Design Visualization

First Look Review: Autodesk 3ds Max 9

30 Nov, 2006 By: Ron LaFon

3D animation, rendering and modeling software.

Autodesk 3ds Max is a capable and powerful tool for 3D animation, rendering and modeling. Though targeted primarily at digital content creation for film and games, it remains popular for photorealistic rendering of architectural and product designs. An application with as much depth as 3ds Max is well beyond the scope of this review, but a few features in this new release stand out.

 Autodesk 3ds Max 9
Autodesk 3ds Max 9

The new animation layer system in 3ds Max 9 allows animation information to be layered on top of the initial keyed track—like an extension of the old list controller but with more features and depth. This ability offers lots of potential to those who create animated sequences.

The hair subsystem now allows all combining and styling to be done within 3ds Max viewports, as opposed to using an outside module as in previous versions. Adding collision objects causes hair to fit to the body or clothing more realistically. The ability to see more information in the 3ds Max 9 viewport without having to render can save lots of time. You can also use all types of light on hair in 3ds Max 9, unlike previous releases that required specific hair lights.

New features in the cloth subsystem include a new way to tailor clothing within 3ds Max and new cling properties that fit clothing more realistically, as if it were wet or being held to the model via static electricity.

This release implements many new mental ray features (now at v.3.5, and easier and faster to use). Predefined quality-level presets help give a better idea of how the final rendered version will appear. Users receive feedback earlier in the rendering process so if they're not satisfied with the render, they can quickly cancel it and make the necessary changes before restarting the rendering process. Other enhancements in the new mental ray are targeted toward visualizing architectural spaces.

In 3ds Max 9, I found core-level performance improvements in several areas that provide better overall performance and a cleaner workflow. For larger and/or more complex models, the 64-bit version speeds through tasks much faster because of better use of and access to more system memory.

The Autodesk 3ds Max 9 interface displays mental ray shaders. Image provided by Eyeball NYC.
The Autodesk 3ds Max 9 interface displays mental ray shaders. Image provided by Eyeball NYC.

If you depend on any third-party plug-ins to accomplish your 3ds Max work, note that all plug-ins must be recompiled to work with this new release. As I write this, updated plug-ins are scarce, but they should begin to appear within the next couple of months. Scripts from previous releases work with 3ds Max 9, so that's a bit of good news. Autodesk 3ds Max 9 comes with no printed manuals whatsoever, nor does it include a specific customization guide. The installation DVD contains electronic versions of the manuals in PDF format, with printing enabled so you can print specific sections or pages that you need.

I tested Autodesk 3ds Max 9 with the MAXBench4 benchmark that Cadalyst uses for testing work-stations and found that it runs without any problems. NVIDIA has released a DirectX version of its MAXtreme accelerated driver, noting that the shaders in 3ds Max 9 are designed for DirectX. I'm currently evaluating our benchmark testing series in light of this information.

System requirements for 3ds Max 9 include Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 or higher (recommended) or Windows 2000 Professional with Service Pack 4 installed. The 64-bit version requires Windows XP Professional x64. You'll also need Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 or higher and DirectX 9.0c (required) and possibly OpenGL (optional).

Minimum hardware requirements for the 32-bit version are an Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon XP or higher processor, at least 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended) and 500MB of swap space (2GB recommended). 3ds Max supports both hardware-accelerated OpenGL and Direct3D. A Windows-compliant pointing device and a DVD-ROM drive are also required. 3ds Max 9 is optimized for the Microsoft IntelliMouse.

The 64-bit version of 3ds Max 9 needs at least an Intel EM64T, AMD Athlon 64 or higher or an AMD Opteron processor, along with at least 1GB of RAM (4GB recommended) and 500MB of swap space (2GB recommended).

Pricing for the stand-alone version of 3ds Max is unchanged at $3,495, with network pricing available at $3,995. International pricing may vary. You can download a free 30-day trial of the 32-bit version from after completing an online form.

As with any release of 3ds Max, users will find features and capabilities that are really useful, and some that are more of an annoyance. Though this release of 3ds Max is significant, the depth of the changes leave some areas feeling as if Autodesk rushed the release a bit. I wouldn't be surprised to see a service pack release in the not-too-distant future.

About the Author: Ron LaFon

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