One of the most important new 3D Studio Max 4 features is an inverse kinematics system based on an extensible architecture that allows animators to choose between solvers such as History Dependent, History Independent, Limb Solver, and third-party solvers. Also new is a bones system that allows bones to act as parametric objects that can be shaded and previewed. Bones can also be modified with standard mesh tools, allowing animators to sculpt skeletal structures that represent a character's shape and even skin. An advanced skinning system called Angle Deformers allows animators to set up deformations at specific joint angles. For example, an animator can specify that an arm muscle will bulge at a specific angle of a character's pose. New camera effects allow for motion blur and depth of field. And last, artists now have a wider range of polygonal modeling tools from which to choose.
Like many of the major 3D packages, Max now provides additional support for game development. The new version supports the Direct 3D game development environment, which allows animators to preview their work in real time, and Intel's Multi Res technology, which lets artists create high-resolution models, then decimate them to meet the appropriate medium. Models can even be created that will decimate on the fly for optimal performance.
Discreet's emphasis on game development tools makes sense, notes Wanda Meloni, analyst with M2 Research in San Diego, because game developers now make up the highest percentage of 3D software animation users-about 34 percent of the total 3D animation market. "This version of Max also has pretty good integration with Combustion [Discreet's compositing pro gram], which supports the next highest percentage market-broadcast," she says.
The program runs, at minimum, on a 300mhz Pentium-based Windows 2000/NT/98 system with 128mb of RAM. The cost of 3D Studio Max 4 is $3495. It is scheduled to begin shipping early this year. (Discreet; www.discreet.com) -JD