Autodesk 3ds Max 2012: in-depth

Autodesk's new 3ds Max 2012 -- part of its 2012 refresh of its entire 3D tool range -- is the first as part of Autodesk's Excalibur (XBR) initiative: which sees the company give 3ds Max a major overhaul. Autodesk says that the new version provides fundamental improvements in workflow, user interface and performance that will give artists enhanced creative capabilities and help them to be more productive.

Achieving a key goal of the XBR initiative, 3ds Max 2012 introduces a rewritten, multi-threaded graphics core that provides significant improvements to viewport performance and quality, says Autodesk. In addition, new creative toolsets and enhanced iterative workflows help increase overall productivity. The 2012 version also features single-step interoperability with products contained in Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite Premium 2012, offering artists easier access to specialized tools for the task at hand.

A top priority of the Excalibur (XBR) initiative to "revitalize", as Autodesk puts it, 3ds Max is to introduce a new viewport system engineered to help provide dramatic improvements in performance and visual quality. Nitrous leverages accelerated GPUs and multi-core workstations to enable artists to iterate faster and handle larger data sets with limited impact on interactivity. Advanced scene management techniques, together with multithreaded viewport scene traversal and material evaluation, result in a smoother, more responsive workflow.

Furthermore, Nitrous provides a render-quality display environment that supports unlimited lights, soft shadows, screen-space ambient occlusion, tone-mapping, and higher-quality transparency. It also enables progressive refinement of image quality without blocking changes to the scene, helping artists make better creative decisions in the context of their final output.

Users can achieve a vast range of look variations with a new library of 80 Substance smart textures and filters. Substances are tiny in size, multi-output, customizable and resolution-independent textures that can be rapidly converted into high-quality bitmaps for rendering or baking purpose. Alternatively, substances can be exported in any 3D game engines via the 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; pupil size, eye color, and extent of veining in an eye texture; and the age, roughness, curb borders, and lane markings of a street texture.

As part of the XBR initiative, 3ds Max 2012 introduces the MassFX unified system of simulation solvers and delivers its first module: mRigids rigid-body dynamics. With mRigids, artists can leverage the multi-threaded NVIDIA PhysX engine to create more compelling, dynamic rigid-body simulations directly in the 3ds Max viewport. mRigids supports static, dynamic, and kinematic rigid bodies (the latter for rag doll simulations), and a number of constraints: Rigid, Slide, Hinge, Twist, Universal, Ball & Socket, and Gear.

Animators can quickly create a wide range of realistic dynamic simulations, and they can also use the toolset for modeling, such as creating a randomly placed landscape of rocks. Assigning physical properties -- friction, density, and bounciness -- is as simple as choosing from a set of initial preset real-world materials and tweaking parameters as required.

The iray rendering engine from mental images is designed so artists can set up their scenes, press render, and get more predictable, photo-real results without worrying about rendering settings — similar to a “point-and-shoot“ camera according to Autodesk. iray progressively refines the image until the desired level of detail is achieved.

iray works with standard multi-core CPUs, however, Autodeks notes that Nvidia CUDA-enabled GPU hardware will significantly accelerate the rendering process.

There's new single-step interoperability between 3ds Max and Mudbox 2012, MotionBuilder 2012, and Softimage 2012?s Interactive Creation Environment (ICE). Suggested uses include exporting 3ds Max scenes to Mudbox to add organic sculpted and painted details, and then updating the scene in 3ds Max in one simple step -- or taking a 3ds Max scene to MotionBuilder to access the animation toolset without having to think about file format details, and then tap into Softimage's ICE particle system directly from a 3ds Max scene.

3ds Max 2012 can Cceate better UVW maps in less time, with a new Least Squares Conformal Mapping (LSCM) method, enhancements to existing tools, and more streamlined workflows. The LSCM method preserves local angles of the mesh faces in order to help minimize texture distortion. Employed in a new Peel tool, the new method produces unwrapped UVWs from cut seams with a single click.

Moreover, new shortcuts and better defaults for common actions, together with improved tools for alignment, cluster positioning, and edge selection help speed the entire texture mapping process.

Artists can enjoy greater control over brushstrokes and their effects on geometry, thanks to new sculpting and painting workflows. Useful in topology reduction workflows, the new Conform brush guides geometry towards another surface with the degree of the conforming effect varying from softly approaching to shrink-wrapping. Modelers can slide vertices along target surfaces with the new transform brushes: Move, Rotate, Scale, and Relax.

In addition, Paint Deform brushstrokes—for tools such as Push, Flatten, and Exaggerate—can be constrained to a spline, enabling it to be used as a guide or ruler, or to easily repeat freehand strokes. Moreover, artists can now save and load brush settings to quickly toggle between favourite presets and choose a source for the Clone brush from anywhere on the screen when painting bitmaps in the Viewport Canvas.

There are a variety of new non-photorealistic (NPR) effects in 3ds Max 2012 that simulate artistic styles created by hand, with the new ability to render stylized images in the viewport and with the Quicksilver renderer.

Artists can now optimize models faster, more efficiently, and with better results, using the enhanced ProOptimizer feature. It offers normal and UV interpolation, together with the ability to keep high-resolution normals on the low-resolution result.

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