Are the new 3ds Max features great or gimmicky?

Digital artist Paul Hatton takes the latest release of Autodesk's 3D software for a test drive.

Every year, around April, Autodesk releases a new version of 3ds Max and, each time, I wait in eager expectation like a small child the night before Christmas, hoping that it will release a great set of new tools that will blow all the competition out of the water. Now I can't say it's done that but it has released a few new features that will help.

In 3ds Max 2015, the Quad Chamfer modifier has been integrated. This was previously available for purchase as a plug-in, but now it's native to Max. It is a fantastic tool, which makes creating chamfers non-destructive and, what's more, chamfers are produced with quads rather than triangles. A huge improvement.

Then there's the Populate crowd-animation system introduced in 3ds Max 2014: it now offers more standard behaviours, along with new skinning and level-of-detail controls for crowd characters. I was a little underwhelmed by this, especially for renders that were fairly close to the subjects. However, it does work remarkably well for aerial scenes or flybys. It allows you to quickly and easily populate areas of your scene with people that move and interact with each other.

The new tools

Max 2015 also introduces point cloud capabilities. This is a game changer for me in terms of workflow. We would previously rely on traditional surveys but now an increasing number of people are surveying using laser scanners, including ourselves. We can bring the laser scans straight into 3ds Max and use it as a base for modelling. It is even possible to snap to the points.

The Populate system offers more standard behaviours, new LoD and skinning controls

Game artists and programmers can now easily create advanced high-level shader language HLSL viewport shaders with the ShaderFX real-time visual shader editor. This handy node-based system saves artists the task of writing the code by hand. These shaders can then be visualised in the 3ds Max viewport even if they have animated values. All very interesting.

Lastly, there's now support for Python scripting. This enables people to extend and customise 3ds Max using Python. While this is unlikely to affect the majority of 3ds Max users, it will be beneficial to scripters and developers. There's a handful of nice features and under the hood tweaks, but many of these tools were available as plug-ins previously, meaning Max 2015 feels like a consolidation rather than a revolution.

Words: Paul Hatton

As the 3D visualisation team leader at CADS 3D, Paul Hatton creates models and renders, visualisations, animations and interactive walkthroughs. This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 185 – on sale now!