Software Highlight: The Foundry’s MODO

Software Highlight: MODO, what are its strengths and is it for you?

There is no one piece of 3d software that is superior to others in all of its aspects. We’ve all heard a few names pop up in discussions with high profile industry leaders, or our favorite artists, but the CG adage holds true regardless: it’s the artist, not the tool. Despite this, you’re bound to come across a forum populated by software zealots vehemently insisting on the supremacy of one program or the other, and sadly, the words “artist” and “tool” lose their distinction between each other. That said, there is some importance in knowing what kind of 3d artist you are, and what tool would best suit your needs.

Our MODO render farm has been one of the earlier additions to our list of supported 3d software, and it goes without saying that MODO and its users have a special place in our history as a rendering service. Every 3d software has its strengths, and we’re by no means putting MODO above all the other great 3d suites out there, but in this article, we’ll talk about what we think makes this program great, and for whom it would be best suited for.

Some History

Originating from some of the core developers of NewTek’s LightWave after disagreements about an overhaul of the program, MODO is a complete 3d suite that was born out of the need to create a holistic and efficient 3d solution. Formerly developed by Luxology LLC, MODO is now being developed by The Foundry, which is also responsible for popular software like NUKE, MARI, and Katana. MODO has earned some renown in VFX and film production, alongside Foundry’s compositing and management software, and is championed by notable figures in the industry as a reliable pre-visualization and asset creation tool.

Software Highlight: MODO, what are its strengths and is it for you?
William Vaughn, 3d Artist, Teacher, industry professional

And now, a look at some of MODO’s key features


MODO’s subscription cost amounts to around $600 a year, which is great, compared to other popular 3d programs like C4d or 3ds Max, which will set you back anywhere between $900 – $1500.

The Foundry also offers educational licenses for students and institutions for as low as $156 and $188 respectively, and a 30 day trial of MODO can be downloaded, inclusive of training material to get you started.

Learning Curve

The intuitiveness of a program is largely subjective, as what workflow might suit your way of thinking may not be as quick to grasp for others who approach things differently, but the abundance of resources available online for MODO should ease you in quite nicely.

The Foundry’s community page is filled with tutorial videos for MODO and has a very active user base. Learning from these videos and asking questions on the forum alone is a great way to quickly familiarize yourself with the software, but there are heaps of training videos to be found on youtube as well. You can also join a vibrant MODO community on Facebook, and interact with users from all skill levels, and get feedback for your works and check the many practical tutorials and tips by William Vaughn on his Vimeo channel.


For a time, MODO established itself as the crown prince of modeling. Its modeling tools are well known for being great for both direct and procedural modeling, which have repeatedly been described as smooth and intuitive, but beneath that is a sophisticated workflow that really brings efficiency to working with meshes and their components.

The workplane, for instance, is MODO’s way of telling you what coordinate system is being used in a scene. Modeling gets tricky when you start to work on parts of a mesh that are not within the major axes, but with a simple hotkey you can snap MODO’s workplane to a polygon for example, and continue to create within that polygon’s coordinate space.

Software Highlight: MODO, what are its strengths and is it for you?

MODO’s workplane

Selection is a big part of editing meshes, and MODO has a variety of selection tools that make selecting mesh components and the meshes themselves quickly and easily. You could select a pattern of alternating edges, grow the patterned selection with the UP key, and use the L key to select the loops of those edges. Falloff deformers allow you to configure selections, and edit mesh components in a more sculptor-like manner You can also select different objects in the scene using a myriad of options with the Select Pattern tool.

Geometry constraints provide multiple ways of snapping a mesh to a mesh in the backgrounds based on an index of any of its components. Need some pouches snapped on a character’s utility belt in a pinch? No problem.

MeshFusion allows you to perform real-time boolean operations on subdivision surface meshes, and edit them procedurally via a node network after, making hard surface modeling a cakewalk. You can change boolean roles for any number of meshes that are part of the “fusion”, and drag and drop one mesh to another and assign an operation from a drop-down menu, edit the profile of the intersecting area between two meshes, and access presets from a pie menu with a simple hotkey combination (Ctrl + F).

MODO’s topology pen is a celebrated tool for retopologizing sculpted meshes and quickly plotting out polygon edge flow. Using the hotkeys associated with it will have you creating loops with a level of intuitiveness that can allow you to focus on finding better ways to go about your topology. MODO also comes with an auto retopology tool that produces quad based meshes from your sculpts in a few clicks.

Texturing and Shading

You can use a variety of matcaps and textures to better pre-visualize your models without having to unwrap or shade them. Features like the Variation texture layer allow you to apply different values to your meshes, based on several parameters, such as mesh parts, particles or items (objects).

MODO’s texture painting toolset allows the same kind of tool interoperability as it does with modeling. Custom brushes, stencils, height maps from meshes, nozzle options for graphic tablets and more are at your disposal, and all for use with a responsiveness that allows every change to be viewed instantly on both the viewport and the preview renderer.

Software Highlight: MODO, what are its strengths and is it for you?
Texture Painting Training Video with Modo | Foundry

The Shader Tree operates on a layer based hierarchy similar to Photoshop, but with each layer allowing you to quickly toggle certain shading attributes for viewport preview, easily assign material layers to items or mesh components, and on top of that, MODO ships with a nice collection of presets for quickly and easily defining surfaces for your models.

Rigging and Animation

While animation isn’t something MODO would boast of, its rigging and animation feature set isn’t unremarkable either.

MODO’s node-based rigging workflow makes it easy to prepare intricate rigs, and reuse them when needed. Enabling “intersection” when creating joints with the skeleton tool allows you to quickly plot bones on your character by snapping them to the center of volume of every part of the mesh they’re applied to. MODO’s weight containers allow you to map weights on items outside of your mesh, which can then serve as weight maps for other meshes.

Software Highlight: MODO, what are its strengths and is it for you?
Using the intersect option when adding joints

The setup feature in rigging allows you to perform rig adjustments while preserving your animations, and the order of operations feature allows you to push your morph deformations without compromising other morph values you’ve set after.

Using MODO’s Actor, Pose and Action animation system allows you to animate in a non-linear fashion, swapping around clips and poses to suit various scenes.

Virtually all of MODO’s attributes or channels are animate-able, which bypass more tedious processes that would have to be undertaken in other software, such as animating between active render cameras, for example.


MODO’s native rendering engine has been reported to produce stunning results in less time than it would take in external render engines and has been utilizing physically realistic materials since release 10. However, this doesn’t mean that MODO cannot be used with industry standard engines. Renderers like V-Ray and Octane fully support MODO. Other interesting features in MODO’s rendering toolset are Passes and Pass Groups. A Pass Group can contain any number of Passes which store different values for assigned channels, which means you could switch between multiple iterations of your scene elements, and organize those iterations however you choose. Imagine how much quicker your turn arounds could be!

Software Highlight: MODO, what are its strengths and is it for you?
Software Highlight: MODO, what are its strengths and is it for you?
Software Highlight: MODO, what are its strengths and is it for you?
MODO projects rendered at GarageFarm.NET, more renders here

Support from 3rd party rendering service providers

Many MODO render farms are available on the market, and the large competition means competitive prices and levels of technical support. This factor is integral to a serious artist’s assessment of which program to invest in since professional work often runs on very tight deadlines, which would be difficult to manage without sourcing a render farm or heavy investment in hardware. Most MODO farms support MODO’s native renderer and feature set, plugins and external renderers. We personally love MODO’s asset management, which, in times of troubleshooting and testing, can be a real time saver for us!


The Foundry and its partners provide many useful plugins that complement MODO’s already rich features and add the functionality needed to augment other aspects of the program. The close collaboration between the Foundry and third-party developers ensure that plugins are up to date with the latest MODO releases, and are well documented and tested, but the fact that MODO’s core feature set is more than you’d typically need can’t be reiterated enough!

Software Highlight: MODO, what are its strengths and is it for you?
MODO’s addon page at

So, is MODO for you?

If you’re looking for a tool that gets the job done in an intuitive and efficient manner, is able to bust out quick iterations of a concept in 3d, is responsive, and has great value for price, MODO is for you. If you’re looking for a program with an active community and plenty of learning resources available, you can’t go wrong with MODO, either. It’s an ideal choice for anyone working as a modeler, concept artist or industrial visualizer, and can be a great friend to you when a design or illustration job has a demanding turnaround time. If you want to learn more about this well-oiled machine, have a look at PixelFondue which is run by William Vaughn and company, and is packed with succinct and useful tips and insights into MODOs many features, and when you’ve got a few scenes ready, give our farm a try, for free!

That concludes this first article of a series of software highlights. We hope you enjoyed the read, and as always, happy rendering from GarageFarm.NET!