I’m not sure when Autodesk is ever going to pull the trigger and just marry Maya and Max together; probably because the marriage is going to end up in death and violence like the Montagues and Capulets, with some felled animator crying out, ‘A plague on both your houses!’ But all you need to do is look at the latest interfaces of the different tools and you can see that the writing is on the wall. However, this is a specific review of 3ds Max 2009, so I’ll just stick to the business at hand.
When you first open the new release, you get the ViewCube located in the corner of each window to quickly rotate the cube into standard configurations. I like it’it’s very handy. You also get the Steering Wheel. I’m not such a fan of this feature: It looks like a Ouija planchette and kind of gets in the way of productivity and doesn’t allow me to speak with spirits from beyond, so I turned it off. However, a really cool viewport feature is History, where viewport positions are saved and you can recall them quickly and easily. As a side note, the ViewCube is also in Maya 2008.
New materials and mapping features have also been provided. Spline mapping was added for those tough-to-map objects such as twisting branches or tentacles that weren’t modeled in a straight line. The pelt mapping was revamped in the UnwrapUVW node’anything that helps with UVMapping is something that I support. Plus a composite map and color correction map, emulating controls from Combustion and Toxic, were put in which makes making complex shaders so much easier. (I think Autodesk should stick this feature into Maya instead of focusing on the Ouija technology!) In addition, many new advances have been put into incorporating mental ray into the rendering system including pre-render of photon maps and Final Gather maps, BSP2 acceleration and geometry caching for extremely heavy geometry used in multiple scenes, alleviating mental ray from having to calculate the translation for each frame of each scene. This means heavyduty savings, my friends.
Other enhancements are in the Scene and Project Management arenas. The Scene Explorer has been updated with advanced filtering. I kind of liked the old way, so I’m not too excited about this development. If they just created a hybrid of that and the Maya outliner, I could pass away a happy man. Autodesk has also created interoperability with its newly adopted child, Mudbox. So, Max and Mudbox can generally play in the sandbox together and make beautiful sandcastles because they speak the same OBJ file export language, which has become a little more robust with more options.
Overall, they are offering lots of nice improvements with the ’09 version. I still prefer Max over the other 3D programs, but this has a lot to do with my own tastes. It’s similar to how I feel about Kraft Mac & Cheese’I don’t like it because it’s necessarily the best, but because I grew up on it. I’m sure there are lots of other ways to make pasta with cheese, and they’re all just as good!