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Review: Autodesk 3ds Max 2014

Substantial New Tools and Features Make This Max a Worthy Upgrade

For more than 25 years, 3ds Max has been the workhorse of the 3D/CGI community. Often relegated to a back seat when compared to Maya, the last few releases of 3ds Max have brought it up to par with anything found in its sibling application. The MassFX dynamics system and the Nitrous Accelerated Graphics Core introduced in 3ds Max 2012 are again improved in this release. Also debuting is Populate, perspective modeling tools, 2D vector graphics support, and a slew of performance enhancements.

Let There Be People

One of the coolest features in any Autodesk 2014 Entertainment Creation Suite program is 3ds Max's Populate. Populate easily creates crowds of moving people to add interest to any animation or architectural visualization.

Click any image to view full-size.

Populate is an awesome set of tools debuting in 3ds Max 2014 that make it easy to create convincing crowds of walking or idle people. Great for pre-viz, architectural visualization, or just to add realism to a scene, Populate is simple and fast to use.

To get started select the Create Flow tool from the new Populate ribbon, and click and drag in the viewport to create a flow (that does not render) for the crowds to follow; right click to terminate. In the Modify tab from the Flow rollout, choose the crowd's properties, such as density or the male-to-female ratio. Then click Simulate in the Populate ribbon and voila! You have a walking crowd that, from a distance, looks realistic. In addition to walking crowds, Populate also features an Idle Area tool that creates pockets of people conversing, talking on their cell phone, etc. — in other words, moving casually in one spot.

Flows may be edited with Define Flow tools like Edit Flow, Add to Flow and Create Ramp to change shape or direction of the paths taken by the crowds. Editing tracks is much like editing vertices in Editable Polys. Individual characters may be selected and textures swapped to add variety, but the process is random. It is possible to customize character geometry and textures, but it is not easy. Unfortunately, there are no options to add children to the crowds. While Populate is generally easy and fun to use, it locked up a couple of times during my tests.

Awesome Particle Dynamics

Over the last two releases, the MassFX Unified System introduced in 3ds Max 2012 has been improved to deliver dynamic simulation solutions rivaling those found in Maya. In this release, PFlow's mParticles have been added to 3ds Max as part of the MassFX Unified System, enhancing system stability and usability.

3ds Max 2014 delivers top-notch particle dynamics with the integration of mParticle to MassFX. Artists can simulate natural and man-made forces easily by deploying combinations of two dozen operators.

Veteran animators and even animation rookies can now effortlessly create dynamic and realistic simulations by choosing from over two dozen mParticle operators to simulate natural and manmade forces. To manage the simulation data, animators may use the Cache Disk operator to store pre-calculated data in separate files or the Cache Selective operator to store specific types of simulation data.

A New Perspective

Anyone that has ever attempted to match the perspective of a photograph (like a back plate photo) to scene objects knows that it is nearly an impossible task. Even the best efforts amount to nothing more than eyeballing. However, the new Perspective Match tools in 3ds Max 2014 facilitate this tedious chore.

perspective match

Matching a background plate with a with scene objects in seamless perspective is now simple with the new Perspective Match tools. Once matched, any objects dropped in the scene will automatically line up with the background plate perspective.

With a background plate loaded, select Perspective Match from the Utilities panel, click on Show Vanishing Lines, and you’ll see a set of perspective lines that correspond to X, Y, Z axes appear in the viewport. Align the vanishing lines with key perspective points in the plate, add a camera, and then any objects added to the scene will naturally line up with the background plate, creating a realistic, seamless scene. While it’s a great addition to modeling in 3ds Max, Perspective Match is for still renders only.

Friendly 2D Pan and Zoom

When enabled, the new 2D Pan and Zoom viewport option allows artists to pan around a viewport without breaking camera registration between a background plate and scene objects. In other words, when panning or zooming, the background plate moves along with scene objects as if the viewport were a 2D image. While this new feature may seem trite, it is in fact invaluable to quickly and accurately assembling a 3D scene.

Evolving Nitrous

Introduced in 3ds Max 2012, the Nitrous Accelerated Graphics Core continues its fast-paced development. In this release, Nitrous debuts Adaptive Degradation controls that allow artists to choose how objects will degrade in a viewport when carrying out camera movements like zooming and panning or during animation playback. This feature allows 3ds Max to gracefully keep up with viewport functions without dropping frames.

Improved viewport performance is also noticeable when populating a scene with heavy geometry, in part due to better texture memory management and optimized scene computation. Additional improvements include faster object selection and better Depth of Field simulation. Together the Nitrous improvements in this release are huge time-savers.

2D Vector and CAD Support

New in 3ds Max 2014 is support for 2D vector graphics as non-bitmap materials for texture maps. This means that the resolution-independent property of 2D vector graphics translates smoothly as materials for textures. The most important benefit of this new feature is that textures using 2D vector graphics may be rendered close-up without any pixelation. Another key advantage is that 2D vector graphics require less memory than bitmaps.

Artists can now load 2D vector graphics into the materials editor to use as textures. 2D vector graphics are resolution independent, so they always remain sharp regardless of zooming and require less memory than bitmaps. Support for PDFs allows artists to use sequences of 2D vector graphics as animation with page transition effects.

Also new is support for Adobe's PDF format, enabling artists to animate PDF files with multiple 2D vector graphics in separate pages. For example, animators may use PDF files to produce 2D facial animation or effects such as scrolling text or other texture effects through animated page transitions. 3ds Max 2014 also supports CAD PAT files, native AI, and both SVG file formats, allowing designers to produce better CAD illustrations.

Conclusion

3ds Max 2014 delivers significant new features such as improved particle dynamics and much faster viewport performance. However, it is novel tools like Populate and support for 2D vector graphics as materials that put this release over the top. Add to that better After Effects interoperability, DirectX viewport rendering, Windows 8 support and a number of fixes to important systems like UV mapping, and 3ds Max 2014 becomes an important upgrade.

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