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3ds max 7

By Todd Sheridan Perry

When I received the marketing information for 3ds max 7 in order to write the review, my initial reaction was "Huh, they put in Character Studio - does that make it a whole version upgrade?"  Then I opened the program and started playing with the new tools and I realized that this, indeed, may be a newer version.

On opening the interface, there isn't any noticeable difference between 6 and 7.  And thank god for that.  It frazzles me when developers switch out the interface that has worked for thousands for years with something new that they think will somehow work better. Discreet saved us this heartache this time around. The new features aren't going to hit you over the head, so you'll have to seek them out.

Let's take a look.

Character Studio
It's a tremendous benefit that discreet has come to an agreement with the Character Studio developers to integrate the animation system into max.  The features that Character Studio carries are too many to really go into for the review on max.  It is really a whole review unto itself.  However, to glaze over the benefits: quick skeleton rig setup, robust skinning tools, layered animation, easy motion capture assignment, mixing animations, and crowd simulations.  Seem like a lot?  It is.  Character Studio has been in development for years and 4.2 versions.

Nutshell:  Character Studio increases the value of max by $1000 without increasing the cost.  However, unless we get some damned functionality to the function curve to control the animation instead of TCBs, the animators are going to prefer custom built rigs, and they'll stay away from the Bipeds.

Normal Maps
Every year (usually after the SIGGRAPH white papers come out) we get numerous new techniques in CG that push us further to our goals. Global Illumination and Sub-Surface Scattering have been recent ones.  This past year or so - Normal Map is the phrase d'annee.  Normal Maps are essentially high-end bump maps. Instead of using simply a grayscale image to determine height and allowing the algorithms to calculate light and shadow, normal maps use the entire RGB spectrum - blue indicating depth and the red/green giving the direction of the normal if a surface was there to give it.   The idea is to give a greater amount of detail to a relatively low-poly object.  The technique is primarily used in games - where poly count is always a concern.
So, why use normal maps instead of bumps?  Because you can generate the normal maps from a high-poly version of the object.  Once the map is created in all of its high-detail glory, it is mapped onto the low-poly version of the same object.

Max 7 provides some nice tools for generating and assigning normal maps in conjunction with a new projection modifier.  By going through the normal map generation interface, a cage is generated around the high poly object which represents the normal projection of the low-poly object.  This cage can be manipulated by vertices to adjust where exactly the mapping is going to be placed.  This gives a great deal of control to the users to adjust the map to their needs.

Nutshell: If you need high-level detail for low poly models, then normal maps are the new black.  However, keep in mind, like bumpmaps, normal maps do not give you detail on the edges of the object. So, your silhouette is going to be the same as the low-poly object.  For those nice bumps on the edge, be sure to use displacements.

Edit Poly Modifier
The lack of this has been a thorn in my side since the birth of the Editable Poly.  The reason for this is that to utilize ring/loop selections and connect functions for box/subD modeling the model has to be a poly object - and the only way for it to be a poly object before max 7 was to collapse the modifier stack to the base object.  This means that if you have any deformation modifiers on the object, you cannot alter the poly model without destroying the ability to procedurally alter the geometry.

Model by David King

The Edit Poly modifier alleviates this, by giving you the same control in the modifier stack that you have with Edit Mesh and Edit Spline.  The modifier is filled with nice functions like extrude, bevel, and chamfer, but max adds more to these by making them animatable.  Each function, and transforms can be animated to grow limbs out of a surface, for instance.  Only one function can be animated per modifier, but modifiers can be stacked to create complex, poly-based animations. 

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