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In my opinion, 3D Studio Max without Character Studio is not complete. As a former LightWave user, it was Character Studio that made me jump ship – so the release of a new version is just as important an event for Max users as the recent announcement of Max 4. It was a bit of a surprise that CS3 has arrived so soon and is Max 3.1 compliant – but remember, CS is not just another plug-in. It is 3D Studio Max’s most powerful and unique selling point in a market where all mid-range 3D applications are starting to converge in looks, features and general approach. Character Studio 3.0 installs easily, although with a few precautions. Network rendering people will have to do a little fiddling, as some new Maxscript items are added to the startup folder. What is serious is that, although CS3 is 100 per cent backward compatible with CS2’s Biped files, it’s 100 per cent incompatible with old Physique files. Anyone who, like me, has spent time on their model’s physiques will know how disappointing this is. And, if you’re in the middle of a CS-centric project, you should seriously consider how much this is going to set you back. Physiques have to be re-initialized and all settings readjusted. That said, it’s a much better behaved program and reassigning vertices to links was quicker and more predictable. The biggest and best addition is Crowd – a completely new component. I’ve been waiting for something like this for ages, as the introduction of crowd control with behavioural attributes is a massive leap forward for any 3D tool. Crowd has been implemented from an animator point of view, rather than confronting users with a mass of programming terms. The generously thick manual takes you through the whole process, with tutorials and clear explanations of the concepts involved. The module uses a master crowd system consisting of proxy objects called Delegates, to which various behaviours can be applied. These include seek, repel, wander and pathfollow – and can be combined and controlled using cognitive controllers to create sophisticated effects. Delegates can also be grouped into teams within the overall crowd. The delegate system makes previewing the crowd/flocking patterns quick and intuitive. Biped – the core module of Character Studio – has been refined to include animated pivot points. These allow much more realistic motions to be achieved – such as transferring weight from the heel to the ball of the foot during a footstep. ‘Prop bones’ can also be attached to the biped, which is very useful for giving models tools, such as swords. It’s also possible to create quadrupeds – the manual shows how this is done. Biped and Crowd have also been opened up to Maxscript, which means we should get new features from third parties in the near future. CS3 includes non-linear animation – implemented as a bipeds’ motion-flow feature, which allows the blending of multiple motion clips to create transitions or new motions. It’s an essential part of the crowd animation process, as the bipeds require the necessary combination of motions to perform segueing groups of basic moves such as turns, slowing down and avoiding each other. Although Biped and Physique have had lots of work done under the hood, it is Crowd that makes Character Studio 3.0 a real category killer. An essential purchase for 3D Studio Max users.