The fourth release of the award-winning 3D Studio Max will be shipping early next year, according to makers Discreet. The rendering, animation and modelling software will deliver the most efficient and creative workflow for character animation, next-generation game development, and cutting-edge visual effects production, claims the company. The release is said to build on a new and extensible Inverse Kinematics architecture for character animation, and state-of-the-art interactive graphics. New subdivision surface and polygon geometries will feature in the upgrade, plus enhanced rendering productivity in the shape of ActiveShade and Render Elements. Character animation features include an extensible IK architecture that integrates blended FK/IK abilities, direct manipulation, weighted constraints, angle deformers, real-time shaded skin, and highly customizable volumetrically shaded bodies. Soft body dynamics, spring controllers, and customization delivered via parameter wiring and interactive manipulators. Responding to developments in the field of next-generation gaming, Discreet will load the new release with features targeted at games creators. Version 4 will include support for new Direct3D abilities, giving animators a realistic working environment and games developers a WYSIWYG view on how their work will appear. New modelling tools geared for this arena will include hierarchical subdivision surfaces, enhanced bézier patch modelling, and a new polyobject modelling architecture that lets developers choose the best surface technology for the project, according to the company. New Render Elements will debut in the new release, according to Discreet, which allows a single render pass to quickly deliver the components of 3D rendering and other elements into a set of images ready for post work. The company says the new ActiveShade will deliver fast, interactive rendering without loss of image quality. Pricing has also tumbled: it will cost a lowly $3,495 (around £2,400) and upgrades will cost around £550.