Review: Autodesk 3ds Max 2011
The UI and modeling tools keep getting better and better
Improved Interface and Workflow3ds Max 2010 teased users with parts of what was clearly going to become a new look and feel for 3ds Max, with an option for a dark gray UI color scheme and, more important, a new tabbed system, dubbed the “Ribbon.” In 3ds Max 2011 the Ribbon is now a fully customizable component of the UI that can organize any toolset, command or setting to accommodate any workflow. Though the Ribbon still feels a bit out of place for this regular user, it is quickly becoming an essential part of the 3ds Max UI.
In an ongoing effort to maximize available workspace the Command Panel can now set to behave as a fly-out panel, thus leaving more room for modeling and animation when not in use. Along the same lines, the new heads-up-display Caddy system provides quick and unobtrusive access to various modeling settings. Autodesk’s effort to clean up the 3ds Max’s interface is paying off with a much leaner and more efficient workspace.
Modeling with Object PaintIn 3ds Max 2010 the modeling tools were significantly improved with the introduction of the advanced Graphite Modeling tools. This release debuts the cool Object Paint tool. The Object Paint tool “paints” instances of an object (or sets of objects) anywhere in a scene or onto the surface of another object. In practicality, the Object Paint tool is a parametric replicator that takes its input from a mouse or stylus. The Object Paint tool makes it possible to easily populate a scene with organic objects like trees or grass, or to precisely place rivets on the hull of a ship. While the tool is a welcome addition to 3ds Max, it feels overdue, especially when considering that programs like modo have had this type of functionality for some time.
Slate Material Editor Simplifies Complex ShadersThe Slate Material Editor is really an expansion of the familiar Material Editor (now called the Compact Material Editor). The primary function of the Slate Material Editor is to provide an intuitive interface in which to build complex materials. This is an important and valuable function, since many of today’s materials have become increasingly cumbersome to work with.
The Slate Material Editor interface includes a searchable map browser-much like the old map browser-work areas called views, a navigator, and the familiar parameter editor. The most significant section is a work area where new materials can be built using a node-based system. The Slate Material Editor provides an alternative access to the menus and rollouts found in the standard Material Editor. The best thing about the node-based system? Being able to see the numerous components that make up material and the relationships of those components to each shader channel at the same time. This, of course, makes it easy to quickly build materials or customize existing materials.
Faster Character Animation with CATIn addition to the Character Studio character animation system integrated into 3ds Max 7, 3ds Max 2011 now ships with the Character Animation Toolkit (CAT) plug-in. Essentially, that means that 3ds Max now includes two complete character animation systems; which system you decide to use may boil down to what type of character you’re animating at the time. Character Studio’s strength lies in its extensive biped animation toolset and integration with Physique and Crowd. CAT’s strengths lie in its straightforward easy-to-use rigging system for humanoid bipeds and multi-legged creatures like spiders. In fact, CAT ships with over 20 preset rigs for bipeds, quadrupeds, winged creatures and multi-legged animals. It’s also possible to build custom rigs with CAT.
CAT’s practical animation layering system features preset animation cycles (like walk cycles) that you can apply to a character and then easily edit via CATMotion or keyframing. For added customization CAT animation can blend between FK and IK. Further, CAT ships with CATMuscle and Muscles Strand to simulate muscles in a character. Once rigged and animated, a character maybe assigned to a path and follow any terrain.
3D/2D Painting with Veiwport CanvasThough first introduced in 3ds Max 2010, the Viewport Canvas, in this release, has become a professional-level 3D/2D paint system. The Viewport Canvas (seen at top) features advanced painting and texture editing tools, such as an all-purpose Paint brush, Fill, Gradient, Clone, Blur, Dodge, Sharpen and Burn. You can mirror brushes and tools to speed up the painting process. And colors, as well as patterns, may be directly painted onto 3D models in real time. If you’d rather paint in the 2D UV view, you can do that, too.
The most significant new feature in Viewport Canvas is the comprehensive layering system. Viewport Canvas layers feature many of the same functions as those in image editing programs like Photoshop. Viewport Canvas layers manage color data, as well as other texture types like bump, specular and reflection. You can move, rotate, scale and flip layers, or blend them using almost two dozen layer blending modes. You can also take them out to Photoshop as PSD files and continue editing there.
At its core, Viewport Canvas is a time saver, making it possible to quickly produce all necessary textures within 3ds Max in real time. In comparison to rival 3D/2D painting systems, like those found in modo, Bodypaint 3D or even sibling application Mudbox, Viewport Canvas is one of the best and easiest to use. In fact, access to Viewport Canvas alone is the best reason to upgrade to 3ds max 2011.
Pre-Viz with Quicksilver Hardware RendererThat’s not all that’s in this new version, however. 3ds Max 2011 debuts the Quicksilver hardware renderer, which outputs high-quality renders for pre-visualization presentations. The new Quicksilver renderer is multi-threaded, so it harnesses the processing power of all available CPUs and the GPU to produce images at lightning speeds. At default settings the Quicksilver renderer produces aliased images suitable only for animatics, but beyond those settings, the rendering quality is surprisingly good.
This is a top-flight renderer and supports advanced rendering features you’d expect, such as alpha, depth-of-field, motion blur, dynamic reflections, ambient occlusion and indirect lighting.