|Discreet has begun shipping 3ds max 7, the latest version of its venerable 3D modeling and animation application. The upgrade includes new modeling and texturing features, as well as an update to Mental Ray rendering. And Discreet's popular Character Studio is now included in the base application.
The interface to Version 7 is almost identical to the previous editions. This is good news because I find 3ds max to be one of the easier 3D packages to use. The new version is incredibly stable and fast. Subtle interface improvements include a flat shaded view, for better viewing of lit models, and new snapping and array tools.
|The new skin shader for Mental Ray takes advantage of subsurface scattering to produce realistic results.
Version 7 improves on 3ds max's polygonal modeling tools. The poly surface type in 3ds max has been very popular, as it has built-in subdivision surfaces and a number of other cool features. The new Edit Poly modifier is one of my favorite new features. Edit Poly (finally) allows you to create a stack of modifications to a Poly object without turning the object into a mesh. One of the best aspects of Edit Poly is that it enables you to animate virtually any parameter. It also offers the ability to automatically bridge open parts of a model, as well as to relax and smooth parts.
Paint deform provides tools similar to Maya's Artisan, enabling modelers to sculpt a polygonal surface by pushing, pulling, and smoothing vertices with a paintbrush-like interface. The new paint-selection tool enables you to select vertices using a brush, a method that is more interactive and easier to use than selecting pixels with a lasso. Other model-ing enhancements include a Turbosmooth modifier, which simplifies 3ds max's Meshsmooth modifier, making it work more quickly.
Rendering is improved with the inclusion of Mental Ray Version 3.3. This renderer is more tightly integrated with 3ds max. All of Version 7's new rendering features are geared toward Mental Ray. New Mental Ray features include subsurface scattering, which simulates the scattering of light within a surface and is helpful in creating semi-translucent surfaces, such as human skin, marble, translucent plastics, and other organic surfaces. Discreet has written several new Mental Ray shaders that ship with 3ds max, including a robust skin shader and an ambient occlusion shader that serves as a good alternative to global illumination without the render times.
Lighting for global illumination is made easier in Version 7. Lights now automatically adjust the number of photons emitted depending on the size and intensity of the light. It makes rendering easier, and automatically optimizes the scene for faster rendering. Mental Ray shadows are improved, and now allow for transparent shadows.
Artists, such as game developers, who work with low-poly models will appreciate 3ds max's new normal mapping tools. Normal mapping takes the surface information from a high-resolution model and applies it as a bump map to a low-resolution model. The results are quite amazing, essentially adding detail to a low-res model for the price of a texture. This technique is taking the gaming world by storm; many developers are using normal maps to increase the fidelity of their console games.
Animators will be happy that Character Studio 4 is integrated into 3ds max. A complete character animation tool, Character Studio provides built-in skeletons, called bipeds, that have the intelligence of human motion. It is a great tool for anyone using motion capture, creating crowds, or doing character animation in general.
New deformation tools make rigging characters easier. The Skin Wrap deformer uses a piece of geometry to guide the deformation of an object. It can be used in a number of ways, from creating realistic muscles to making sure clothing doesn't intersect with a character's body. Along similar lines, the Skin Morph deformer is a stack-based modifier with which to control the way a skeleton joint deforms a mesh. I find it easier to use than the deformation controls in 3ds max's skin modifier, and the separate modifiers are much easier to manage.
Special effects animators will appreciate the new Reaction controller, which creates a relationship between objects so that animation on one object can control another. The Reaction Manager replaces the old method of setting up connections.
3ds max, a powerful modeling and animation tool, competes well with any package on the market. It is great for creating high-end animation and special effects.
George Maestri is president of Rubberbug, a Los Angeles-based animation studio specializing in character animation.
Minimum System Requirements: Windows XP Professional, XP Home, or 2000; Intel Pentium III or later or AMD processor running at 500mhz minimum; 512mb of RAM; 500mb of swap space; and a graphics card supporting 1024x768 resolution, 16-bit color, and 64mb of RAM (OpenGL and Direct3D supported)