Product Review: Page (1) of 5 - 12/29/03 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at page facebook

3ds max 6

Latest upgrade incorporates advances across the board for the entire user base By Todd Sheridan Perry
By the time software gets to version six, you can no longer review the product in its entirety. So much functionality has been developed, so many tools and toys, that you literally need an entire book to cover them (entire books). Users have made requests and wish lists, which are followed and just as often ignored. The product becomes more robust, faster, and contains more bells and whistles. So long as the developers dont move buttons around that dont need moving, we users should be happy as clams in the sand.

Let's delve into discreets latest release of 3ds max the product that is falsely pigeonholed as a development tool for ?games?it's come a long way since DOS and it's older than Maya. Ill hit point by point the newer (or newly revised) features.

HDRI (click image for larger view)
HDRI (High Dynamic Range Image) is a term that has been floating around for a few years. My first exposure to it was a presentation by Paul Debevec (not to be confused with the Ed Debevecs restaurant where the wait staff verbally abuses you) based on research he had been working on while at Berkeley. In short, HDRI files hold more information in the image than can actually be viewed on an RGB monitor. Most file formats up until now have been restricted to 8-bits per color channel, leaving a value range between 0 and 255. If you try and adjust the gamma, brightness, etc, it doesnt take much to start to clip the blacks and/or whites. Clipping is essentially when a pixel value gets to pure black or pure white and no longer has any place to go. I mean, how much more black can black get? The answer is none none more black. At least until now.

If you take a dark HDRI image and raise the gamma or brightness, the blacks dont turn to milky grays. Magically, detail emerges. Objects that were hidden in the shadows present themselves. In a standard 8-bit image, the black pixel would simply be that black pixels. In the HDRI file, the pixels are only represented at black based on the display of your monitor. Information is still there.

HDRI (click for larger view)
Im going to stop now because the topic is beyond the scope of a review of 3ds max 6. But if you want more information on HDRI files, you can find it at or

The very important thing about HDRI and max is that it is now supported. And it is supported in the two ways that are most pertinent. Number one is that max will save out files in supported file formats. Number two you can import HDRI files into your scene and use them as a Radiance map in a skylight. Using this technique will give you a quick pseudo-GI look by creating color and luminance based on the values of the map.

Imagine if you will, an object sitting on a table. Then imagine a sphere that encompasses the objects. On the inside surface of that sphere is an image of a forest (one of the usual HDRI sample images). For every pixel in the image (or every N pixels depending on your sample settings), the value is used as a source of light. This light then illuminates the object with the values and hues represented in the photograph.

Nutshell: Absolute requirement for any tool claiming to be used in the film market.

Through much of the 90s we were getting by with 8-bit files, with the top houses using 10-bit Cineon files. If you come to the party nowadays with 8-bit images, the bouncer will stop you at the door.

Note: Make sure that you are actually saving out full lat images by bringing them into a viewer that supports the file type (HDRShop (freeware), Digital Fusion, Shake) and check the bit depth. Earlier versions of 3ds max would save out higher bit file formats, but the renderer was clipping the data internally before the file was saved.

Particle Flow is an event-based particle system new to 3ds max at least new internally previously, and only relatively recently, it was a plugin. The abilities and features of Particle Flow really require an entire review all on their own. Its a program unto itself similar in functionality to a procedural animation system such as Houdini or node-based compositing systems like Digital Fusion and Shake. The principal is that each node (event) performs a function within it. It receives a value, which in this case would be the state of the particle or the world around it. The value is tested or processed within the node. Then a value is spit out, to be used by another node. Using this approach, users can create very versatile and complex particle systems which benefit from using values generated from the scene. Therefore, if you set up the system correctly, the particle system will change its behavior when you change the elements to which it reacts.

To make this feature even heftier, you can control and access Particle Flow through maxScript, allowing for Per Particle script control that is so damn powerful in Maya and Houdini.

Nutshell: This feature requires a whole review by itself -- perhaps Ill take that on?after my head to head trace off between the 3ds max ray tracers. The fact that 3ds max now has an event-based particle system increases the worthiness of 3ds max-based particles exponentially. There is only so much you can do with a particle spray. This tool will create a rash of artists specifically tailored to doing particle systems. I think Brandon Davis will be their messiah.

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