3DS Max 2016 review
- Fantastic Alembic implementation
- Many additional new features, tweaks and updates
- No serious improvements to animation or FX tools
- No HiDPI / 4k Monitor support
By Michael Wentworth-Bell, Jul 20, 2015
This year Autodesk has released version 2016 of its 3D Swiss Army knife application. 19 years after its initial release in April 1996 (or 25 years, if you want to count all the way back to 3D Studio), the software is still going strong. Other 3D software, however, have grown in capabilities and popularity on the side, offering stronger competition. Be it motion graphics, Archviz, video games or VFX, 3DS Max is not alone.
Before the launch of 3DS Max 2016, Autodesk made sweeping changes to their business model and software line-up. They have retired Softimage, removed the option for customers to upgrade their software to new versions and announced a ‘rental-only’ business model. At the same time, the future of 3DS Max has been seen with uncertainty due to frequent changes to the product’s management team, lack of marketing focus and a string of lacklustre releases, which left many user-voted requests unimplemented for years. Following increasing complaints from users, a new management team was appointed, headed by core Max users, and, notably enough, joined by the original developer of the 3D Studio software. These changes have significantly raised hopes for renewed development.
It is in this particular context that many will evaluate 3DS Max 2016 and its feature list. Announced as the “Biggest Max Ever”, this is the first full release backed by the newly formed development team. Has development rhythm gone back to a fast pace, bringing useful features and reassuring users that 3DS Max will continue to evolve, or is this another lacklustre release that pushes Max users to look elsewhere?
Let’s find out.
The 3DS Max 2016 experience begins with software installation and it’s at this point where many users will be first disappointed. Max has two main issues with its installation that have not been addressed in years; there are too many files being installed and there are very limited options for customisation.
Autodesk Material libraries, Mental Ray and over 40,000 ‘Populate’ data files are still mandatory installation components. There’s a lack of advanced installation and deployment options, and migration of previous user settings is a very manual process. At least the installation and activation process for the average user is smooth and simple.
Starting up the software for the first time gives the user the first notification that something has changed – the “Design” variant has smartly been retired and 3DS Max has been unified into a single offering once again. All functionality remains and the user is now prompted with a new classic/design dialog that lets them initialise 3DS Max with the settings they’re used to.
After choosing their preferred flavour of 3DS Max, users are then treated to a newly designed welcome screen showcasing the “templates” feature which will likely be glossed over and then closed – at least initially. Now, we are finally presented with the interface. No matter if you’re a Veteran or first-time user, the UI is going to disappoint. Compare the 18+ year old 3DS Max interface to Maya 2016’s sleek new Hi-DPI UI and Max’s classic win32 UI flickery cracks are really starting to show.
The initial standout improvement is definitely the new Viewport selection preview. Seemingly inspired by Unreal Editor 4, 3DS Max now makes object selection easy – giving visual previews of objects under the mouse cursor and objects that have been selected.
The Nitrous viewport has also received another yearly step-up in performance and visual fidelity, one of the most welcome features being viewport motion blur – a feature that appears to be omitted from the release notes and marketing.
Max Creation Graph
The most exciting feature Max has had in years and certainly the scene stealer of this release, Max Creation Graph (MCG) allows users to create their own modifiers, utilities and geometric objects with a node based interface similar to the Slate material editor. Users can easily export, share, install and maintain Maxtools made with the MCG system.
Softimage users will definitely be rolling their eyes as they try out MCG and read the scores of positive feedback from 3DS Max users. Yes, it is terrible that Autodesk has abandoned arguably their most modern DCC app, yes ICE is better than MCG, but no 3DS Max user will be complaining that a node based creation toolkit is being implemented. MCG is definitely not as good as ICE, particularly in MCG’s lack of speed and real-time feedback to changes in the graph, but for a v1.0 release, it is impressive.
Elara Systems has freely released 5 powerful MCG tools complete with video tutorials
Programming experience is definitely a huge plus when diving into MCG, however even the most non-technical user benefits from Max Creation Graph via the tonne of modifiers, utilities and tools that have been freely released in the past month alone. These tools are extremely easy to package & install and Max users have begun to oscillate around MCG. In the few weeks since launch, Autodesk has produced a number of free MCG training videos and released a sample pack containing 30 MCG tools and 80 compounds. The 3DS Max community has also created a number of fantastic tools, many are incredibly inventive, useful and released for free. With MCG, there is an excitement around 3DS Max that hasn’t been felt for a few years.