"The character studio 4 that will be built into 3ds max 7 is the complete version previously available as the standalone product," says 3ds max product manager Dan Prochazka. "There will be no additional functionality that can be purchased outside 3ds max."
The new features target multiple segments of the 3D market, from game developers to filmmakers, broadcast post, and design visualization, with an overarching emphasis on speed and customizable workflow. Key new features of 3ds max 7 include Normal Mapping, a workflow accelerator for gaming applications; Edit Poly Modifier, which simplifies and accelerates the creation, modification, and animation of polygonal surfaces; TurboSmooth, a new smoothing algorithm designed to enhance performance of high-resolution models; and Skin Wrap Deformer, which improves character animation workflow with easy application of props and clothing to pre-skinned 3D models.
3ds max 7 will also feature Paint Selections, a new interactive method for building selections with a brush-based interface. Prochazka says the name is self-descriptive: "Paint Selections allows for the use of painting tools to select objects, vertices, etc. It is a new method by which people can use the familiar workflow of `painting' to make selections."
According to Prochazka, the changes will have little impact on the usability of 3ds max for users familiar with version 6; they'll simply have to learn how to use the added features. "The interface for 3ds max 7 will basically be the same as that for 3ds max 6," Prochazka says. "This also includes the SDK, which has sustained compatibility between the releases (meaning that plug-ins for 3ds max 6 will run in 3ds max 7 without recompile). There are obviously additions to the user interface," he continues, "but users familiar with 3ds max 6 will be able to jump straight into version 7 without hesitation."
Additional improvements to 3ds max's character animation arsenal include Skin Wrap and Skin Morph, and an updated Reaction Controller. A new implementation of Sub-Surface Scattering boasts a dedicated Skin shader designed to add credibility to human models. Version 7 also includes Parameter Collector, which Prochazka says "will allow animators to `collect' animation controls and sliders for multiple characters and rigs in one unified and centralized `box' for greater asset control and management."
3ds max 7 also takes several steps forward in scalability to large datasets. Built on a longtime R & D project known as "Project Quicksilver," these features include "smart" object culling for high-performance manipulation of large numbers of 3D objects.
Prochazka says discreet has also made changes to backburner, the utility that allows 3ds max users to distribute rendering over multiple systems on a network (system reqs for a render server are the same as for a full seat of the software). Enhancements include greater compatibility with mental ray, 3ds max's internal rendering engine.
3ds max 7 is currently scheduled to ship in fall 2004 with an MSRP of $3495. Registered users of 3ds max 6 can upgrade for $795; upgrade pricing for 3ds max 5 users is $1295.
A 30-day trial version is now available for download at http://www4.discreet.com/3dsmax/index7.php#.