Once again, the latest release of 3ds Max includes a bevy of new features. Some of these features are major and present full-blown interfaces like the new Max Creation Graph and others are minor, but still impressive, that will make us wonder how we ever lived without them like the Physical Camera, the Camera Sequencer and support for Templates. Collectively, all the new changes make for the best version of 3ds Max yet.
Max Creation Graph
One of the greatest aspects of 3ds Max is its scripting interface, MaxScript. This powerful set of tools enables you to extend the functionality of the software any multiple ways. If a feature doesn't work the way you'd like, you can tweak it to fit your needs. The only problem with MaxScript is that you need to be familiar with programming constructs to take advantage of it. This equates to an automatic dismissal to most users. To make MaxScript more accessible and user friendly, the wizards at Autodesk have created a new way to build custom tools. This new feature is called Max Creation Graph or MCG for short.
Max Creation Graph is essentially a visual interface for creating MaxScript code. It works by wiring together several different nodes in a manner similar to the Slate Material Editor. Using these nodes, you can create procedural content, modifiers, and unique tools.
If you've worked hard on a unique graph, then you can save it as a compound that can be easily reused to build even more complex functionality. Figure 1 shows a simple Max Creation Graph (MCG) used to create a new modifier that implodes the current object.
Max Creation Graph tools are easy to share also. Before building your own, you can look online for some interesting graphs to get you started. Some of the more interesting graphs available online let you instantly create a building. It also includes parameters that let you edit the size, shape and style of the new building along with full control over the applied texture map. If you're not sure where to start, check out Christopher Diggins’s Blog (he was the developer behind MCG): http://ift.tt/1jFVGkV and one of the MCG Facebook groups that’s been created by users: http://ift.tt/1K32XIv
In previous versions of 3ds Max, you could create a multi-camera animation using the Video Post interface, but this method was clunky and required a lot of steps. You could also render out each little piece and combine them in another external video editing package, another solution which was also clunky.
Rather than add a whole new video editing toolset within 3ds Max, the developers built a Camera Sequencer that lets you choose which camera is used during which frames. It is a simple solution that fits easily within the timeline without all the overhead. The new Camera Sequencer lets you cut between cameras, trim and reorder shot sequences by simply dragging within a modified timeline built into the State Sets interface. All these actions are done without changing the overall animation in any way.
Open SubDiv Support
3ds Max 2016 includes support for the OpenSubDiv modeling construct. This format can take advantage of parallel CPU and advanced GPU architectures for faster viewport display. Within 3ds Max 2016, you can also define hard edges using the new Crease and CreaseSet modifiers.
3ds Max 2016 includes the ability to render using the Autodesk 360 cloud servers. Each render costs a number of credits, but it is a huge time-saver at certain times. The Cloud rendering option is included within the Render Scene dialog box.
New Physical Camera
The traditional cameras in 3ds Max were great, but they weren't based on any real-world settings, so trying to duplicate an animation created for pre-visualization was a task in trial and error. With the new Physical Camera feature, cameras now include settings for Shutter Speed, Aperture, Depth of Field and Exposure making it easy to match real-world cameras to the virtual ones.
iray and mental ray Improvements
3ds Max 2016 includes the latest versions of iray and mental ray. New to iray are Light Path Expressions. These let you isolate specific lights and/or geometry objects based on layers and change their settings during post production. iray also includes a Section Plane option for looking inside a designated section. There is also a new Irradiance render element.
New to mental ray 3.13 is the Light Importance Sampling feature, which lets you specify which areas are rendered in higher detail. There is also a new Ambient Occlusion render element.
Better Skin with the Dual Quaternion Option
For character animation, the addition of the Dual Quaternion option in the Skin modifier lets you eliminate unrealistic effects caused by twisting adjacent bones that makes the underlying skin collapse. With the Dual Quaternion options, you can paint skin weights to control the amount of influence the bones have over the surface. By targeting the areas where collapsing takes place with this skin weighting option, you can eliminate major collapse problems.
Support for Stingray
I don't know if you saw the press releases this summer for Stingray, but Autodesk officially now owns its own game engine and 3ds Max has been upgraded with features that make it easy to move your 3d assets directly to this game engine. Using a feature called a Live Link, you can sync objects created in 3ds Max with the Stingray game engine to see the changes immediately. To learn more about the Stingray game engine, visit the site at http://ift.tt/1M6XlOZ.
Also, the ShaderFX interface has been upgraded to allow you to create shaders for the Stingray game engine.
Several new templates appear in the Welcome screen (Figure 3) that first greets new users. The default templates are for creating an Architectural Outdoor scene using real-world lighting, an Outdoor HDRI Courtyard template with image-based lighting, a Studio Scene template for indoor lighting configurations and even an Underwater template. These templates automatically adjust the environment settings including system units, rendering and lighting settings needed for each of the various conditions and provide a quick jumpstart for excellent results.
There is also a Template Manager that you can use to create new templates and to edit existing templates. Once defined, templates can be quickly shared across an organization saving valuable time and insuring consistent settings for multiple projects and users.
Especially for new users or for those working with a complex scene, finding the exact object that you want to work with can be tricky. To solve this dilemma, 3ds Max 2016 includes a new Selection Highlight feature. This option highlights the selected object with a blue outline and any other object that can be selected is highlighted in yellow as the mouse cursor moves over them, as shown in Figure 4. This feature makes it easy to be sure that you are selecting the correct object. This option can also be disabled if it gets annoying.
3ds Max 2016 includes support for touch panels such as the Wacom Intuos 5 and the Cintiq 24HD Touch, including the ability to navigate a scene using finger gestures. Zooming a scene is accomplished by pressing with a finger and thumb and then separating them to zoom out or bringing them closer together to zoom in. Panning the scene is accomplished by swiping with two fingers. Tumbling the scene is accomplished with a single finger swipe and tapping with two fingers returns to the home view.
Another new improvement to the Chamfer modifier lets you apply all chamfers as quad-only results. You can also control the tension of the applied chamfer and apply a different material to the chamfered results.
The Alembic format is supported in 3ds Max 2016. This lets you bake animated data into a small, easily transported format for sharing with others or for improved playback.
Using the Autodesk Translation Framework (ATF) import and export settings, you can now have a way to share data with SolidWorks CAD data models.
Finally, the Text spline primitive can now use OpenType fonts for creating letters in a scene.
With the large variety of new features, there are plenty to explore. I personally love the new Max Creation Graph interface for not only creating my own new tools, but to download and check out the amazing work of others. New tools are sprouting up to easily accomplish all sorts of new features.
Other new favorites are the Camera Sequencer and the Live Link with the Stingray game engine. If you get a chance to use the new Stingray engine, this feature is awesome and saves tons of time in checking out assets. I'm also happy to see the new Alembic and OpenSubDiv formats supported. These make is so much easier to work between 3ds Max and Maya and the ATF makes it possible to interface with SolidWorks finally.
3ds Max 2016 is available as a stand-alone product. 3ds Max 2016 is also available as part of the Entertainment Creation Suite, bundled with Autodesk Maya, Mudbox, MotionBuilder, Softimage, and Sketchbook Designer. 3ds Max 2016 is also available as a subscription for a nominal fee. The subscription model offers free upgrades as extensions become available. For more information on 3ds Max 2016, visit the Max product pages on Autodesk’s web site at http://usa.autodesk.com. A free trial version of 3ds Max is also available at http://ift.tt/1Fflm4l.
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