Autodesk has just released their 2012 editions of their Entertainment Creation Suites to offer artists and production facilities access to a powerful range of creative toolsets. There are two kits that have been released – the Maya suite, and the 3ds Max suite. They each come in a Standard and a Premium edition. Each suite also comes with Autodesk MotionBuilder, and Autodesk Mudbox. The Premium also contains Autodesk Softimage. I will break this down into three reviews. The first will cover Maya, the second will cover Mudbox, MotionBuilder, and Softimage, and the third will cover 3ds Max.
Autodesk 3ds Max is a 3D animation, modeling and rendering software application that is used for simulation, visual effects, rendering, and compositing. There are two versions – one is for game developers, visual effects artists, and graphic designers working on games, films, and television. The other is for architects, designers, and visual specialists. At the core, the versions are the same – it is the toolsets that are different. My review is based for the former.
3ds Max has been used on films like Iron Man and The Dark Knight, and Kung Fu Panda, Animated TV series like Olivia the Pig, and in the gaming industry for games like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Dance Central. Complete system requirements are located at the Autodesk site.
So what is new with 3ds Max 2012?
• Nitrous Accelerated Graphics Core – is a totally new viewport system that is engineered to provide dramatic improvements in performance and visual quality. It leverages today’s accelerated GPUs and multi-core workstations to iterate faster and work with larger datasets. With each viewport threaded separately from the UI, artists can adjust parameters on complex scenes without the need to wait for viewports to refresh, resulting in a smoother, more responsive workflow. Nitrous provides a render-quality display environment that supports unlimited lights, soft shadows, screen-space ambient occlusion, tone-mapping, and high-quality transparency, along with progressive refinement of image quality when the artist pauses, helping artists make better creative and aesthetic decisions in the context of their final output. Nitrous viewports can also display stylized images to create a variety of non-photorealistic effects such as pencil, acrylic, ink, colored pencil, colored ink, graphite, pastel, and technical drawing.
• Substance Smart Textures – is a library of 80 new dynamic, resolution-independent variations that have a tiny memory and disk space foot print. These can be exported to certain games engines via the Allegorithmic Substance Air middleware offering (available separately from Allegorithmic). Some examples of dynamically editable and animatable parameters are: brick distribution, surface aging, and mortar thickness in a brick wall; color variation, density, and leaf type in an autumn leaves texture; and the age and number of planks in a varnished wood texture. Also, every Substance texture has a randomizing setting to lend natural variation to your scenes.
• mRigids Rigid-Body Dynamics – is the first module released in the new MassFX unified system of simulation solvers. With MassFX, artists can leverage the multi-threaded NVIDIA PhysX engine to create more compelling, dynamic rigidbody simulations directly in 3ds Max viewports. MassFX supports static, dynamic, and kinematic rigid bodies plus a number of constraints: Rigid, Slide, Hinge, Twist, Universal, Ball & Socket, and Gear. Animators can more quickly create a wide range of realistic dynamic simulations, and can also use the toolset for modeling: for example, creating a randomly placed landscape of rocks. Assigning physical properties such as friction, density, and bounciness is as simple as choosing from a set of initial preset real-world materials and tweaking parameters as needed.
• iray Renderer – is a newly integrated rendering technology from mental images. The iray renderer enables you to set up your scene, click Render, and get predictable, photoreal results without worrying about rendering settings – just like a point-and-shoot camera. Artists can focus on their creative vision as they intuitively use real world materials, lighting, and settings to more accurately portray the physical world; iray progressively refines the image until you reach the level of detail you desire. The iray renderer works with standard multi-core CPUs; however, NVIDIA CUDA-enabled GPU hardware will significantly accelerate the rendering process.
• Single-Step Suites Interoperability – is invoked with the “Send To” feature. You can seamlessly leverage the focused toolsets in the 3ds Max Entertainment Creation Suites, with new single-step interoperability between 3ds Max and Mudbox, MotionBuilder, and the Softimage Interactive Creation Environment (ICE).
• Enhanced UVW Unwrapping – features numerous enhancements, including a streamlined, reorganized, iconified modifier interface, revamped toolbars and new rollouts that provide icon-based access to many tools previously available only in menus, a new Peel toolset provides an implementation of the LSCM (Least Square Conformal Maps) method of unwrapping texture coordinates for an easy and intuitive workflow in flattening complex surfaces, new tools for transforming, flattening, and packing texture coordinates, and new grouping tools enable retaining physical relationships among related clusters
• Vector Displacement Map Support – can use vector displacement maps exported from Autodesk Mudbox. This type of map is a variation on regular displacement maps that allows surfaces to be displaced in any direction, not just along the surface normals.
• Sculpting and Painting Enhancements – will give artists the ability to enjoy greater control over brushstrokes and their effects on geometry, thanks to new sculpting and painting workflows.
As with Maya 2012, 3ds Max 2012 is a major update and it begins with the Nitrous Accelerated Graphics Core. Now taking advantage of the multi-core processors and accelerated GPUs, the rendering process takes places independently of the interface and gives you much faster rendering. Add to this the interoperability and you have a much more efficient workflow.
The iray Renderer is a great new addition to 3ds Max as it takes a lot of the work that is needed in mental ray to get good results. With iray, you can just tell it how long to render, start it and it will automatically process until it is done or until you stop it.
The next major improvement is through the PhysX’s MassFX tools. This replaces the reactor system found in prior versions and the benefit is that you get to see the results directly in the viewport, as well as better integration with the existing animation features. When you add in the textures, the redesigned editor to make things easier to learn, and all the other lesser improvements, 3ds Max 2012 is really a must have upgrade.
If you have been looking to get into Autodesk 3ds Max for digital animation and 3D effects you can get a free trial from Autodesk. If you are an existing 3ds Max user, who is contemplating an upgrade to the latest edition, I think that with all of the changes that 3ds Max 2012 brings to the table this time, this is a must-have edition.