This review was originally written for CgArchitect.com.
Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2011
Review by Chad Warner
With the latest version of 3ds Max Design, Autodesk has delivered one of the most feature-rich updates to their product in several releases. Interface refinements, new data import/reference components, material editor improvements, and additional feature sets make this release of 3ds Max Design a product worth looking at.
3ds Max Design 2011 continues with the 2010 product line’s use of the “Ribbon” palette, with some improvements. The Ribbon can be switched between horizontal and vertical with the right mouse button, and the user can add, delete, and modify all of the panels, tabs, and buttons with customizable controls or tools based on the user’s likes, using the “customize ribbon” dialog.
Figure 1: Customize Ribbon Dialog box
In my opinion, one of the most important addition to this version of Max Design is the ability to file link a Revit generated FBX file, complete with presets based on linking by material, family, or category.
Figure 2: FBX File link Presets
This is a huge step for the inter-operability between what is more and more becoming the standard program for Architects (Revit) and the standard program for Architectural Visualization (3ds Max.) For a very long time, we’ve been able to file-link dwg files straight from AutoCAD, so when the dwg file is updated, hit a button or two, and the updated file appears in Max, without losing material applications, UVW Maps, or any other modifiers that had been applied. With the new FBX file-link option, Revit models have pretty much the same luxury, other than the additional step of exporting the FBX file from Revit first.
This is a huge improvement over the previous method of exporting from Revit, importing the FBX, dealing with the triangular edges, grouping by material, cleaning out all of the unused parents, etc.
My one complaint with the FBX linking is how long it can take to link large files. Even with a fairly speedy workstation, I can expect to wait 5-10 minutes for some big FBX files to link.
The other major import feature added to 2011 is a Google SketchUp importer. It’s a very nice way to import files directly into Max from SketchUp without having to first export into another file type. The usefulness of this importer greatly relies on how the Sketchup file was built to begin with, but I’ve used it multiple times already with great success. This importer was also available as an extension pack to 2010, but according to Autodesk, some features have been improved and optimized for this new release.
One improvement that Max users have been asking for since 3ds Max v2 was released that is finally incorporated into 2011 is the Save As Previous option. Now you can (with some limitations of course) save a file as a 2010 version for some slight backwards compatibility, in case you need to work with the older version of the software.
Slate Material Editor
One of the most anticipated additions to Max Design 2011 is the all new “slate” material editor. Slate is a node based editor, giving the user the ability to visualize in a very clear manner the way a material is laid out, rather than having to click on map after map over and over again to find your way through a complex material. With Slate, the material is laid out in a flowchart fashion so you can visually see what map goes to what map type all at the same time, making it much easier to find and edit individual maps within the material.
The other good thing about the Slate Editor is that in case you don’t like it, or just want a more compact look at what’s going on with the materials in your scene, you can always choose to use the standard material editor as an alternative.
Figure 3: Slate Material Editor
Autodesk has included other improvements and features to the software as well:
- A new object painter that incorporates features of some of the 3rd party scripts available, allowing you to “paint” selected objects onto a 3rd object interactively, while randomly changing scale, rotation, and local translation. The one thing that I don’t like about the built in object painter is that its “fill” option doesn’t really fill the 3rd object with the other selected objects (similar to scatter,) but only fills along a selected edge loop, similar to the way the spacing tool operates.
Figure 4: Object Painter
- New “caddy” spinner. This one I like. Instead of the old method of interactively changing editable poly options (for example, chamfer distance, how many segments, etc) which gave you a dialog box on the screen, the “caddy” is just a few buttons and checkboxes superimposed over the viewport next to the selected editable poly sub-objects. It’s a cleaner way to see what you are changing and how it affects the selected sub objects.
Figure 5: “caddy” dialog box
- A new snap icon for moving objects with snaps turned on. With the new version of Max, they have added a small snap handle at the center of the move axis (indicated with a circle) to allow more precision while moving objects with snaps. Instead of randomly trying to grab axes and to move the object at its pivot, you can grab the circle snap indicator and know for certain you’re grabbing the right spot.
- The new Quicksilver hardware renderer. According to the documentation, there’s a minimum hardware requirement for this to work (which you can verify under the help menu.) Even though my machine was more than capable of handling the hardware renderer, when I tried to use the renderer with a simple scene of 3 boxes and a concrete map, I got the first BSOD I’ve had for as long as I can remember.
- Viewport Canvas. This has the makings of a very useful tool, as it gives the user the ability to directly paint on a 3d object in a scene, modifying the material and maps in the scene interactively, with some of the same layering and tool options that Photoshop offers. Again, my main issue with this tool was one of performance. I tried a very simple scene with a single box, a single brick texture applied to the box, and my computer still struggled with painting on the box. I think if Autodesk is able to optimize this tool, it will become very useful.
- Improved EXR support. With EXR files being used more and more for their compositing usage and high color range, Max design 2011 updated its EXR plugin the ability to include unlimited layers, g-buffer data, rendered elements, all while better optimizing the plugin for better performance.
- Inclusion of Autodesk’s Composite program, an add-on tool for doing compositing, color correction, and post processing work. I haven’t used the program very extensively to give it a review, but the fact that it is included with Max design is a pretty good feature in and of itself.
In the latest version of 3ds Max Design, I think Autodesk has delivered a version of the software that’s actually worthy of a revision number. A lot of times there’s very little difference between one version of the software and the next, with only minor updates and what really only amounts to service packs, in what seems to me a way to make sure that people who are on the subscription program stay happy. With this release, Autodesk has made enough changes and updates to the software to make it worthwhile as a true upgrade.
- FBX file linking from Revit. This one alone will save countless hours in production
- Slate material editor. A much more intuitive and interactive way to create complex materials
- Save as Previous. As I mentioned before, this is one improvement that users have asked about for a very long time.
- Object Painter. While not as robust as some of the other object painting scripts that are available, it’s still quite useful.
- Quicksilver renderer crashed computer (not just program), even though according to the specs, my computer is more than capable of using the renderer.
- Viewport Canvas was pretty slow to use also, although according to what I’ve read on the forums, if you unwrap the UVW first (a crucial step that is skipped in the documentation) it performs much better.
- Object painter. In order for it to be fully useful, Autodesk needs to give this one some more features.