3D Studio MAX is well named. It's hard to imagine more capability in a new software release. Running on Windows NT only, MAX fully utilizes this powerful operating system, and the results are evident.
Primitive objects created in MAX are fully parametric. You can return to any creation or modification step in an object stack; insert, delete, or modify parameters; then return to the current stage of editing. With modifiers such as bend, taper, twist, noise and warps, it's possible to create amazingly complex shapes from a simple 3-D primitive--a 3-D artist's dream. As a mechanical designer, I won't pursue these aspects in great detail, and will concentrate upon features closely related to the import of CAD models and their subsequent rendering and animation. Suffice it to say that the object creation and modification tools within MAX are marvelous.
I imported solid models into MAX using AutoCAD's .3DS export and using a .DWG import plug-in downloaded from the Kinetics Web Page. Both techniques performed well, and the latter exemplifies the ease of installing and using MAX plug-ins. Desktop assembler components had to be localized, and Designer models required conversion to explicit ACIS solids for best results. With a little tweaking of mesh resolution, the results were excellent, and MAX can even optimize the resultant meshes to minimize face count for faster processing.
The MAX interface is excellent. Rollout menus permit on-the-fly menu compression, providing efficient screen-space utilization for the myriad of commands. The menus are well conceived, with a good mix of icons and text buttons. Collapsible trees are used to present an enormous amount of object data in a well organized, accessible format. Command dialogs adapt to context, again limiting screen clutter.
MAX presents a consistent, ever-adapting environment. Dialogs such as the material editor appear in floating windows, so the user can always maintain focus on the scene under construction. With real-time Gouraud shading in any or all viewports, immediate feedback is available to show relative effects of many material and lighting changes. This capability extends to single maps, allowing real-time viewing of mapping coordinate modifications--the boost in efficiency and creativity over 3D Studio is enormous.
Copying a model copies virtually all of its characteristics including hierarchical linkage, joint parameters, and animation. This eliminates the need for unnecessary duplication of effort. I imported a 7 DOF mechanism from AutoCAD, linked and constrained the joints, then copied the mechanism, with the copy preserving all work done so far. Next I animated the mechanisms independently using inverse kinematics. Finally, I copied the two mechanisms, with the two clones inheriting the kinematics and animations of the originals. The resultant model, containing about 40,000 faces, rendered rapidly and was still manageable during editing.
Inverse Kinematics (IK) is the cornerstone of mechanism animation, providing realistic joint articulation with minimal effort. In MAX, IK is immediately available and interactive with the editing viewports. IK solves the kinematics while dragging in editing mode, or computes all-frame solutions for accurate, automatic animation. The addition of terminators permits local control of subchains for precise, interactive control.
Rendered output is exceptional. Whether a result of the rendering technology, the interactivity during scene composition, or both, I was very pleased with the results.
The interface and performance of MAX are exceptional, and provide sufficient reason alone to migrate to NT. This is the first true NT application I've used, and it's an eye opener. Mechanical designers using 3D Studio or considering rendering and animation will find MAX's productivity well worth the investment.
3D Studio MAX is a rendering and animation application designed exclusively for Windows NT. It is multi- threaded, using multiple processors if available, and is optimized to make the best use of standard graphics capability, as well as accelerators. Minimum requirements: 90 MHz Pentium, 32M bytes RAM, 100-M bytes hard-disk swap space and 800 x 600 x 256 graphics. One or more Pentium Pros, 64-128M bytes RAM, 200-300-M bytes swap space, and a 1280 x 1024 x 24-bit double-buffered 3-D accelerator are ideal.
List Price: $3495
Autodesk, 111 McInnis Pkwy., San Rafael, CA 94903; ph: 415-507-5000.
A similar product:
Softimage 3.0 for NT - Softimage Inc., 3510 St. Laurent Blvd., Suite 400, Montreal, PQ, H2X 2V2; ph. 001 (514) 845-1636.