Libby Reed cracks open animation vet Martha Sigalls new book, Living Between the Lines: Tales from the Golden Age of Animation, and finds the line between biography and history.
Autodesk Inc. has recently released the newest installment of the CG package 3ds Max to their software subscribers. This new version, 3ds Max 7.5, is sent automatically to subscribers as part of Autodesks yearly subscription plan. This shipment is the second this year, following the recent release of 3ds Max 7.0 Service Pack 1. This new release, while not totally relevant to my personal daily workflow as a video game developer, packs a pretty mean punch with the single most impressive addition since particle flow the new hair and fur system.
Hair and Fur
In fact, the release of Max 7.5 marks a pretty major milestone for this software package, as it finally ships with a built in, top notch hair and fur system based on Joe Alters now famous Shave and a Haircut technology. This hair system is one of the industrys most highly regarded hair packages. It is absolutely great that it is now totally incorporated into 3ds Max and free to boot!
The hair and fur system is basically broken down into two interfaces. First, there is the standard 3ds Max side panel that contains many of the softwares procedural information. Here you alter (no pun intended) tons of parameters for your hair/fur such as Root and Tip Frizz, Root and Tip Kink, Random Scale, Root and Tip splay and more. For those unfamiliar with Shave and a Haircut, here are some definitions for these parameters:
Root and Tip Frizz Frizzing at the root will move the default hairs away from the standard straight, simple hair and more into the more natural unevenness as the hair grows out of the follicle. Tip frizzing will do the obvious make the ends of the strands frizzy. You can also alter the Frizz Frequency, which will change the scale of the frizzies.
Root and Tip Kink Kink uses a similar noise function as Frizz, but its application will affect the hair in a more overall fashion. The result is hair that looks as if it has been in a crimping iron (remember the 80s?).
- Random Scale this very simple parameter will add randomness to the length of the individual hairs. A setting of zero is a newly cut head of pin straight hair. A setting of 1 will yield a more natural, soft end to the hairs.
- Root and Tip Splay Root splay will add jitter to the roots of multiple adjacent hairs, effectively clumping the hairs at their tip. Combined with Frizz you get a very effective wet dog look! Tip splay will do just the opposite, adding jitter to the tips of clumped hairs, producing something more akin to how bristle hair brushes appear.
The second interface is the native styling window for the Shave and a Haircut plug-in. Here I must say that it would have been nicer if Autodesk integrated this interface a bit more. The launched secondary window is not only totally separate from the 3ds Max interface, but it also looks totally different. The window, the icons, the spline style everything is the standard Shave and a Haircut interface instead the 3ds Max interface. I understand that there might have been legal/licensing issues at work here, but this non-integration is pretty jarring and not nearly as slick as if it were an integral part of the 3ds Max UI. This Shave interface is where you get to do some of the really fun stuff. Here, you can interactively comb the hairs, cut the hairs, shape and style the overall do as well as perform dynamic simulations on it to sort of shake up the hair a bit in a naturalistic way. The artist also has the ability to instance objects like flowers and trees as hairs, there are many other functions in this toolset, but this should give you all a sense of what hair and fur has in store for you.
mental ray 3.4
3ds Max 7.5 also includes the newest version of the popular mental ray renderer version 3.4. In addition to faster, optimized Final Gather performance, 3.4 also adds Satellite Rendering allowing 3ds Max users to use up to eight CPUs as slave renderers using distributed bucket rendering. This version of mental ray works seamlessly with the new Hair and Fur system.
Sweep is an interesting modifier that has been added to the toolset as a sort of Loft lite. It contains many of the same features of the traditional Loft, but in a much simpler interface that is both more intuitive and also more specific. While this tool lacks some of the power that Loft has, Sweep can very quickly and easily create complex extruded sweeps using single or multiple splines. Imagine modeling a Victorian era interior and needing floor, ceiling and chair rail moldings. The sweep tool will have that task done in just seconds, after the artist simply creates a spline for the sweep and one for the profile. In fact, 3ds Max 7.5s Sweep actually has multiple built in preset profiles to make redundant sweeps super quick. To add to the tools simplicity, there are options such as quick pick for spline profile and a simple interface for choosing how the pivot aligns is included in the Sweep rollout.
Although these changes are significant and helpful, I believe 3ds Max still lacks several key features that would enable it to shine above all other 3D tools:
- Smart select In applications such as Wings 3d, you need only select near the sub-object and it becomes selected. You can also drag over sub-objects to multi select, similar to the way the new paint select works.
Edgeloop Selection Double click on an edge in Poly mode to select edgeloops and ctl+double click to select edge rings. Edgeloop modeling is the most popular form of modeling these days and this would be a real timesaver.
- Edgeloop Highlight Highlight edgeloops by hovering over them.
- Animated Vert Color True Animated vertex colors as opposed to the current ability to just animate the opacity of vertex color layers.
Cut fixes Allow for viewport navigation during Cut. Currently, navigating during Cut ends the process.
- Slide This crucial functionality for edgeloop and Sub-d modeling allows the modeler to slide verts around on its adjacent edges like rails, maintaining the general shape that is already there. This is especially powerful when entire loops are selected, and makes the current constrain tool pale in comparison.
- Erase Edgeloop a tool that erases the edgeloop and verts. The current 3ds Max version leaves verts behind.
- Ability to move, rotate and scale and object while surfing it over an objects surface based on its local axis. This is a tool that we developed at Harmonix that allows the quick placement of instances such as trees, cars, etc.
- The ability to tweak elements as in Wings3d. Instead of the 3dsmax click to select, click to movetechniques, just a single click/drag does both.
- Simple, texporter type tool. While the render to texture technique is powerful, it is too deep and lacks the speed and simplicity of the third party tool, Texporter.
Allow export of uvs as paths in a similar way to third party software Ghostpaint. In addition, allow export of both the mesh grid and outline so that they can be used as selection sets in Photoshop.
Integrate uvw editer floater into the standard UI viewports.
Integrate the Layer manager floater into the standard UI viewports.
Make Layer manager double as a powerful selection tool.
Allow more Bones in CS, similar to the CAT toolset and the CS forearm twist.
View faceted tris, even when in polymode, instead of averaging normals over a poly so that artists can see the tris.
Preview functionality in the Clone tool (shift+drag) when creating more than one duplicate, like the max7 array preview.
Sliding skin functionality for high res muscle sim models.
- Allow for custom or at least different keyframe shapes in the timeline for easy viewing and editing.
On a side note, some users might be momentarily confused by not seeing that this is version 7.5 on launch. Instead, the splash page, about window and title bar all continue to promote this is as version 7.
Again, the release of 3ds Max 7.5 does not really shake the video game community up all that much, but, for those artists that are in the CG/vfx previs and architectural fields, there is plenty to be excited about. Visit www.autodesk.com for details on how to become a subscribing customer of the 3ds Max line.
Ryan Lesser teaches animation at his alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). His animation company (Mammoth Studios) has worked on projects for Phish, Sony, MTV, De La Soul, Madison Square Garden and others. Since 1999, Ryan has served as art director at Harmonix, a PlayStation 2 and Xbox videogame developer. Here he has helped produce award-winning games such as Frequency, Amplitude and the Karaoke Revolution series. Ryan also maintains a Providence, Rhode Island-only underground music site, lotsofnoise.com.