3ds max 6

31 Jul, 2003 By: Ron LaFon

Discreet (Autodesk), $3,495

Autodesk’s visualization product lineup came into clearer focus with the announcement of 3ds max 6 at SIGGRAPH 2003 at the end of July. As foreshadowed by the release of a 3ds max architectural design extension at the end of 2002, this new release will provide an abundant assortment of tools for AEC design visualization when it ships this fall.

Many signs this spring pointed to a reassessment of the Autodesk product line. Discreet’s Design Extension for 3ds max added back in architectural design features previously available only in Autodesk VIZ. The extension also included radiosity technology from the Lightscape product, which Autodesk continues to sell and support, but not develop. Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2004 appeared on the scene with a built-in slice of VIZ called VIZ Render, an easy-to-use tool for casual users. And now, 3ds max 6 ($3,495) proclaims itself once again a tool—“the ultimate solution”—for design visualization.

Make no mistake—3ds max 6 still targets professional 3D animators in other markets such as game development, film effects, and broadcast graphics. But Autodesk admits that the architectural market remains a stronghold for 3ds max, particularly among those who’ve mastered its complex interface and multitude of settings. 3ds max 6 comes with switchable INI files so you can set system defaults to those appropriate for design visualization—for example, shadows being on by default for all lights.

The mental ray renderer is integrated with, and ships with, 3ds max 6. 3ds max also accommodates third-party renderers such as Brazil and PRman. 3ds max 6 incorporates the VIZ Render technology found in Architectural Desktop 2004 so that you can open VIZ Render DRF files directly to apply advanced visualization techniques. The 3ds max renderer and the mental ray renderer support VIZ Render Physical Material properties. Another new, and welcome, interoperability feature in 3ds max is the ability to export DWG files.

The Layer Manager now operates as a modeless dialog box, which means you can switch layer states without closing the window. You can set and save rendering presets, including global rendering settings, ray-trace globals, advanced lighting, environment, and effects settings. In addition, 3ds max 6 collects all rendering settings into a tabbed Rendering dialog box.

You now have the option not to render hidden lights in a scene. A new schematic view makes it easier to figure out the relationships among objects in a scene, and you can paint directly onto the surface of a model.

Discreet says a great deal of development effort went into intangibles such as improving the efficiency of shadow algorithms and the quality of reflections. Such work won’t show up on the list of new features, but provides real improvement in 3ds max performance. Discreet also reports added emphasis on product stability, noting that it “won’t put in anything that’s not complete.”

Where does this leave Autodesk VIZ? VIZ 4 works well with Architectural Desktop 3.3 and AutoCAD 2002, but does not directly support the AutoCAD 2004 file format. The Save as AutoCAD 2000 feature of AutoCAD 2004 provides a data migration route to VIZ. Discreet plans to make it easy for VIZ users to switch to 3ds max, if they want to, but will continue to support VIZ customers.

About the Author: Ron LaFon

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