— Wow, how many days did it take you to make that model?

— 2 hours and 15 seconds to render.

Introduction

Imagine there is a free 2D editor, which is as easy and fun to use, as to play Lego. The editor renders quickly and beautifully, and weighs only 2.5 MB. Too good to be true? Well, it is not.

MagicaVoxel “Crossy Road”, “Shooty Skies”, “Monument Valley”.

Such games as “Crossy Road”, “Shooty Skies” and “Monument Valley” introduced a new fashion for voxel graphics in the gaming industry. Now, anyone can challenge their creativity and make a fantasy voxel game with the help of a voxel editor — the top ones are “MagicaVoxel”, “Qubicle”, and “VoxelShop”.

In this article, I will tell you about a program with an intuitive, convenient interface and excellent render. It is called “MagicaVoxel” and it’s absolutely free, even for commercial use.

MagicaVoxel Interface

Why it is so cool

“MagicaVoxel” is so simple that even beginners can start using it right away without any preparation — you just open the program and begin to draw, like pixel art, only in 3D. Plenty of tools are available: brushes, erasers, fills, lines. Settings range give you a lot of control over the tool parameters.

Other options include: group, rotate, copy. You will also be surprised by the analog of smart-objects (symbols). There are three basic color palettes that you can edit and customize. Or you can start from scratch and create one of your own. Import and export options are included.

The program allows you to draw simultaneously in several dimensions. You can also turn on symmetry, to create a custom 3D brush and even populate your 3D fantasy world with ready-made objects. For example, you can draw a tree and copy it an endless number of times to paint a forest.

MagicaVoxel Interface (symbols)

In “MagicaVoxel” you are able to import 2D images, as well as 3D models. To import 2D objects, load a .png image with a maximum size of 126×126 pixels, and the program will turn every flat pixel into a volumetric voxel. A 3D model can also be converted into voxels; however, you can never guess how many voxels it will be eventually broken into.

MagicaVoxel Druids

Excellent render is what sets “MagicaVoxel” apart from the other programs. Setting up materials, shaders able to replace voxels with Lego blocks, focus, exposure, position and color of the sun, soft shadows, cel shading (contour stroke) to name just a few — all tools and features are intuitive, convenient and save you time.

MagicaVoxel (Original Assets)
MagicaVoxel (Original Assets)

One small drawback

One thing this program will not let you do easily is export images in 3D, 2D, and isometric 2D. The export settings are almost not configurable, and the 3D models have a lot of polygons since each colorized voxel is represented in a form of a separate triangle. To make a low-poly model with a UV texture map, you will have to use third-party programs (e.g., Blender — you can find plenty of tutorials on YouTube explaining how to do that).

“MagicaVoxel” for games and much more

Currently, I am creating art for an arcade simulator called “Jack Lumberjack”. I chose “MagicaVoxel” for this job to make most of the graphics and models because it is multifunctional and suitable for various tasks. In addition to 3D modeling, it helps me to create composition for 2D art, our game designer uses the editor to develop a game card prototype, and the design team makes various decorative gizmos for websites and applications. And again, I cannot stress it more: “MagicaVoxel” is so fun and simple to use, that my five-year-old son is already making voxel cars himself.

Jack Lumberjack Druids

“MagicaVoxel”

Advantages:
 — User-friendly interface, which you get used to quickly;
 — Powerful and fast render;
 — Many useful tools for drawing;
 — Layers, groups, and symbols;
 — Import of 2D and 3D images;
 — Small weight, only 2.5 MB;
 — Instant loading;
 — Availability: the program is free of charge, including commercial use.

Disadvantages:
 — Lack of export and import settings;

Conclusion

Lately, the software industry lacked new groundbreaking ideas in the design sphere. Photo editors, 3D maxes, sketches –­ in the stream of copies of already existing bestsellers, I was really surprised by how enjoyable was the experience of using “MagicaVoxel”. The last time I felt something similar was when I discovered Sketchup (at that time it was called Google Sketchup).

Apart from the benefits that I spoke about in this article, “MagicaVoxel” also has a huge community, where people share their works and help each other. It is a place to go if you have any problems using this editor.

So, if you have ever faced the problem, how to balance your job and the desire to express yourself creatively — with the help of this program you have the chance to do both.

Official website. Developer’s Twitter. A bunch of cool works made in “MagicaVoxel” on Sketchfab.

MagicaVoxel (Examples)

Written by Nikita Artyuhin. Illustrator and Animator at Druids.

Jack Lumberjack Druids

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