Review: Next Limit’s Maxwell Render Version 2.6
Markus Otto
May 18, 2012

Review: Next Limit’s Maxwell Render Version 2.6

An architect looks at Next Limit’s Maxwell Render Version 2.6.
This time we didn’t have to wait long for something new out of the Maxwell Render forge.

I was secretly waiting and hoping for Version 3.0, and I was surprised by the update 2.6. I have to admit, the expectations when 2.6 was announced weren´t that high, but once again, what the Maxwell Render team delivered amazed me. 

Misgivings about upgrading your software in the middle of a project—which is always a big issue—were also unfounded. All concerns were immediately resolved. The new 2.6 render suite appears to be stable, and the strong overall build is very sovereign.

The update contains various enhancements and great new features like:

- Hair rendering: Introducing a new procedural primitive for rendering hair; compatible with the most popular hair systems.
- Support for vector displacement.
- Faster motion blur.
- Referenced objects and materials: Geometry proxies support (referenced MXSs) has been added, so now it’s possible to replace one mesh with another during the render process (before voxelization), thereby dramatically reducing export times.
- Displacement has been rewritten, replaced with a new, faster algorithm.
- Scripting: Maxwell Render SDK now includes a stand-alone Python editor and scripting examples.

From Version 2.5
Not long before the release of 2.6, Next Limit’s Maxwell Render Version 2.5 already contained considerable improvements and tons of newer components:

- Sub-surface scattering was vastly improved in both quality and performance.
- Numerous workflow improvements, including new scripting functions, new command line options and parameters, and networking improvements especially for running animations as well as many other fixes and improvements. 

But the most significant feature in Version 2.5 was the Maxwell Fire function, a new, fast interactive rendering technology that previews scene lighting and material in seconds and in outstanding quality. The feature was integrated in various plug-ins. The compatibility was ensured with all Maxwell Render materials and features.

Valuable Asset
As an architect, I worked for many years in the typical areas of the job profile. Visualizations had only been a minor part of the daily work. Renderings were primarily done for our architectural competitions and for illustration purposes of own projects. A few local real estate companies were also clients.

I always aimed for the highest-quality photorealistic renderings, and have worked with different render applications, but I was never completely satisfied with what was technically possible at that time. 

When Maxwell launched its beta versions and we saw the first renderings, it was absolutely clear for us that we needed that software. Since I had been well grounded in real photography, I was able to achieve great results within a very short period of time.

Then we soon realized that Maxwell Render enabled us to provide our clients with a new level of photorealism. In the course of time, we secured more and more clients, allowed us to establish a completely new department within our architecture office, with a focus exclusively on creating renderings for the various areas of architecture and design.

Our clients today are primarily real estate agencies, architects, and a new but very significant part of our work is now the product and industrial design market. In this segment, regular photo shootings noticeably are more and more being replaced by renderings. To cater to this market, Maxwell Render is able to reproduce the exposition of light with its diverse behavior. Materials are simulated physically correct with highest accuracy. The setting of these parameters is by far the simplest I have ever used. 

Maxwell Render can be used in two different ways. First of all, as the stand-alone Studio Maxwell Render 2.6 Suite supporting the following file formats; .obj, .stl, .lwo, .nff, .xc2, .mxs, .dxf, .3ds, .xml, .fbx, .ply, .dae, .bin, .sd and .dem, and of course with the wide range of plug-ins for most common 3D and CAD applications, like 3ds Max, Autodesk Viz, Maya, LightWave, Rhinoceros, Cinema 4D, SolidWorks, Form Z, Google SketchUp, ArchiCAD, Softimage, Modo, Houdini, Bonzai3D, Microstation. I personally generally work with Maxwell via the cinema 4D plug-in, which runs very smoothly and is very well integrated.

For users familiar with photography, creating a rendering is indeed almost as easy as taking a photo, because Maxwell simulates a real camera with the associated parameters such as f-stop, focal length, ISO, shutter speed, etc. That camera model can also handle depth of field, natural 3D motion blur and other effects. 

Maxwell Render also has a great community of users who frequently create their own materials and share it on Maxwell’s Online Material Hub: There are thousands of materials that can be downloaded completely free, some of them are quite intricate and some are even in 3D (for example, grass with actual blades). In conjunction with materials, skies can also be downloaded and a selection of HDRs.

Maxwell materials are based on real optical properties, and Maxwell provides some interesting effects and tools to design materials (stacked material system, sub-surface scattering, Displacement, etc.).

The new Hair rendering with Maxwell Render 2.60 is fantastic for simulating carpets and fabrics, I look forward to using it on all my interior renderings! Also, I often use Maxwell Displacement to apply geometric details on objects (textures). The displacement algorithm is improved now, and you can combine displacement with instances or motion blur—great news! And, the network tools allow you to distribute render task across multiple computers in your network. 
The most appreciated features of the program for most users, however, will be the ability to pause renders, edit the render while it is still rendering, and get live previews of your render while it is progressing, to resume a render after it is already stopped and the opportunity to do more than one render at a time.

I also have to mention the Multilight and Colour Multilight features, which allow you to change intensity or color of individual lights after the scene is rendered. That enables you to create various renders, a day and night scene, with only one rendering. 

As mentioned before, Maxwell Render 2.6 is definitely a must have update. The list of new features and improvements is impressive. It delivers even better overall quality images in shorter time than the previous versions!! In summary, what I most like about Maxwell Render is: the efficient and fast workflow; the hair rendering with great results concerning carpets, rugs, fur hair, grass, and so forth; the displacement, which is very useable, finally; and the ability to possibility to load external MXS files to your scene, which is a great timesaver. Also, the handling of very large scenes is awesome. Support of referenced materials is also a nice add.

While the particle rendering looks great, but I haven´t tested it yet. But the separate physical sky and sun setting when using ML is a neat new feature

In my opinion, Maxwell is an excellent render engine that enables you to create the finest visualizations. It is very easy to use and it’s very stable. The current update 2.6 adds class to an already great engine.

Markus Otto is an Architect, Department Head at Winzenrender Koeln in Germany (