General Software

First Look: 3ds max

15 Dec, 2004 By: Ron LaFon

High-end 3D visualization and animation.


DISCREET JUST SHIPPED a new version of 3ds max—version 7. It offers significant new features and, according to Discreet, is more stable. Good news for 3ds max 6 users is that plug-ins for that version remain compatible with this release.

 Figure 1. 3ds max 7 can show project mapping coordinates and other vertex channel information between any two objects.
Figure 1. 3ds max 7 can show project mapping coordinates and other vertex channel information between any two objects.

Speaking of plug-ins, Character Studio 4 is now included with 3ds max at no extra charge. The Mental Ray 3.3 subsurface scattering shader now incorporates photometric lighting and includes specialized versions designed specifically to handle skin.

Among 3ds max 7's new features, several stand out as significant either in terms of new functionality or in making daily operations easier. The paint deformation tool is sure to be a popular addition. It allows users to deform poly objects using an intuitive brush interface. It handles push, pull, relax, and revert operations with full support for soft selections. Brush controls include extensive falloff control, and pressure sensitivity is supported for brush strength and size for those who have pressure-sensitive tablets such as the Wacom. This tool makes adjustments and refinements of poly objects quick and easy.

Figure 2. 3ds max 7s Mental Ray 3.3 subsurface scattering brings superb realism to skin, wax, plastics, and other translucent materials.
Figure 2. 3ds max 7s Mental Ray 3.3 subsurface scattering brings superb realism to skin, wax, plastics, and other translucent materials.

Normal mapping tools provide a way for visualization professionals to build detailed high-resolution meshes and then apply normal maps to low-resolution models. These normal maps can be rendered with MentalRay and the native Scanline renderer. This approach provides ultimate detail at render time, but allows the user to work with extremely low resolution in the viewport. The lower geometry count enables users to work more quickly in a scene without losing detail.

The TurboSmooth modifier in this release is a new modifier based on MeshSmooth, but with much of the esoteric functionality removed. TurboSmooth is extremely fast because it focuses on what users generally require from smoothing. MeshSmooth is still available if users need any of its features.

3DS MAX 7
3DS MAX 7

3ds max 7's Highlight Seams capabilities makes it easy to spot discontinuities in the mapping on a model—sure to be a very useful aid in day-to-day work.

I did some preliminary, not-for-publication tests with 3ds max 7, and it does seem speedy. Especially noticeable was an increase in performance with the DirectX driver, which in our initial tests proved to be markedly faster than the OpenGL implementation. The MaxBench4 benchmark, which Cadalyst Labs uses for testing graphics hardware and workstations, ran without a hitch on this release.

3ds max 7 is available for a suggested retail price of $3,495. Upgrades from previous versions are $795 from 3ds max 6, $1,295 from 3ds max 5, and $1,495 from 3ds max 4. As with previous releases, a subscription service is available for $440 per year. In the past, the subscription has provided significant additional functionality for the base product.

There's obviously a lot more to 3ds max 7 than I can possibly cover in a brief review such as this. Take a closer look at 3ds max on Discreet's Web site (www.discreet.com).


About the Author: Ron LaFon


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