The most important Feature modo doesn’t have?!

The last one and a half week have been making ripples, well, waves actually, in modo land since they opened up an old wound regarding everyone’s favorite missing feature: The total absence of parametric, re-editable text, including options for extrusions, bevels and so on. that and of course similarly the lack of proper spline tools.

The facts of the matter are, that modo has been able to create 3D text for a while and correctly handles most fonts, but when it does, you end up with a set of converted polygons or a spline path, depending on what you choose. You can then edit, texture and animate them using modo‘s normal tools. Things like the bevel profiles may even help you to save time here. So far, so good. but what happens when your client changes his mind or you made a typo? Exactly! You start back on square one. You need to re-type everything, clean up the paths and polygons to remove all the extra points, extrude and bevel again, also with the usual cleanup operations and then start copying over your textures and animation. Pretty much the same is true for working with vector artwork. This not only costs a ton of extra time, but is prone to all kinds of errors. So where did the kid fall off the merry-go-round?

First and foremost the fundamental issue with modo was/ is that it was initially more or less conceived as an auxiliary tool for other programs. It started out as a modeling-only app, then at some point got a renderer for stills. For these workflows the rudimentary text and spline tools would have been acceptable, though not particularly elegant. Things got only really bad once animation was added and the opportunities for doing nice things with text and logos multiplied. People started to hunger for better tools, but somehow this stuff always fell between the cracks and other things took precedence. Add to that the fact that other companies kept improving their tools, so here we are now and still have not much to go on, not even a semi-official comment from The Foundry aside from the small streak of hope that SVG support was added in 901, which of course still remains impaired by the lack of proper tools. Now you may say that you don’t care, because you only do sculpting, retopo and otehr stuff that never requires you to use text, but here’s why this is so important.

I’ve mentioned text and spline tools for motion graphics. That is of course extremely obvious. Everyone needs some swirling title or a tumbling logo every once in a while. The creative use doesn’t stop there. In particular when you start thinking about dingbat fonts, a whole world of options opens up. Arrows and markers for infographics? Check. Randomized particle shapes generated at runtime? Check. Parametric profiles and shapes? Check. Countdowns? Check. Datagraphics and their readouts? Check. Renderable measurements? Check. The list can go on and on. When you consider the last point another use for text becomes apparent: Scene debugging, adding comments, creating descriptive placeholders, labeling auxiliary constructs used for selections and animation controls and so on. Currently you probably wouldn’t bother doing this in modo because it’s so much trouble, but I’ve used in in Cinema 4D more than often and other artists, too. Are you getting nervous already? Then let’s have a look at the spline tools (or lack thereof).

While the few things we already have in modo work reasonably well, they are only used in a very limited fashion, meaning you often only import artwork you prepared elsewhere and editing paths only happens when you use the tube tool, the spline guide deformer or the spline path particle modifier because, quite frankly, you want to avoid the awkwardness of having to use the spline handles. They’re not even drawing particularly nice and are difficult to grab. The biggest *doh* moment in modo is of course the complete non-existence of any parametric spline primitives, not even a circle or rectangle. Even for a simple floorplan you end up pushing points. SRSLY? That also already reveals a potential use case: parametrized construction stuff. Second to that, inevitably of course all sorts of animated extrusions spring to mind. The tube tool would be so much more useful if it remained “live” instead of converting to polygons once you drop it. Another thing that is sorely missing are easy ways to split, intersect, divide, merge and rebuild curves. The current way of adding points manually or with the knife tool then unwelding and re-welding them is convoluted, to say the least, and prone to destroying the shape you created. All of this by all means extends to imported logos and converted text. So what could be the possible ways out of the dilemma?

I’ll simply assume you know about this stuff in Cinema 4D and if you don’t, you can always watch a ton of tutorials everywhere or download the demo. Now saying “Simply copy the functionality from program XYZ” is usually the lamest way to request features, but in this case there is no better way to describe it. The whole workflow is pretty much nailed down to the T using MoGraph and existing tools and the new spline tools in R 17 will up the ante even more. I’m not sure if I’ll ever create swirlies this way, never having used the vortex tool in Illustrator even, and creating complex stuff is still probably done better in a dedicated 2D vector graphics tool, but it’s always nice to have options. Another solution is offered by Autodesk in their latest 2016.1 Extensions for Maya and MAX (videos here, here and here). The only issue I have with their approach is that it looks kinda over-engineered and they cram everything into one tool – not untypical for them and it kinda fits the way the program’s work, but not necessarily intuitive. If you get my drift: When working with text I would probably not so much be concerned with Newtonian fields and self collisions, but rather the letters ending up like glued into position where I put them when tweaking the kerning. In fairness, though, of course demo videos only show so much and it’s been a long time since I last used Maya. It may be much more streamlined in practice.

What am I saying with my long-winded hubub? It’s time to act for The Foundry. If a VFX-centric tool like Maya can have a not so bad 3D text tool, then this is even more mission critical for a tool like modo to attract a specific crowd and sell more licenses. Speaking of which – they have released a number of videos that should help to win you over…

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