|Autodesk’s latest release of 3ds Max (version 11 if anyone is counting) is now dubbed Autodesk 3ds Max 2009. You can buy this release as either 3ds Max Design 2009 or 3ds Max 2009, the former being for design visualization, the later for Media & Entertainment. They are exactly the same software, one program, two boxes. What’s going on here? Autodesk has discontinued the stripped-down VIZ product, which was 3ds Max with lots of features turned off. Now design visualization specialists will have ALL the features found in Max. This is a really good thing for the artist using the software. I loved VIZ for what it was, but Max is great! |
All this confusion has diverted attention from the fact that this version of 3ds Max only had a six month release cycle. Autodesk wanted Max to conform with the rest of its vast CAD product line, so there wasn’t a lot of time to code/test/document the features. Considering the shortened time-frame, this version is chock-full of improvements, performance enhancements and other good things.
More so than I was expecting. I’ve been using this product since 1990, so I have seen a lot of releases. This one is a good one. I like it. I don’t like releases with a lot of new functionality, I like releases where the software I use every day works and doesn’t crash. I’m not seeing a lot of crashing with 3ds Max 2009. They didn’t break it, we like that. I’m using the design visualization version, 3ds Max Design 2009, and it’s being good to me.
|I’ve been using it on architectural visualization projects since it shipped and I’m having good luck and good results. Many studios wait for the first service pack before adopting a new release. I’m a demo-dog for IMAGINIT Technologies (an Autodesk reseller), so I’ve got to jump right in, and use the newest thing. I’ve been moving files from Revit into 3ds Max via FBX, using photometric lighting and mental ray materials and getting nice results and great performance. I’m not doing hotels or airports, these are churches and art centers, so the scope of the project isn’t too bad. I’ve friends who are rendering airports and condominium complexes. I’m using the 32-bit version on a paltry notebook with 2GB of RAM.|
I don’t like new UI generally, I don’t like it when they move things around on me. I want the doorknob to the bathroom to stay put, since I know where it is already, and don’t want to take a lot of time hunting for it in the dark. There’s some new UI in 3ds Max 2009, but (surprise-surprise) it’s ok, I like some of it. The new Render Window 'reveal' technology makes a lot of sense and works really well. More on that in a little bit. There’s the new Viewcube and SteeringWheel devices for new users to navigate in 3D.
If you’ve never navigated in 3D before, you can use either of these to manipulate the Perspective Viewport. I like the Home feature of the ViewCube, it’s a handy reset to the viewport tool. We’ve always had something like this (Save Perspective Viewport), but you had to invoke it (and you had to know ahead of time that you wanted to use it). This Home icon on the View Cube is great. You can customize it as well (you define what “home” is). There’s no place like it, just ask Dorothy. Both the ViewCube and SteeringWheels exist in other Autodesk products (like Maya and AutoCAD) so they’ve been added to 3ds Max as an attempt to standardize widgets across applications.
Did I ask for this? I don’t care, as long as I can turn it off, its fine with me.
The new SteeringWheel follows your cursor around, which in theory should be really nice, and in practice is just plain annoying. Shift+W will toggle this sticky visual impairment off after it drives you crazy.
The default renderer is now mental ray 3.6, and there are now three entries in the Rendering menu where there used to be one. The Rendered Frame Window (the dialog box formerly known as VFB) has some new UI panels that gives you quick access to a bunch of diverse dialog boxes. What a smart idea and good implementation. Who did that? Hats off!
Plus some of the sliders and parameters can be manipulated directly from these new panels as well. You can turn off reflections/refractions/soft shadows to speed up your rendering, and there is a new Subset Pixels (of selected objects) that really makes iterations go fast. When you’re doing physically based rendering like mental ray, it can get kinda slow watching the buckets appear on your image. Re-rendering only selected objects is so fast comparatively – dream come true. There is a new Iterative Rendering mode too that ignores network rendering settings, and disables other stuff to speed things along. Very nice.
Also the ability to generate Final Gather maps and GI Solutions without having to render the image should be a real lifesaver on big scenes. Heck, there’s even a Print button, inherited from VIZ.
BSP2 Acceleration is the new default, this helped a lot on the airport shots I had to work on. Mental ray Proxies are a new feature entirely, these are super great. I love mr proxies, they’re so fast. You make any 3ds Max Object you like, then make a mr proxy object in the viewport.
When you’ve made the connection between the two, the proxy object displays a point cloud representation of the object. Proxies load and unload out of memory on demand, so they don’t slow down performance. Proxies hold animation, and you can put different materials on the proxies to vary the effect.
You can also use the Spacing tool to quickly array them. You can’t use the Scatter tool with them, but you can download Peter Watje’s Scatter from maxplugins.de and that works.
Word of caution: Just because you can now make huge files doesn’t mean there aren’t limits. Try to find where it is that your scene starts to page badly and be clever. Make your own LOD versions of proxies for the things in the distance. If you play within the limits this is a killer feature, really sweet.
FBX also works great for moving files from Maya to Max. And for import from Mudbox, OBJ has been enhanced as well. I did a presentation last week to a school that teaches medical illustration, and brought a file from Mudbox to Maya to Max. Textures from Maya came right in.
Speaking of textures, mental ray has a new material type called ProMaterials. In both Revit and Max, this new material type can be defined in Revit, imported into Max and maintains its integrity. There are great new Libraries of ProMaterials in Max, I can’t remember the last time Autodesk shipped so much good new content as this. Yay! The ProMaterials are a simplified version of the Arch & Design Materials, with interesting templates added. If I choose a Water ProMaterial, I have options from Swimming Pool, Sea/Ocean, Algae etc. Some users have complained that the ProMaterials are lacking some of the controls they’d like, I found I had a hard time getting exactly what I wanted sometimes, and would rush back to Arch & Design, since I know how to use them.
Can we get a script to convert from ProMaterial to Arch&Design and vice versa please?
Photometric Lights are now the default and the UI has been simplified for these objects.
They now have templates for the real-world counterpart of the light, so I can choose a 100W bulb without much difficulty. In VIZ they had Tool Palettes to do this, in Max this has always been a bit lacking, so I like this a lot. And if you add lots of lights in Revit, they come in as both geometry and actual photometric lights! This is terrific.
Photometric lights have a new far attenuation feature that gives users control over the light falloff in the scene. And Photometric lights have new shapes for the lighting and shadows, shapes like Disc and Cylinder. The Viewport Shadows now support Photometric lights so you can see the actual IES distribution shape as part of the light display.
If you’re doing actual physically based lighting analysis, there is a new Lighting Analysis menu with a Lighting Analysis Assistant workflow. Max has always had this type of feature in the Pseudo Color exposure control, but now this has been updated for mental ray and is a complete feature that prints out numeric values onto an image overlay. This can be used for LEEDS 8.3 Certification, in the green building and sustainable design world.Mental ray daylight now has new options for the physical sky. You can load a Weather Driven file (.epw) to get actual weather averages to generate the sky conditions. I have no idea who would need to do this, but I do know that when I rendered my imported file, there were clouds in the sky! I doubt they come from the epw file (they’re probably painted into the HDR map in the haze channel), but still, very slick trick. Making me happy.
The composite map has been redesigned and it’s quite robust. Make as many layers as you like, each layer has a channel for a texture and a mask. The layers can be applied in 24 different processing modes like average, dodge, burn, multiply etc. Layers can be rearranged through drag and drop. There’s a new color correction map that can be automatically applied to the layers, or to anywhere you’d put a map. In the Advanced Lightness rollout there is gamma/gain correction fields here. Very, very good, thank you. There a new Spline Mapping feature inside the Unwrap UVW modifier. This is handy when you’ve built geometry through box modeling extrusions and there’s no quick way to do the mapping. This puts in a loft style map generation after the fact, based on the spline you draw. Seems to work really well.
There are also a bunch of mental ray Shaders which were hidden in the last release that have been exposed. There’s the Glare Shader, which works off scene brightness, a chrome ball shader and a matte shadow shader for mixing photos of real backgrounds with CG objects. Theres a RaySwitcher shader so you can separate the environment reflections from the rendered background..
There’s been a lot of confusion that Autodesk induced with the two names, one product strategy, and it’s taken some attention from the fact this is actually a nice solid release with some killer new features and much good improvement overall.
Autodesk 3ds Max
Mark Gerhard, IMAGINiT
Ballistic Publishing's 'ELEMENTAL 2' Autodesk Art
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There’s some new stuff in Biped worth noting. Still pursuing the elusive quadraped animation, the Structure rollout has a new “Forefeet” checkbox. Turn this on and the hands will act more like feet than they used to. When you rotate the palm, the fingers stay flat against the ground plane. Call me when we get “handsteps” in Footstep mode. Then I’ll get really excited.
You can mirror animation with biped now, they’ve added a Mirror in Place button. Should help in generation of motionflow libraries. There’s a new Triangle Neck button that changes the linkage so the clavicles are linked to the top of the spine, rather than the neck; this should help in some rigging problems. And Biped now can use the Working Pivot, a temporary pivot that you can use for animating the biped falling over or flipping around another point you want. That’s nice, I don’t think you can use working pivot to animate anything else in Max, pretty cool.