Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009
Review by Chad Warner
With the release of Autodesk’s new 3ds Max Design 2009, the era of Autodesk Viz officially comes to a close. Positioned to take over the market that Viz filled, Max Design 2009 essentially replaces AutoDesk Viz for the Architectural Visualization market, while the original Max 2009 is still geared towards the traditional visual effects and entertainment industries.
The primary benefit to getting rid of Autodesk Viz is that instead of two development teams and two sets of code to write, there is only one primary engine, so (hopefully) the benefit will be apparent—a more stable, more intuitive software with a bigger jump in feature sets and fixes between releases.
The primary differences between the two versions are simple. Max 2009 includes the SDK (software development kit) for those people who like/need to create their own plugins. Max Design 2009 includes a new lighting analysis tool for assisting in LEED 8.1 (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation. Additionally, the tutorials and samples that ship with each version are tailored to the software’s respective audiences.
If you’re like me, you’re wondering why not just have one version of the software with both the SDK and the light analysis tool. I’m really not sure of the answer, especially because both versions of the software are the same price, and if you are on subscription, you have the choice of choosing either version of the software upon install. At least with Autodesk Viz, the price point was much cheaper than the full version of Max, making it much more attractive for the budget conscience than its full blown counterpart.
From the first time launching the program, the most noticeable change is to the interface, with the new “ViewCube” and “SteeringWheels” widgets (see Figure 1) that allow you to interactively pan, zoom, and rotate the views all while showing you where on your model you’re looking. The ViewCube acts like the “orbit” tool on steroids, allowing you to select a certain view by clicking on the face of the cube, or interactively dragging the cube around until you get the view you like. It’s a pretty neat little tool, and as long as you don’t mind the screen space that it takes up, I find it quite useful. There were however, some issues with crashing and backburner while using the ViewCube that required disabling of the plugin (its since been fixed with a service pack), so I would imagine the users that initially disabled it, wont turn it back on. The SteeringWheels are basically interactive ways to zoom, pan, look around, and “tour” your model. While this seems like a good idea for the novice user, I found it mush faster and easier to use the basic zoom and pan tools, as the SteeringWheels were a little cumbersome to get the hang of. The other main interface change is that “user” view is now called “orthographic” which from a naming standpoint makes sense, as it is an orthographic projection of the scene.
Figure 1: ViewCube and Steering Wheel Widgets
One of the most innovative new features of the program is what Autodesk calls “Reveal rendering” which translates to an iterative rendering window in which you can quickly see and change values within the rendering settings themselves (for example, if rendering with mental ray, you can choose anti-aliasing settings, final gather precision, and whether or not to include reflections or shadows) and see the result very quickly on the whole image or just a predetermined region of it. The Reveal rendering window (Figure 2) eliminates jumping back and forth between the rendering dialogue box and the frame buffer, allowing you to tweak settings and see the results all in one window, which can drastically cut production time.
Figure 2: Reveal rendering window
The main added feature to Max Design 2009 is the lighting analysis tool. Working in conjunction with the daylight system or photometric lighting, and the “pro materials” allows a user to accurately determine lighting levels within a given scene. You can place light meters in a room to determine if there is enough daylight reaching a specific point in space, and then change the values of the photometric light to accommodate the required light level (Figure 3). Autodesk had the foresight to include a lighting analysis assistant to walk the user through the setup, and it is quite easy.
Figure 3: Lighting Analysis tool
I’m not really sure why Autodesk determined this was enough of an add-on to warrant a different version of the software. If I was a lighting designer, this would be an invaluable tool, but as a full time architectural visualizer I can safely say I would use this tool 1% of the time. Even as an architect working on the design of a building I don’t think I’d get much use out of the tool.
Autodesk has included other major improvements to the software as well, including a completely redesigned composite map, with layering methods similar to Photoshop’s (darken, multiply, color dodge, etc) that allow the stacking of materials and maps just like you’d do inside of Photoshop (Figure 4). There’s also a new color correction map that allows you to very quickly and very easily modify the color, saturation, brightness, and contrast of an underlying map (Figure 5). This map has been available as an add-on for quite some time, but it’s nice that it’s finally built in to the core program.
Figure 4: Composite Map
Figure 5: Color Correction Map
Additional improvements include:
A new spline mapping procedure, which allows the UVW map to follow a chosen spline (useful for mapping complex curbs, pavers, or roadways). Enhanced photometric lights which include new shapes, the ability to see the photometric web in a preview window, and the ability to use custom shapes for the light distribution object. New Mental ray Proxy objects (something V-Ray users have had for some time now) that basically replace a high-resolution mesh with a low resolution proxy until rendering time, freeing up valuable system resources. Enhanced FBX import/export. With FBX seemingly becoming Autodesk’s format of choice for inter-program translation, improved controls for this were definitely needed, and the ability to import a Revit model with lights, materials, and cameras attached is technically quite useful, but personally, I have had better luck with exporting DWG files from Revit and importing those to Max. Biped Improvements include the ability to mirror an animation, set the character’s hands to behave like feet (for animating animals) and being able to rotate a biped object around a working pivot point.
All in all, Autodesk Max Design 2009 is a solid upgrade, especially if you are on a subscription or have the ability to upgrade for a reasonable fee. The Reveal Rendering, new composite map, color correction maps, and spline UVW mapping alone make it worth the upgrade price. To reiterate what I mentioned earlier though, I don’t really understand the need for two versions of what amount to be almost identical pieces of software at identical prices. If there were significant differences and a significant price difference, it would make a lot more sense to have two versions.
Chad Warner is the co-founder of BlueLime Studio (www.bluelimestudio.com), an architectural rendering and animation company in Savannah, Georgia that services architects, interior designers, and real estate professionals throughout the world.
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