familiar with Photoshop, many similarities are present. One can work in layers, use different blending modes, manipulate the brushes, etc. Click on the small image of the model and map to see the entire interterface.Also, there are many selection tools, two fill bucket tools, filters for image manipulation that work in real-time with control over their various aspects, etc.

UV editing is also a part of Body Paint and this program comes with a UV editor with "Intelligent Automation." When I "unwound" the skin from my Poser figure (or I should say Body Paint did it for me), I did not have to make any corrections to it. When I placed it on my Poser model in Poser, it fit like a form fitting glove. However, if it hadn't, I could have used the magnet tool to modify it.

A feature that I like a lot and could easily be lost in the shuffle due to there being so many other powerful features in this program is that one has the ability to work in multiple layers when creating the map. These layers can then be merged, if desires, or left as they are and saved as a Photoshop psd file. When brought into Photoshop, finishing touches can be made and then the layers merged to form the 3D object's skin.

Before I decided to review the program, I read reviews about it on the web. Almost all that I saw stated how easy a program it was to learn. While this is not a fault of the program, I beg to differ with that opinion. Very possibly for an experienced creator of 3D material, it is. But for someone who does not specialize in 3D programs, I believe it is not. However, with perseverence, these problems can be overcome. With some hard work, I was able to feel comfortable with the basics of the program and get the results I desired initially. Like any other program that has many facets, one must build up one's knowledge. As I stated in the beginning of this review, I am reviewing it from the perspective of a user who does not specialize in the creation of 3D objects. Working creatively in 3D is an art unto itself.

While painting the objects was straight forward, learning how to do it well was not. I Found that many of the tools appeared to perform the same function when, in reality, they did not. To an experienced 3D user, this might not be a problem. But for someone who only wants to accomplish specific tasks, ie. create maps for Poser figures, for example, this possible lack of knowledge could lead to confusion. Whichever tool is chosen, the initial appearance in the perspective window is the same. Later on, though, the results will be different. In addition, I found that the format an object is in when it is opened makes a lot of difference as to how the map will be formed. For example, if I exported a figure from Poser in a 3ds (3D Studio max) format and opened it in BodyPaint 3D, the UV mesh would look like the one on the left. If I opened one as an obj (Wavefront), it would look like the one on the right. I tried it in both UVW and flat mode and the resultant look was the same.

While I created my map for the Poser tutorial I was writng using only the color channel, one can also create bump or relief maps, for example. However, one can control many other facets of an image through the Material Editor. Some of these material variables are, diffusion, luminescence, transparency, specular color, etc. The strengths of these can also be adjusted.

The example underneath is a sphere I created in a 3D program. It shows how the object will look when using both the bump and color channel. Notice, in the illustration on the far right, how bump and color form their own background layers.

Finished Sphere
Bump Map
Layer's Palette

For more information on features of BodyPaint 3D, go to the Maxon web site. While on the site, look at the parent product Cinema 4 DXL and other Cinema 4 versions.

My analysis of the program is that it is undoubtably powerful and will create excellent maps. In addition, it has so many features similar to 2D imaged editing programs, that the user will feel right at home. However, I believe, that to use this program easily, one needs to have spent quality time in 3D programs building models. Even though I have only had a smattering of knowledge using 3D programs such as Poser and Bryce and dipping a very little into 3D Studio Max, I was able to create my first image map and load it into Poser with perfect results.

I know that I have barely scratched the surface, but I was able to accomplish what I intended. As stated in the beginning, for those users of Poser or beginners using this program, I have written a detailed tutorial on creating a new skin for a Poser 4 nude figure.