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Autodesk 3ds Max, formerly 3D Studio MAX, is a modeling, animation and rendering package developed by Autodesk Media and Entertainment. It has modeling capabilities, a flexible plugin architecture and is able to be used on the Microsoft Windows platform. It can be used by video game developers, TV commercial studios and architectural visualization studios. It is also used for movie effects and movie pre-visualization.
In addition to its modeling and animation tools, the latest version of 3ds Max also features advanced shaders (such as ambient occlusion and subsurface scattering), dynamic simulation, particle systems, radiosity, normal map creation and rendering, global illumination, an intuitive and fully-customizable user interface, and its own scripting language.
Early history & Releases
The original 3D Studio product was created for the DOS platform by the Yost Group and published by Autodesk. After 3D Studio Release 4, the product was rewritten for the Windows NT platform, and re-named "3D Studio MAX." This version was also originally created by the Yost Group. It was released by Kinetix, which was at that time Autodesk's division of media and entertainment. Autodesk purchased the product at the second release mark of the 3D Studio MAX version and internalized development entirely over the next two releases. Later, the product name was changed to "3ds max" (all lower case) to better comply with the naming conventions of Discreet, a Montreal-based software company which Autodesk had purchased. At release 8, the product was again branded with the Autodesk logo, and the name was again changed to "3ds Max" (upper and lower case). At release 2009, the product name changed to "Autodesk 3ds Max".
Polygon modeling is more common with game design than any other modeling technique as the very specific control over individual polygons allows for extreme optimization. Usually, the modeller begins with one of the 3ds max primitives, and using such tools as bevel and extrude, adds detail to and refines the model. Versions 4 and up feature the Editable Polygon object, which simplifies most mesh editing operations, and provides subdivision smoothing at customizable levels.
Version 7 introduced the edit poly modifier, which allows the use of the tools available in the editable polygon object to be used higher in the modifier stack (i.e., on top of other modifications)
NURBS or Non Uniform Rational B-Spline
A more advanced alternative to polygons, it gives a smoothed out surface that eliminates the straight edges of a polygon model. NURBS is a mathematically exact representation of freeform surfaces like those used for car bodies and ship hulls, which can be exactly reproduced at any resolution whenever needed. With NURBS, a smooth sphere can be created with only one face.
The non-uniform property of NURBS brings up an important point. Because they are generated mathematically, NURBS objects have a parameter space in addition to the 3D geometric space in which they are displayed. Specifically, an array of values called knots specifies the extent of influence of each control vertex (CV) on the curve or surface. Knots are invisible in 3D space and you can't manipulate them directly, but occasionally their behavior affects the visible appearance of the NURBS object. This topic mentions those situations. Parameter space is one-dimensional for curves, which have only a single U dimension topologically, even though they exist geometrically in 3D space. Surfaces have two dimensions in parameter space, called U and V.
NURBS curves and surfaces have the important properties of not changing under the standard geometric affine transformations (Transforms), or under perspective projections. The CVs have local control of the object: moving a CV or changing its weight does not affect any part of the object beyond the neighboring CVs. (You can override this property by using the Soft Selection controls.) Also, the control lattice that connects CVs surrounds the surface. This is known as the convex hull property.
Surface tool/Editable patch object
Surface tool was originally a 3rd party plugin, but Kinetix acquired and included this feature since version 3.0. The surface tool is for creating common 3ds max's splines, and then applying a modifier called "surface." This modifier makes a surface from every 3 or 4 vertices in a grid. This is often seen as an alternative to 'Mesh' or 'Nurbs' modeling, as it enables a user to interpolate curved sections with straight geometry (for example a hole through a box shape). Although the surface tool is a useful way to generate parametrically accurate geometry, it lacks the 'surface properties' found in the similar Edit Patch modifier, which enables a user to maintain the original parametric geometry whilst being able to adjust "smoothing groups" between faces.
This is a basic method, in which one models something using only boxes, spheres, cones, cylinders and other predefined objects from the list of Predefined Standard Primitives or a list of Predefined Extended Primitives. One may also apply boolean operations, including subtract, cut and connect. For example, one can make two spheres which will work as blobs that will connect with each other. These are called metaballs.
Some of the 3ds Max Standard Primitives as they appear in the wireframe view of 3ds Max 9
Some of the 3ds Max Extended Primitives as they appear in the wireframe view of 3ds Max 9
Predefined Standard Primitives list
- Box — box produces a rectangular prism. An alternative variation of box is available — entitled cube — which proportionally constrains the length, width and height of the box.
- Cylinder — cylinder produces a cylinder.
- Torus — torus produces a torus — or a ring — with a circular cross section, sometimes referred to as a doughnut.
- Teapot — teapot produces the Utah teapot. Since the teapot is a parametric object, the user can choose which parts of the teapot to display after creation. These parts include the body, handle, spout and lid.
- Cone — cone produces round cones — either upright or inverted.
- Sphere — sphere produces a full sphere, hemisphere, or other portion of a sphere.
- Tube — tube can produce both round and prismatic tubes. The tube is similar to the cylinder with a hole in it.
- Pyramid — The pyramid primitive has a square or rectangular base and triangular sides.
- Plane — The plane object is a special type of flat polygon mesh that can be enlarged by any amount at render time. The user can specify factors to magnify the size or number of segments, or both. Modifiers such as displace can be added to a plane to simulate a hilly terrain.
- Geosphere — GeoSphere produces spheres and hemispheres based on three classes of regular polyhedrons.
Predefined Extended Primitives list
- Hedra — produces objects from several families of polyhedra.
- ChamferBox — creates a box with beveled or rounded edges.
- OilTank — creates a cylinder with convex caps.
- Spindle — creates a cylinder with conical caps.
- Gengon — creates an extruded, regular-sided polygon with optionally filleted side edges.
- Prism — Creates a three-sided prism with independently segmented sides.
- Torus knot — creates a complex or knotted torus by drawing 2D curves in the normal planes around a 3D curve. The 3D curve (called the Base Curve) can be either a circle or a torus knot. It can be converted from a torus knot object to a NURBS surface.
- ChamferCyl — creates a cylinder with beveled or rounded cap edges.
- Capsule — creates a cylinder with hemispherical caps.
- L-Ext — creates an extruded L-shaped object.
- C-Ext — creates an extruded C-shaped object.
- Hose — a flexible object, similar to a spring.
- Scanline rendering
- The default rendering method in 3DS Max is scanline rendering. Several advanced features have been added to the scanliner over the years, such as global illumination, radiosity, and ray tracing.
- mental ray
- mental ray is a production quality renderer developed by mental images. It is integrated into the later versions of 3ds Max, and is a powerful raytracing renderer with bucket rendering, a technique that allows distributing the rendering task for a single image between several computers efficiently, using TCP network protocol.
- A third party connection tool to RenderMan pipelines is also available for those that need to integrate Max into Renderman render farms.
- A third-party render engine plug-in for 3D Studio MAX. It is widely used, frequently substituting the standard and mental ray renderers which are included bundled with 3ds Max. V-Ray continues to be compatible with older versions of 3ds Max.
- Brazil R/S
- A third-party high-quality photorealistic rendering system created by SplutterFish, LLC capable of fast ray tracing and global illumination.
- Another third-party raytracing render engine created by Cebas. Capable of simulating a wide range of real-world physical phenomena.
- Indigo Renderer
- A third-party photorealistic renderer with plugins for 3ds max.
- Maxwell Render
- A third-party photorealistic rendering system created by Next Limit Technologies providing robust materials and highly accurate unbiased rendering.
- BIGrender 3.0
- Another third-party rendering plugin. Capable of overcoming 3DS rendering memory limitations with rendering huge pictures.
- MAXScript is a built-in scripting language, and can be used to automate repetitive tasks, combine existing functionality in new ways, develop new tools and user interfaces and much more. Plugin modules can be created entirely in MAXscript.
- Character Studio
- Character Studio was a plugin which since version 4 of Max is now integrated in 3D Studio Max, helping user to animate virtual characters. The system works using a character rig or "Biped" which is pre-made and allows the user to adjust the rig to fit the character they will be animating. Dedicated curve editors and motion capture data import tools make Character Studio ideal for character animation. "Biped" objects have other useful features that automated the production of walk cycles and movement paths, as well as secondary motion.
- Scene Explorer
- Scene Explorer, a tool that provides a hierarchical view of scene data and analysis, facilitates working with more complex scenes. Scene Explorer has the ability to sort, filter, and search a scene by any object type or property (including metadata). Added in 3ds Max 2008, it was the first component to facilitate .NET managed code in 3ds Max outside of MAXScript.
- DWG Import
- 3ds Max supports both import and linking of DWG files. Improved memory management in 3ds Max 2008 enables larger scenes to be imported with multiple objects.
- Texture Assignment/Editing
- 3ds Max offers operations for creative texture and planar mapping, including tiling, mirroring, decals, angle, rotate, blur, UV stretching, and relaxation; Remove Distortion; Preserve UV; and UV template image export. The texture workflow includes the ability to combine an unlimited number of textures, a material/map browser with support for drag-and-drop assignment, and hierarchies with thumbnails. UV workflow features include Pelt mapping, which defines custom seams and enables users to unfold UVs according to those seams; copy/paste materials, maps and colors; and access to quick mapping types (box, cylindrical, spherical).
- General Keyframing
- Two keying modes — set key and auto key — offer support for different keyframing workflows.
- Fast and intuitive controls for keyframing — including cut, copy, and paste — let the user create animations with ease. Animation trajectories may be viewed and edited directly in the viewport.
- Constrained Animation
- Objects can be animated along curves with controls for alignment, banking, velocity, smoothness, and looping, and along surfaces with controls for alignment. Weight path-controlled animation between multiple curves, and animate the weight. Objects can be constrained to animate with other objects in many ways — including look at, orientation in different coordinate spaces, and linking at different points in time. These constraints also support animated weighting between more than one target.
- All resulting constrained animation can be collapsed into standard keyframes for further editing.
- Either the Skin or Physique modifier may be used to achieve precise control of skeletal deformation, so the character deforms smoothly as joints are moved, even in the most challenging areas, such as shoulders. Skin deformation can be controlled using direct vertex weights, volumes of vertices defined by envelopes, or both.
- Capabilities such as weight tables, paintable weights, and saving and loading of weights offer easy editing and proximity-based transfer between models, providing the accuracy and flexibility needed for complicated characters.
- The rigid bind skinning option is useful for animating low-polygon models or as a diagnostic tool for regular skeleton animation.
- Additional modifiers, such as Skin Wrap and Skin Morph, can be used to drive meshes with other meshes and make targeted weighting adjustments in tricky areas.
- Skeletons and Inverse Kinematics (IK)
- Characters can be rigged with custom skeletons using 3ds Max bones, IK solvers, and rigging tools.
- All animation tools — including expressions, scripts, list controllers, and wiring — can be used along with a set of utilities specific to bones to build rigs of any structure and with custom controls, so animators see only the UI necessary to get their characters animated.
- Four plug-in IK solvers ship with 3ds Max: history-independent solver, history-dependent solver, limb solver, and spline IK solver. These powerful solvers reduce the time it takes to create high-quality character animation. The history-independent solver delivers smooth blending between IK and FK animation and uses preferred angles to give animators more control over the positioning of affected bones.
- The history-dependent solver can solve within joint limits and is used for machine-like animation. IK limb is a lightweight two-bone solver, optimized for real-time interactivity, ideal for working with a character arm or leg. Spline IK solver provides a flexible animation system with nodes that can be moved anywhere in 3D space. It allows for efficient animation of skeletal chains, such as a character’s spine or tail, and includes easy-to-use twist and roll controls.
- Integrated Cloth Solver
- In addition to reactor’s cloth modifier, 3ds Max software has an integrated cloth-simulation engine that enables the user to turn almost any 3D object into clothing, or build garments from scratch. Collision solving is fast and accurate even in complex simulations.(image.3ds max.jpg)
- Local simulation lets artists drape cloth in real time to set up an initial clothing state before setting animation keys.
- Cloth simulations can be used in conjunction with other 3ds Max dynamic forces, such as Space Warps. Multiple independent cloth systems can be animated with their own objects and forces. Cloth deformation data can be cached to the hard drive to allow for nondestructive iterations and to improve playback performance.
- Integration with Autodesk Vault
- Autodesk Vault plug-in, which ships with 3ds Max, consolidates users’ 3ds Max assets in a single location, enabling them to automatically track files and manage work in progress. Users can easily and safely share, find, and reuse 3ds Max (and design) assets in a large-scale production or visualization environment.
See List of films made with Autodesk 3ds Max
Many recent films have made use of 3ds Max, or previous versions of the program under previous names, in CGI animation, such as I, Robot and X-Men, which contain computer generated graphics from 3ds Max alongside live-action acting.
Earlier versions (up to and including 3D Studio Max R3.1) required a special copy protection device (called a dongle) to be plugged into the parallel port while the program was run, but later versions incorporated software based copy prevention methods instead. Current versions require online registration.
Due to the high price of the commercial version of the program, Autodesk also offers a heavily discounted student version, which explicitly states that it is to be used for "educational purposes only." The student version has identical features to the full version.