Improved User Interface
In planning this upgrade, Discreet wanted to improve both the speed at which 3ds max functions, and the speed at which you work. You'll notice the latter in a number of changes to the user interface, which sports several key enhancements.
For one thing, toolbar buttons that open dialogs now "toggle" (stay down and stay highlighted) when their dialogs are open. Also, toggling the appropriate shortcut key both opens and closes the related dialog window. Or use CTRL+~ to toggle all currently open dialogs.
The new Snaps toolbar displays that function's most common settings, while 3ds max's new snapping engine finds intended targets more reliably than ever and now allows snapping to pivot points. Similarly, a new Rendering toolbar lets you save and recall up to three rendering presets. Copy and Paste now duplicate materials, maps, bitmaps, and colors. The new Parameter Collector menu lets you sort and present animatable parameters so that, with a click or two, you can create, access, and key specialized parameter sets. DirectX material support has been enhanced, and Standard materials can now be translated to DirectX shaders. Finally, 3ds max 7 can now import MPEG files, and use them anywhere bitmap formats can go.
Make (and Manage) the Scene
A new Array dialog lets you preview an array in all viewports in real time before you actually create it. Clone and Align clones selected objects to locations specified by other objects in your scene. First, you create a source object; then you position future clones with "placeholders"; and finally you clone additional objects that align with your placeholders.For example, design one finished chair, and then, just before rendering, use Clone and Align to position a copy of the final chair at each target placeholder position. Specify which characteristics of the target objects the clones inherit.
The new Object Display Culling improves viewport performance in complex scenes by hiding less-important objects, or displaying them as boxes, as you work.
Since models of interiors, such as rooms and corridors, are difficult to navigate using the common zoom-and-pan camera commands, the new Walk Through Navigation allows you to move through the model as if you were a game player inside the scene, creating faster and more natural camera movements.
The optional JSR-184 Exporter creates .m3g files for devices, such as mobile phones, that support the Mobile 3D Graphics API for Java 2 Micro Edition standard (JSR-184). Preview your exported .m3g files on 3ds max's standalone player.
The Bridge feature "bridges" pairs of selected borders or polygons automatically, even when their borders have different numbers of vertices. This feature enables 3ds max to automate the creation of a smooth joint or help you design your own. You can even control the tapering of the bridge.
Also, Make Planar can now average the alignment of a selected group of sub-objects along a specific axis, to create a flat surface (like a lake crater) in a rough mesh (like the floor of a jungle).
Ideas that Mesh
3ds max 7 improves its mesh painting with Paint Deformation and Paint Soft Selection. Paint Deformation uses brush strokes to deform the surface by pushing or pulling vertices, a very quick modeling tool for detailing a mesh.
Similarly, Skin Wrap uses a low-resolution mesh to drive the deformation of a high-resolution mesh. With Skin Wrap, using the vertices of a control object to influence the vertices of a more complex object, you can quickly set up secondary characters, spinning off different high-resolution characters from the same low-resolution mesh. For example, in facial animation, a very-low-resolution mesh of the face could drive high-resolution face movements like cheeks, eyebrows, and jaw.
Or use Skin Morph, a modifier driven by the angle between bones. Once a morph has been created for a specific bone's angle, this modifier automatically uses it every time that bone approaches that angle. You can also use Skin Morph to add effects driven by specific poses, like the bulging of muscles or stretching of wrinkles. Also new, Bone Mirroring now creates mirror copies of selected bones, flipped on the original bone's Y or Z axes.
For complex scenes, let the new Turbosmooth create an approximate mesh object that temporarily replaces a more complex poly object, improving viewport response.
Improvements in the VertexPaint modifier include new controls in the Adjust Color dialog (to change contrast and gamma of the color of the selected vertices), a Blur Brush, and a color palette.
Think of a "normal map" as an enhanced bump map with greater accuracy and flexibility than a simple grayscale bump map. Normal mapping is now a standard procedure in the videogames industry used to simulate complex details on low-polygon models that need to be viewed in real time. It lets you create the illusion of extra geometry, while minimizing the overall number of polygons. This improves memory usage, render time, and scene navigation.
For example, the new "Projection" modifier uses ray tracing to project information from one mesh (such as a high-polygon "normal" mesh) onto another (say, a low-polygon mesh). "3ds max" can "project" many types of data from one mesh to another.
The new Camera Map Per Pixel also projects maps onto a model. Specifically, it helps matte painters add details or blend different matte paintings seamlessly onto a rendered image, and then bring that modified image back into the scene.
Max Moves: Improving Animation
In 3ds max 7, Character Studio graduates from a separate plug-in into an integral part of the application. Character Studio has three components: Biped is a generic rig for humanlike characters, although you can customize it to fit characters of a variety of shapes, including quadrupeds, or birds with reverse knee orientation. Crowd creates hordes of characters, allowing each individual character to turn, stop, and restart, so that it can participate in the crowd without hitting other characters. Physique creates "skin," with extra features like tendons and bulges, to better control how the underlying skeleton affects the mesh and "envelope" deformations.
3ds max's Custom Attributes also received an overhaul in this release, improving the way those attributes are created, managed and assigned to scene objects. For example, the Attribute Holder Modifier separates a base object from custom attributes or other modifiers, and lets you copy and paste custom attributes among objects.
In 3ds max, a "reaction" occurs when changes to one parameter affect another. Reaction Manager now lets you manage such interactions, including Position, Rotation, Scale, and Float Reactions.
Finally, 3ds max 7 introduces a sub-surface scattering "shader," based on Mental Ray, to create translucent textures like jade and milk, and to reproduce more natural skin tones, while Global Illumination adds "photometric lighting" to Mental Ray for greater physical accuracy.
To move your project between home and work machines, License Borrowing, in the Help menu, now lets you to borrow a network license, or return a license you have already borrowed. And as always, 3ds max ships with a number of tutorials, to launch the novice or improve the expert.
If it's time for you to get serious about 3D animation, 3ds max certainly deserves your most serious consideration.
Minimum System Requirements: Intel Pentium 3 (500mHz) 512MB RAM
Recommended: Dual Intel Xenon or AMD Athlon or Opteron 1GB RAM