• Price When Reviewed: 2600 . 2600

  • Pros: pros: Reveal rendering system; ProMaterials; biped animation, modelling and photometric light enhancements; improved mental ray rendering; increased integration with Mudbox and Revit, OBJ and FBX formats.

  • Cons: cons: Windows (64-bit/32-bit) XP and Vista only; enforced split between architectural and VFX/games-focused features might not suit everyone.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 Best Buy We rate this 9 out of 10

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Autodesk has also streamlined its photometric lighting offerings and generally improved the user interface. When choosing photometric lights, you now only have a choice of Target and Free options, so when you open a scene created in an earlier version of 3DS Max, the scene’s photometric lights are converted to their equivalent in the new scheme.

The photometric object type roll out also includes options for sun and sky lighting, via the mr SkyPortal. The latter includes two new industry standard sky models for the mr Sky light: Perez All – Weather and CIE. There’s also a range of dedicated photometric light improvements, such as new shadow-casting shapes, an incandescent lamp option to simulate a dimming light, and far attenuation controls to limit the range of these lights and so speed up rendering.

The other big draw in this version is Reveal, which provides a new way of isolating areas and selected objects for rendering. A new set of controls in the rendered image Framebuffer allows you to switch on or off attributes like reflections and refractions, or turn on Final Gathering to render only selected areas of the image. It’s easy to select an object, make changes to the surface and use the subset pixels checkbox on the Framebuffer to only update that changed object – conversely, you could choose to re-render a scene without a specific object, using the filters of the Reveal system.

There’s also a crop option, and you can position the cropping marquee either on the rendering window or on the scene itself, for more accurate placement. A further option, Blow Up, lets you select an area and re-render it at a greater size. It’s a great addition to the workflow, and makes working with rendered previews far more streamlined.

The Materials Editor also receives a boost with enhanced composite maps. These are groups of maps nested together to form a single map. Previously, you would have had to perform the compositing tasks in Photoshop, but now the composite map feature has the ability to apply masks and use colour correction on maps and masks, and has Photoshop-style blending modes for combining layers. There’s also a colour correction map, for working independently of the composite map.

Character animators now have more options for mirroring biped animation, and there are a couple of new parameter boxes to tick in the Structure rollout biped’s motion panel. One is ForeFeet, which effectively turns a biped into a quadruped by making the biped’s hands and fingers behave as feet and toes – for example, if when animating in inverse kinematics, you set a Planted key for a hand, when ForeFeet is turned on, rotating the hand does not affect the position
of the fingers planted on the ground.

The Structure rollout in Figure Mode also offers a convenient on/off setting for linking the clavicle bones to the top spine link, instead of to the neck. This has no effect either way when animating, but is useful for when skinning the character using Physique.

Image courtesy of Leszek Plichta Filmakademie

Version 2008 introduced a temporary modelling pivot (the Working Pivot) and this idea has been extended to give the option of adding an alternative rotation point for bipeds. You can use this to pick an external pivot point (or use a Working pivot), with which to animate a character falling over, for example.

There are also useful new UV editing features including a UV spline-mapping tool and enhanced Pelt and Relax toolsets, which streamline the UVW unwrap workflow.

The new versions’ user interfaces have also been tweaked, with some significant pieces of screen furniture. Two of these are viewport navigation tools: ViewCube and the SteeringWheels technology. The ViewCube control makes it easy to orbit or look at an object from different angles with one click, while the SteeringWheels control helps exploration of an architectural interior or a game level, and provides a graphical review function. Another interface enhancement is a floating InfoCenter palette.

The UI refit is a good move, and provides an easier way in for beginners. The focus in both releases here is very much on rendering and realism, which though it seems to favour the architectural users, is vitally important in the studio-based workflows of the entertainment industry too.

Image courtesy of www.graff3d.com