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I have a question about subsurf mod in general. Do most 3d software typically use a subdivision surface modifier, or is the modifier more typical for blender?

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This is a complicated question. The best general answer would be that yes, almost all 3D software has some sort of non-destructive subdivision function. It takes a lot of different forms though.

First of all, not all 3D software even has something that would be recognizable as a modifier stack. For example, in Maya, subdivision is an option on the shape node (equivalent to the object data block in Blender). Either via the "smooth mesh" function, or via render-engine specific settings.

The bit about renderer settings is probably worth mentioning, because subdivision is frequently applied by the renderer, rather than subdividing when building the mesh and handing the already subdivided geo to the render engine. By letting the renderer handle subdivision, you can export just the base mesh, which is generally faster since the renderer can optimize the subdivision while doing it's the other tessellating and pre-chewing that all renderers do when starting up. It also makes for smaller files when exporting the scene to disk since the scene file will store the base mesh and a subdivision flag rather than the subdivided mesh.

The "micropoly displacement" feature in Cycles is actually an implementation of render-time subdivision, among other things. (such as view-dependent subdiv, displacement of the subdivided mesh, auto-bump). When a subdivision modifier is at the bottom of the modifier stack and you check the "adaptive" checkbox on the modifier, the subdivision modifier will be skipped on export and Cycles will be given the base mesh with subdiv settings in its place. Cycles will then generate the subdivided mesh on the fly at startup. There's no reason this couldn't work with non-adaptive subdivision as well, but AFAIK it doesn't do this as of 2.79.

Something similar happens when exporting an Alembic cache and you check the "use subdivision schema" flag. The modifier will be skipped, and a flag will be left in the file that tells the importing app to apply whatever non-destructive subdiv function it has.

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  • $\begingroup$ That was very educational. But i read about some other programs, 3ds max has a few modifiers like "turbosmooth" and "meshsmooth". But i guess from your answer the conclusion would be that it varies from software to software? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ Correct. Max is one of the ones that is more Blender-like in this regard. $\endgroup$
    – JtheNinja
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 18:17

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