UV Vonc

Introduction


UV Vonc is a UV Editing utility that adds some very handy tools to BodyPaint ("Outils UV pour CINEMA 4D" from the image on the developer's site translates to "UV tools for CINEMA 4D"). BodyPaint as most of you know has been neglected by MAXON for a very long time. It used to be the king of 3D painting with a reasonable set of UV editing tools. The UV editing tools however are now looking very tired and well behind what other 3D applications and stand alone UV editing applications are now offering both in the terms of functionality and ease of use. This is where UV Vonc fills some of the gaps.

UV Vonc is by French plugin developer César Vonc and costs 40 Euros to buy. A demo version with limited functions is available.

Installation

The plugin comes as a 501kb download. Once unzipped you upload the files into your Plugin folder in the normal way. You then fire up CINEMA 4D, go into Help > Personalize and then enter the unlock code that the developer will email you. Until you do that the plugin works in demo mode. You then need to restart CINEMA 4D for it to be fully functional.

Getting Started

UV Vonc is found in the Plugins menu. Typically you'll be in a UV Edit layout and have an object selected with its UV's being displayed in the 2D texture view. What I suggest that you do is add the UV Vonc shortcut icon to a tool bar in a UV Edit Layout then save the layout with a unique name (never overwrite the original layouts). The image below shows the UV Vonc tools plus the special window you get where the magic happens. I created a cube and applied a Box projection.

UV Vonc Tools and window

UV Vonc Tools and Window

If you close either of the 2 UV Vonc windows you can get both back by running the plugin again or as I do, click on the tool bar icon that I created for it. You can navigate in the UV Vonc window using regular CINEMA 4D navigation mouse / keyboard combinations. These combinations are:


These can be used in viewport and the regular 2D Texture / UV view window as well.

I'll just go through what each tool, command or option on the toolbar does and demonstrate what they do. For most of this, a short video is the best way to demonstrate how things work. All the videos are fairly short. Just click on the play button. They're in the usual You tube style format so can be expanded to full screen. Where appropriate they have audio. Note a couple of the longer videos are about 30mb in size and can take a bit of time to begin playing once you click on the play button. If you watch all of the videos you'll chew through about 250mb of bandwidth.

Transform Tools

UV Vonc has some Transform tools. BodyPaint has as well but the UV Vonc ones are more useful as you can move to specific UV Coordinate positions, something you can't do with the regular transform tools and you have to mess around with the Structure Manager to achieve the same thing. In addition, UV Vonc has a an Axis which is essentially like a modelling axis except it's for UV's but note it only works for resizing and rotation. Here's a short video of me using the Transform tools. Note that you can click on the small Monitor icon to maximize the video. Press the Esc key to return to the smaller version.

UV Vonc Transform Tools

One thing to be aware of is the position values UV Vonc uses are percentages. UV's use a 2D coordinate system where U is the horizontal axis and Y is the vertical axis. The coordinates for the top left hand corner are 0,0 and the lower right hand corner is 1,1. UV Vonc however uses 0%,0% and 100%,100% instead. In computer programming a value of 1 is the same as 100%. Just something to be aware of. You can enter negative values and values over 100% as well.

One thing that is very clever is if you select a UV polygon or a UV point (or groups of them) you get the position displayed in the Transform panel. One thing I would like to see is the ability to select UV polygons and points in the UV Vonc 2D window without having to flick over to the regular 2D view. I would also like to see the Transform sliders interactive so that as you change values your UV's update in real time (assuming that's possible to do).

Smooth iconSmooth Tool

The Smooth tool is like an interactive relax tool and smooths out UV polygons. When you use it, border points are pinned in a similar manner to doing a relax with regular BodyPaint tools. I found the results using this tool were excellent and gave better results than doing a relax with the native BodyPaint relax tool. You can change the brush size, intensity and there's a symmetry option. The following video demonstrates the Smooth tool in action.

Smooth tool is used to smooth UV Polygons

Catmull iconCatmull-Clark Tool

The Catmull-Clark tool is very similar to the Smooth tool. It uses a Catmull-Clark type algorithm to smooth out UV's. Again it's like doing a relax and in fact in many cases can be used as a replacement for the BodyPaint relax tool as it gives very good results. Like the Smooth tool you can interactively smooth out the UV's. It also has a brush size, intensity and symmetry option. In addition it has a "Fix Border" option that pins down the border points so that they don't move. Lastly you can apply the smoothing to the entire UV mesh by clicking on the "Apply" button. The intensity of the applied smoothing is controlled by intensity slider next to the Apply button. Here's a short video showing the tool in action

Catmull-Clark tool is used to smooth / relax UV Polygons

Deform iconDeform Brush

The Deform brush is like a souped up Magnet tool. BodyPaint's Magnet tool is used to move UV's around with a soft rubbery type effect. Problem with it, is has no intensity setting so it's very easy to mess things up (There's also a Magnet option for the BodyPaint Move tool as well which is good if you're moving a few points at a time around). The UV Vonc Deform Brush gives much better control. In addition to moving UV's around you can also scale them. Again, here's a short video of me using the Deform Tool.

The Deform Brush is like a souped up Magnet tool

Abf iconABF Relax

The ABF (Angle Based Flattening) tool works virtually the same as the Relax tool in BodyPaint in ABF mode i.e. you can relax and or unwrap your model. It has a "Pin Border" points option like the Relax tool. It however falls noticeably short by not having any options to cut selected edges or to pin points. You have to select blocks of UV's then apply the ABF tool to each block rather than doing it all at once as you can with BodyPaint's relax tool in ABF mode. For this reason the tool has limited use. Perhaps what is useful is you can interactively relax / unwrap your UV's by brushing over them. Have to say I didn't really get very good results doing this. As far as I can tell the UV polygons get layed out exactly the same using the UV Vonc ABF tool as doing a relax with the native BodyPaint relax tool in ABF mode. Below as usual is a short video where I demonstrate the ABF Relax tool.

The ABF Relax tool works similar to the BodyPaint Relax tool in ABF mode

Transpose iconTranspose Tool

The Transpose tool is used to transfer how the UV's are laid out from one UV island of UV's to another. Typically this is done on a symmetrical model where for whatever reason the UV's once unwrapped are different on each side. The Transpose tool fixes this up. It has a number of options where you can transpose with or without symmetry and also to line things up. The following video shows where I use the Transpose tool to make the UV's match with the character's ears.

The Transpose tool transfers / transpose UV's from one UV island to another to make them match

You might have noticed in the video that I used U axis alignment. I actually think the plugin has the alignment axes reversed. I wanted them aligned vertically i.e. the V axis yet I had to use U axis alignment. A small bug I reckon.

Equalize iconEqualize Tool

The Equalize tool is a tool that does its best to equalize / even out the size of the UV polygons. You can either apply the tool to a selection or all of the UV polygons or brush it on. I got best results brushing it on. As usual, the following is a short video of this tool in action.

The Equalize tool equalizes the size of UV Polygons

Adapt iconAdapt Tool

The Adapt tool resizes UV Polygons to match the proportions of the actual polygons. It's similar to running a "Realign" with the "Equalize Island" option enabled in that it scales the UV polygon islands so that they are all proportional but rather than resize the island as a whole it does it on a per UV polygon basis (as far as I can tell). I got best results applying it to all of the UV polygons at once. I found it took about 8 clicks of applying the tool to completely even out the UV's so that if you did a checkerboard test, the squares would all be similar sized, which is the goal of UV mapping. Like other tools it can be applied to all UV polygons or selected UV polygons, or it can be applied by brushing. Again, here's me playing around with this tool.

The Adapt tool resizes UV Polygons to match the proportions of the actual polygons

One option I would like to see is a "Realign" option so that UV islands don't overlap.

Quad iconQuad Tool

The Quad tool arranges UV polygons into a nice grid or it attempts to. It doesn't work in all situations and won't work if there are 3 sided UV polygons, the UV polygons are in a closed loop, or a point is connected to more than 4 edges. The documentation says "4 or more polygons". I think it's edges where you have a point connected to 5 or more edges (called a Pole). The UV's need to be in some sort of rough grid arrangement to begin with. Here's a short video of me using the Quad tool.

The Quad tool arranges UV Polygons into a uniform grid

Symmetry iconSymmetry Tool

I found the description of this tool in the documentation a little bit misleading. More accurately in my opinion, it's a tool to flip or mirror UV's left to right and top to bottom. You drag out a line where you want the mirror plane to be, release the mouse button and the UV polygons are flipped to the other side of where you drew the line. To constrain the line horizontally and vertically you have to hold down the "Shift" key (Ironically this isn't mentioned in the documentation) or if you're careful there's a inbuilt snapping system where the line snaps to UV points. I found with the snapping you had to be very precise with your cursor positioning to get it to snap to a point. If you drag out the line so it's not horizontal or vertical you rotate the UV polygons. Here's a short video of me using this tool.

The Symmetry tool is used to flip / mirror UV polygons

Angle iconAngle Correct Tool

The Angle Correct tool straightens up your UV polygons. Often after unwrapping your model the UV's aren't straight and painting would be a lot easier if the UV polygons were horizontally or vertically lined up. This tool does this brilliantly. There are no options, you just click and drag. Voila, your UV polygons are now nicely lined up. Here's a quick video of me fixing up the UV's on an aeroplane model.

The Angle tool straighten up UV polygons

Bistoury iconBistoury Tool

The Bistoury tool is a knife like tool (The word Bistoury means a "sharp surgical knife"). It is used to separate UV polygons along their edges. This is something that the BodyPaint tools can't do as there's no UV Edge mode. While it's possible to separate UV's the process is quite clunky as you have to select the entire block of UV's then run an "Unstitch© command. There's also no control over how much the spacing is, something that the Bistoury tool has. Here's a very short video where I'm selecting edges and when I get to the end, the UV polygons are split automatically.

Bistoury tool is used to separate UV Polygons along their edges

Conclusion

I really enjoyed reviewing UV Vonc. It has some great tools and for a first release the developer has done a great job. That said, it's a bit rough around the edges. The UV Vonc tool window doesn't conform to normal CINEMA 4D menu conventions i.e. you can't display the text for the tool or change the icon size. The Move tool would be a lot better if the axis worked with it. This would allow precise repositioning of UV polygons. Note that you can get accurate positioning of single UV points. The ABF Relax tool had some short comings which reduced its usefulness. It has no "Pin Points" and no "Cut Edges" options. This is crucial for unwrapping things like characters where there are multiple seams. Some of the tools I would like to see real time updating as you brush them on. Not sure if that's feasible however.

The plugin doesn't come with any documentation but there is written documentation on the developer's site that I would describe as "adequate". There's also a video tutorial in French which I found more of "here's how to unwrap a character" rather than these are how the UV Vonc tools work although the UV Vonc tools were used. What I would like to see is some short videos like what I have done, made by the developer or something who understands the plugin inside and out going through every option (and in English). The plugin is after all 40 Euros so not exactly a cheap $5 plugin so I think it's a reasonable expectation to expect some reasonable documentation.

I experienced one only crash caused by the UV Vonc tools whilst working on the review. I wasn't able to replicate the crash.

Enough of the bad news. The good news is the developer seems to have done things that MAXON seem incapable of doing or unwilling to do yet. All these tools should be built into CINEMA 4D natively. As anyone familiar with BodyPaint knows, it hasn't had any love in a very long time. Hopefully we'll see both MAXON and the UV Vonc developer continuing to work on the UV tools. Maybe MAXON needs to give this guy a job as he certainly knows his way around UV tools?

So for anyone doing any serious UV work, if you haven't abandoned BodyPaint already, the UV Vonc set of tools are an excellent addition to BodyPaint / CINEMA 4D and I highly recommend them.