3ds Max 8
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 12 (December 2005)

3ds Max 8

3ds Max 8 is the newest version of Autodesk Media and Entertainment’s 3D modeling and animation suite and is possibly one of the most significant releases from Autodesk in quite some time. The software takes a big step in the direction of character animation with the addition of hair, cloth, and a non-linear animation module.

The 3ds Max 8 interface is similar to previous versions, only with a few modifications-mainly asset tracking and management have been improved. Now, scene assets can be registered and tracked using the asset vault, which acts as a library. Artists can check out assets, which become locked, so people aren’t accessing the same file simultaneously.

Additionally, a new floating menu for mesh painting has been added, as well as features from Viz 2006. One of my favorites is a button next to the timeline that allows you to change the tangent of an animation curve with one click, giving me one more reason not to open the curve editor, allowing me to stay focused on what I’m animating.

Probably the most notable addition to Max 8 is hair and cloth. Clothing is created using methods that mimic the real world. For example, the designer creates a “pattern” out of splines for each garment panel, and the panels are “sewn” together using the Garment Maker module, which also “dresses” the character by draping the cloth over the mesh. The cloth itself can be controlled by many parameters, including material type, stiffness, and elasticity, and the tension of the stitching. Forces such as gravity and wind can also be applied to the cloth for more realistic results.

3ds Max 8’s new hair and fur modules help give animated characters more style.

Max 8’s new hair module is powerful and easy to use. Derived from Joe Alter’s popular Shave and a Haircut software, which is also available for several other 3D packages, the module can produce hair (long strands) or fur (short strands) in any combination. Long hair is controlled using splines to guide the direction of the hair. A styling window, which allows you to use virtual brushes and combs to style the hair, has also been added. I found this to be useful, but I still had to fine-tune the hair’s behavior by tweaking parameters in the standard viewports.

The hair module, however, is not limited to character coiffures; it can also be used to create other natural effects such as fields of grass and flowers. The module accomplishes this by taking standard geometry and scattering it over a surface or spline. If Autodesk added a brush-based interface to the module, the result would be similar to Maya’s Paint Effects.

Animators will also be happy with the new non-linear animation module, based on Autodesk’s Character Studio. Previous versions only allowed for non-linear animation with biped-based skeletons, but in Max 8, the module is open to all types of objects. Non-linear animation allows you to store motion as a series of clips, which can be combined to create new motions. This form of authoring has gained popularity over the years, as it allows animators to animate at the character level to improve productivity.

The Skinning module has new tools for selecting and weighting vertices, and a number of additions, such as the ability to group tracks and impose limits on specified parameters, have been added to Track View.

Mental Ray has been upgraded to Version 3.4 and includes a new motion blur that renders much faster. Modeling enhancements include new ways to select edge loops and an edge bridge tool, which allows you to connect selected edges to create new geometry.

3ds Max 8 proves to be a significant software upgrade. Character animators will appreciate the addition of hair and cloth, and work groups will appreciate the improved asset management features.

George Maestri, a Computer Graphics World contributing editor, is president of RubberBug, a Los Angeles-based animation studio specializing in character animation.

Autodesk Media and Entertainment www.autodesk.com
Minimum System Requirements: Intel Pentium III or AMD processor, 500 mhz or higher (dual Intel, Xeon, AMD Athlon, or Opteron 32-bit system recommended).

512mb RAM (1 gb recommended); 500 mb swap space (2 gb recommended); 1024x768x16-bit color with 64 mb RAM graphics board; OpenGL and Direct3D hardware acceleration, (3D graphics accelerator 1280x1024x32-bit color with 256 mb RAM recommended); Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2 (recommended); DirectX 9.0.