Design Visualization

First Looks: Discreet 3ds max 6

5 Jan, 2004 By: Ron LaFon

3DS MAX 6 IS THE latest iteration of Discreet's popular 3D modeling, rendering, and visualization application. Examination of the details reveals the depth of this release.

Features for All
Along with many under-the-hood developments in 3ds max 6, there are features certain to please almost everyone-for example, the integration of the Mental Ray 3.2 high-quality renderer. The Mental Ray license supports up to two processors per license and includes shaders from Lume Tools, with substantial integration into the 3ds max material editor.

These two frames are from a timeline in a drawing included with 3ds max 6, in which max’s famous teapot assumes the guise of a tank and opens fire.

3ds max 6 can now import and export HDRI (high-dynamic range radiance imaging) files such as NDR and PIC. Though most useful to film studios, this capability can also benefit individuals who create singular visualizations. An HDR image contains more information than either a 24- or 32-bit one, often with substantially more information in highlights and shadows. Such HDR images can store accurate lighting values beyond the usual 0-255 range most of us are accustomed to.

The Render dialog box now contains all rendering settings, including integrated tools and third-party add-ons such as Brazil, Final Render, and VRay.

Those who use Autodesk design tools, Rhino, and formoZ can now share DWG data with 3ds max 6 with enhanced support for layers, instancing, and color. If your Autodesk product includes VIZ Render (Architectural Desktop 2004, for example), your lighting and material assignments will carry over to 3ds max. This also provides VIZ Render users access to some of the advanced animation and rendering capabilities of 3ds max, including Mental Ray, network rendering, and particle systems.

pros: Incorporates Mental Ray; exports HDRI files; new schematic view.
cons: Some third-party add-ons need to be recompiled.
price: $3,495


Regular 3ds max users will welcome the new schematic view, which is completely reworked. The MultiRes Modifier now supports all 99 map channels per vertex. Other welcome enhancements include improvements to patch modeling workflow and spline cage generation so they require fewer modifiers. New patch tools include reset tangents, automatic patch smoothing, extrude spline, and viewport performance.

Other new features include, but are not limited to, schematic view, particle flow, vertex paint, reactor 2 dynamics, shell modifier, and network render to texture.

Under the Hood
In addition to the small collection of plug-ins typically included with 3ds max, most users depend on a small retinue of third-party plug-ins to accomplish their work. Note that 3ds max 6 is compiled with a new compiler (Visual C++ v7), so many plug-ins must be recompiled to work correctly. This is always a consideration when upgrading. There are, at least temporarily, some problems with third-party plug-ins and rendering with Mental Ray.

3ds max 6 makes significant demands on equipment and software drivers. You need an Intel or AMD 300MHz processor with at least 512MB of RAM and 500MB swap space, although Discreet suggests a dual Intel Xeon or dual AMD Athlon system with 1GB of RAM and 2GB of swap space. 3ds max pushes graphics card drivers to their limits, so driver glitches may be a way of life for a brief period of time.

Pricing for 3ds max 6 is $3,495, with a $440 annual subscription fee. Upgrade pricing from previous versions ranges from $795 to $1,495. 3ds max 6 ships on a total of four CD-ROMs and includes an extra CD-ROM of associated demo software.

Reviewing new releases of Discreet 3ds max is always an exercise in fitting an evaluation of an extremely complex application into a relatively small number of words. For a more in-depth look at the features of 3ds max 6, see Discreet's Web site.

About the Author: Ron LaFon

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