3ds Max 2011 Review: Easier Workflow
User Interface Enhancements
Starting with the Ribbon interface introduced in 3ds Max 2010 Autodesk appears committed to revamping the 3ds Max user interface. Instead of doing a single release with an entire new and different UI it looks like Autodesk is instead adding or changing a few UI paradigms in each new release of the software. 3ds Max 2011's UI changes are focused on getting the interface out of the user's way so that they can focus on their scene.
The Command Panel, a fixture of 3ds Max since its initial release and a feature that has lineage back to DOS 3D Studio, can now be set to behave like a fly out panel. When it is in this mode it remains hidden off screen until the mouse hits the edge of the screen where it is docked. I normally have my Command Panel set to be two or three panels wide on screen, to reduce vertical scrolling within the panel. The amount of viewport screen real estate that is reclaimed by having the Command Panel hidden, even on a 24" monitor, is quite noticeable.
Much like a personal assistant on a golf course, Max's new Caddies are there to help you make the right editable poly choices without having to lose focus from what you are doing. Instead of having to move over to a floating dialogue window to dial in settings for editable poly tools like Extrude or Bevel the appropriate controls contextually appear within the viewport using a translucent heads-up-display. From a workflow standpoint this behavior is not much different from using the old floating modal dialogs for tool setting entries. The elegance in the system comes from the fact that there is no longer a large opaque dialogue blocking your view of your work. The Caddie display is lightweight and unobtrusive.
The Ribbon now sports a new Object Painting tab. Object painting lets you pick a 3D object and paint it into your scene with your mouse. The controls on the Ribbon let you set spacing and scale on all three axis. As the objects are painted into the scene, they can be aligned to any axis of the objects over which they are being painted. Object painting even allows you to paint with multiple objects, either in order of selection or randomly, and paint over already painted objects in the scene. Until you commit your painting the objects are considered live, meaning that you can fully tweak the spacing, scale, and alignment settings. Once you are happy with the settings, you can commit the painted objects to the scene. For terrain work like foliage, grass or placing props like benches or trashcans, Object Paint will save you quite a bit of time.
Object Painting also allows for object filling. For a sub object selection within an object, you can populate a series of picked objects along or within the selected subject. For instance, consider needing to place a series of rivets along the edge of a mechanical piece. By selecting a line on the object and extending the selection out to a ring or loop, you can then pick a rivet object and use the object fill method to place the rivets along that selection. Spacing along the selection is adjusted automatically to accommodate the number of fill objects you select within the Ribbon interface.