Autodesk continues with the development of 3ds Max with features aimed at everyone from artists doing architectural visualisation, to FX artists and generalists. The 3D art software's features are pretty evenly spread between the many roles that 3ds Max fulfils.
One of the first things you notice when opening Autodesk 3ds Max 2014 for the first time is the updated UI design. The interface has looked pretty much the same for many years now, so while the new, enhanced menus (which have an almost Cinema 4D look and feel) will be a bonus for new users, they may well initially be disliked by experienced users. The menus are split into sections such as Objects, Simulate, Scene and Animation, to name just a few examples, but finding functions you a lot use to can be a challenge at first.
The I-Ray render engine that ships as part of 3ds Max has seen some minor improvements. These include the addition of two new samplers, and much-needed support for a variety of procedural maps. Things that many people rely on.
The new Mesh Inspector function checks and automatically fixes any issues with geometry or texture channels, and can be permanently turned on in the background. This means a bad save doesn't ruin a file. It's also a useful feature for sculptors as it helps track down those annoying problems that can make a mesh difficult to work with and prone to crashing.
In fact, 3ds Max has addressed a number of small but irritating bugs that caused issues in previous iterations and fixed them. All this in addition to improving the speed of functions such as skinning.
There are a couple of welcome additions to mental ray. These include Unified Sampling now set as the default sampling method (which amongst other things, improves performance in scenes with motion blur or blurred reflections) and the ability to add string options to a render that can be used with network rendering.
One of the major new features of 3ds Max 2014 is the new Perspective Match feature. This enables you to take a background image and easily match your models to it. It's simple to use, displaying three pairs of colour-coded lines that you just line up with the axis of your image. It's so handy that it leaves you wondering why no one has though of adding this functionality before now - however, it is only meant for still images at the moment.
A companion to Perspective Match is the addition of 2D Pan and Zoom. This tool enables you to zoom in the viewport without breaking the perspective match.
Nitrous Viewport is not technically a new feature, but one that has been evolving over the last few releases. It now supports Direct3D 11 and Direct3D 11 shaders, which should be a welcome addition for those working in games creation.
The quality of the Nitrous Viewport in Realistic Mode is a vast improvement over past versions but the default settings do not get the best out of it, so take time to set it up correctly and you’ll generally get a pretty realistic result. The Viewport can also handle very high poly counts, and Adaptive Degradation has been improved so that heavy scenes can still be navigated.
3ds Max 2014 adds support for Adobe Illustrator (AI) files, plus SVG, SVGZ and AutoCAD PAT files, which can be loaded as textures. Vector maps are resolution independent, so where a normal texture pixelates when you zoom in, a vector map does not. It also adds support for multi- page Adobe PDFs, so a character animator could have one mouth expression on each page and this can then be animated.
The Populate function is one traditionally used by the arch-viz crowd, but it also offers functionality for other departments. It populates a scene with Instant Crowds, and the models it creates are ideal for mid-distance to background shots. However, this isn't a dedicated crowd simulation offering such as Massive.
You wouldn't use Populate for close-up shots, but it is possible to use the Custom model type and adjust the models at a poly and UV level using the modifier stack, and enables you to draw paths and areas that it fills with walking people, or people with ambient movement. Its ability to be able to handle change of ground level and stairs do make it interesting.
The improvements to Particle Flow, which now includes Box #2 and Box #3 plug-ins natively to let you create realistic physics simulations, has caught my eye. 3ds Max users usually use Particle Flow alongside plug-ins from other manufacturers, so having the complete toolbox in Max, alongside the improved stability, is a real bonus.
The Particle Flow interface, which allows you to connect by dragging and dropping, has been a favourite for many years and has thankfully been left well enough alone. It allows your Particle Flows to be cached for easier playback in the Viewport, and non-linear control.
While this may not be a release full of headline-grabbing additions, it does address some important issues in Max that will make your workflow easier. The updated UI could alienate some, but others will welcome the simpler navigation; and, for FX guys, the addition of Box #2 and Box #3 will be very welcome.
For others, the inclusion of Perspective Match and 2D Pan and Zoom will be a major bonus, and the general housekeeping and tweaking of the program to address issues from previous iterations will mean that 3ds Max 2014 is, overall, much more pleasant to use.