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Software Review: Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate: 3ds Max & MotionBuilder

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Autodesk has released the 2014 editions of its Entertainment Creation Suites, offering artists and production facilities a powerful range of creative toolsets. Three kits have been released. With Standard, you pick Maya or 3DS Max, and you get MotionBuilder, Mudbox, SketchBook and Designer. The Premium edition adds Softimage to the bundle. Finally, the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate suite gives you both Maya and 3DS Max to make a complete suite. I will be reviewing Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate and will break this review down into three parts. The first will cover 3ds Max and MotionBuilder, the second will cover Mudbox and Softimage, and the third will cover Maya and SketchBook Designer.

Autodesk 3ds Max is a 3D animation, modeling and rendering software application used for simulation, visual effects, rendering, and compositing. There are two versions of 3ds Max, one for game developers, visual effects artists, and graphic designers working on games, films, and television, the other for architects, designers, and visual specialists. At the core, however, the versions are the same; it is the toolsets that are different. My review is based on the former.

Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate

3DS Max

3ds Max has been used on films including The Dark Knight and Kung Fu Panda, animated TV series like Olivia the Pig, and in the gaming industry for games like Arjun: The Warrior Prince and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

Complete system requirements are located at the Autodesk site.

So what is new with 3ds Max 2014?

• Vector map support: There is now a completely different pipeline for using 2D vector graphics as maps on materials. With PDF Support that uses animated page transitions, artists can create textures that change over time. Using vector graphics as texture maps allows you to render them at dynamic resolutions no matter how much the view is zoomed in. Designers can create richer, more dynamic CAD illustrations using AutoCAD software pattern files. It also features Adobe Illustrator software.

Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate

3DS Max

• Pflow’s mParticles: Now fully integrated into 3DS Max, this is part of the mass effects simulation system, and provides advanced yet easy-to-use particle operators that are also part of dynamic simulation. New particle birth operators and forces and collision operators can be used with the same simple setup as other mass effects simulations. They are scalable to large simulations for film and television visual effects. You have deep control over all aspects of particles.

• Populate crowd animation: This feature gives you the ability to add people to a scene to give it life. With a few simple mouse clicks you can create pathway flows where people will be generated randomly within your scene. They will stay within the path, performing various behaviors. You can choose crowd images ranging from stick figures to high-resolution renderings. Once you have them simulated, you can then control the density, directions, male vs. female percentage, and more. You can also create idle areas where people will remain doing various tasks.

• State Set Enhancements: These have evolved to improve the user experience. Some of the icons have been reorganized to make it easier to navigate. It is also now possible to access state sets through the right-click quad menu system. The functionality has improved as well in that you can now track the modifier status back and forth in states as well as bi-directional tech support between After Effects using media-sync.

Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate

3DS Max

• Improved Nitrous viewport performance: This feature has once again been improved upon. With the new Adaptive degradation controls, you now have greater control over how things degrade within your scene. You also have the ability to select objects faster, back face culling in a wireframe display, and much better texture management. Also added is the ability to create hundreds of thousands of objects with millions of faces while maintaining excellent viewport performance. Depth of field has been improved as well.

• Perspective Match: This feature gives you the ability to take 3D objects and put them into photographic backgrounds. You add the photographic image to the model and choose Perspective Match. You then get a series of vanishing lines that you can use to align a perspective to your photograph. You then create a camera and you will have a perfectly aligned scene. From there, you just add the 3D elements into the scene.

Autodesk MotionBuilder 2014

Autodesk MotionBuilder 2014 provides 3D character animation for virtual production. MotionBuilder’s real-time 3D character animation builds on emerging techniques embraced by some of the entertainment industry’s most successful studios. You can acquire, aggregate, and refine data with reliability and precision, and create, edit, and play back complex character animation in an environment that is highly interactive and responsive, and you can work with a display optimized for the needs of both directors and animators.

Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate

MotionBuilder

So what is new with MotionBuilder 2014?

• Advance flexible motion capture workflow: This is an optical marker data solver that is very fast and easy to work with. With it you can directly drive your character’s joints as a source. Essentially, you position the markers and assign them to what you want to move. You get a visual representation inside the viewer of position and orientation. This is also scriptable via the Python language so you have a lot of flexibility in what you can accomplish.

• Custom Renderer API: This gives you the ability to integrate custom viewport renderers into MotionBuilder. You can then just switch between the default viewer and the custom one using the dropdown menu. You can also add custom attributes to nodes and use the custom renderer for outputting final frames and movies.

Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate

MotionBuilder

• File Referencing API: This API lets you create your own custom tools using either C++ or Python. File referencing lets you manage complex data sets in non-linear workflows. This means that you can load parts of your scene to get better overall performance.

• Look through selected: This allows you to position objects or lights simply by turning them into cameras. Doing this gives you the ability to position items by looking through the camera to make sure that everything is properly aligned.

• Ruler tool: This tool lets you measure the distance between objects in a scene. Once it is activated, you just connect with the first point and then the second point and you will be able to accurately measure between the two even while in motion.

Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate

MotionBuilder

Autodesk continues to push the limits in 3D rendering and the design capabilities of 3ds Max. This time it begins with a much greater improvement in Nitrous viewport performance – especially in vertex animation which was really welcome. The Populate feature is a nice addition as it provides a lot of reality to your scene. The particle flow improvements are really icing on the cake.

As for MotionBuilder, the improvements are a bit more modest. The Flex MoCap is the biggest and is a welcome addition. A lot of additional flexibility comes with the API improvements. All in all you have the ability to more efficiently manipulate, capture, edit, and play back complex animation in a very interactive environment.

Next time I will look at Mudbox and Softimage and see what they bring to the table. Until then, you can download a free trial and see for yourself.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
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