3ds max 4

3ds max 4
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Excellent new Animation tools, DirectX 8.0 support and a more streamlined interface make for a well-rounded release for character animators and games creators alike.

Price: $6990
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Requires: 300MHz processor or higher, 128MB of RAM, 300MB of swap space, Windows 98/ME/2000.

Almost five years have past now since the first release of 3ds max, then called the full 3D Studio MAX. One of the first packages of its kind to introduce affordability and performance to an industry dominated by huge price tags. And even after its competitors have been forced to compromise their price to compete, max has kept up its innovative features and held its ground.

Almost five years have past now since the first release of 3ds max, then called the full 3D Studio MAX. One of the first packages of its kind to introduce affordability and performance to an industry dominated by huge price tags. And even after its competitors have been forced to compromise their price to compete, max has kept up its innovative features and held its ground.

3ds max 4 is the first release of software after the graphics software giant Autodesk took over high-end software vendor Discreet Logic. Autodesk chose to discard its previous sub-label Kinetix and keep Discreets name as its reputation in the film effects and television industry would help to boost maxs profile.

Like any release of software in the complex area of 3D, max 4 has chosen to focus in on certain features that were overlooked in previous releases. Animation and workflow are the key words in version 4 and some excellent new too ls and interface have come from it.

Character Profile
With projects in long form character animation becoming more common, 3D software has had to become highly customisable and flexible to cater to the specific needs of very different productions. max 4 has broadened its character building and animation tool set to cater for both the games and long form animation industries alike.

The buzzword from several years ago, IK (Inverse Kinematics), has finally come of age in max 4. The total rewrite of the feature now sports many similarities in terms of functionality and robustness compared to its competitor Maya. max now includes 3 IK Solvers, HD-IK (History Dependent), maxs old IK, for backwards compatibility, HI-IK (History Independent), the newer, leaner and meaner, solver and finally Limb IK, a hybrid of HI especially designed for character limbs.

With this release new objects types called Manipulators have made there way onto the stage and provide for new ways to visually adjust the properties of different object types, also allowing the ability to create custom Manipulators for your own creations. Manipulators are essentially mouse rollover activated 3D shapes that allow for connection via animation controllers to affect other objects. The introduction of Manipulators give character set up artists the power to make complex characters as easy to understand as a well designed Web page, along with the facility now to add meaningful custom, animatable attributes to any object. These abilities will permit productions to further simplify complex setups through their own intuitive interfaces allowing for a more streamlined workflow and with less need for highly software-savvy people in animation.

A new, intuitive creation front-end has been devised for maxs animation controller system, making the assigning of these to objects much more visible. Some of maxs older controllers such as the Path controller and Look-at controller have been renamed to constraints, bringing their ideology more in line with similar features used by SoftImage and Maya. This is a good thing for those who are migrating from these packages to soften the learning curve.

A feature called Parameter Wiring has been added which again is an older concept in max that has been redesigned for ease of use. Its basically an intuitive way to hook the controller of one objects properties to another property somewhere else with the added bonus of an expression language for any mathematical translations that are needed as numbers pass between them. This feature goes hand in hand with Manipulator objects and provides for quick and easy wiring between the active properties of a Manipulator to the desired property that is to be effected.

The face of max
max has had a lot of face work in this release, which can really be the hardest area to satisfy in. The objective has been to throw the ball into the users court by making the interface as customisable as possible. Some new additions such as the new right click Quad menus will take a little getting used to for both the first time user and the veteran hack. Instead of one right click menu with various sub-menus the user is now presented with four different menus in quadrants around the mouse. This can be information overload on first glance and some time will be needed to memorize the different options positions. These will also differ depending on your current editing mode. The ability to change these menus as well as the main program menu will be a big plus for interface freaks who like to make themselves feel right at home.

Some of the things in maxs interface that were once rigid are now movable, stretchable and hide-able. This includes the command panel and the separation between the viewports themselves. Some improvements have been made also to the Track Bar at the bottom of the interface now allowing for scaling of Key Frame groups and the display of audio thus reducing the need to open the Track View window, which in turn helps keep the interface uncluttered. The modifier stack has undergone major surgery and has now become a truly functional tool, employing drag and drop ideology and extended right click menu options. As always there are numerous small enhancements that will make long time users happy such as stretchable bezier handles in the Track View, the ability to copy and paste animation via right click menus on spinners among others.

Some of the more popular modifiers in max have had major overhauls including the modellers choice: Mesh Smooth. It has been given the ability to edit points at different subdivision levels and the ability to create creases at edge positions. Skin has had many enhancements including Gizmos, which allow for automated bulging or morphing on joints and also being able to save envelopes to a file for later retrieval.

max 4 is the first professional 3D program to provide viewport support for the Microsofts latest and greatest 3D technology DirectX 8.0. This API will be the backbone of many next generation games for both the PC and the upcoming Xbox. DirectX 8.0 provides max with the facility to display bump mapping and projected reflections in the viewport for those lucky enough to have a supported card, plus room in maxs API to create plugins for some of the features the new T&L-enabled (Transform and Lighting) 3D cards, like NVIDIAs GeForce range, will provide. Strategically this is a big plus for Discreet in re-gaining some of the market lost to Maya in the games industry.

With software production cycles tight, 3D applications in particular have to make choices on what to update and what to leave until next time. Some of the areas that missed a look in this time around include development of the Track View and Schematic view. The Nurbs tools were almost untouched and the Materials only received a few minor tweaks. The Renderer in max gained the ability to split a rendered image into individual layers such as Specular, Diffuse, and Reflections to aid in the compositing of FX work, but outside this there were also no major changes.

In all ,3ds max 4 has provided a release that fills many of the gaps that held it back in the past as well as pleasing both the games industry and FX industries simultaneously without biasing either one. While some areas of the program still await the attentions of Discreet, 3ds max 4 is a huge step up from previous versions and a worthy investment for both first time buyers and long time users.

This Review appeared in the September, 2001 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

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