In every industry there are definitely trends, and the CG world is no exception. I remember the days when patch modeling were the “IT” thing, and every package under the sun added some forms of patch or spline modeling feature to its toolbox. Then came NURBS and Sub-D surfaces, etc…
These days, the “IT” thing is sculpting. Pretty much modeling via “virtual clay”. Maya’s Artisan Tools no doubt was one of the big contributing factors to the whole sculpting movement with its release in 1998, but without a doubt the most disruptive and important program in the sculpting movement was Pixologic's zBrush. Put simply it changed how the industry worked and if you have never checked it out, it is really worth a look!
Now the gotcha, zBrush meshes by nature tend to be quite dense, as in high in polygon count. Therefore it is a pretty piss poor tool for creating real time meshes ( although still useful for normal maps ). In recent years though, lower polygon tools have more commonly made their way into the toolset. Now, in regards to our project here, zBrush isn’t really all that relevant as simply put, it cost 700$. That said, there are options.
See, a fellow by the name of DrPetter started an amateur project to create his own sculpting software. In that way that can make you so damned jealous of other peoples abilities, the son of a… er wait… well anyways, he pulled it off, and created a pretty damned cool piece of software in just 6 months. Being a hobby project he was pretty much going to abandon it, but the folks at pixologic stepped in an employed the fellow to continue work.
So, long story short, there is a freely available sculpting solution out there, thanks to drpetter and pixologic. Given the cost of admission, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. It is now called Sculptris Alpha 5 and you can download it here. It’s a zip, download, extract and run the EXE, simple enough.
And to whet your appetite so you actually go ahead and download this powerful and FREE program, check out the following video! Oh, and it is truly free, no watermarks, no limitations, simply free.