Sate visual appetite with Studio Max

3D Studio Max pros and cons:
+    NURBS support, keyframe animation and multiprocessor support
+    Excellent mapping and editing
+    Auto backup and auto filename increment


–    Too many hardware locks
–    Ray-trace rendering requires Radi Ray package


3D Studio Viz pros and cons:
+    Excellent, easy-to-use features in limited applications
+    Integrates with AutoCAD files


Real-life requirements:
Win95 or NT 4.0, 64M RAM, CD-ROM drive and at least 500M free storage; heavy users should
have NT, dual Pentium Pro processors, 256M RAM and as much storage as possible.


The full-featured 3D Studio Max 2.5 animation package is the graphics equivalent of a
major office suite. Few office users need all the options in a suite, but graphics
professionals who work on different projects need all the options they can get.


Graphics pros likely will grasp the basics of Autodesk Inc.’s Studio Max without
studying the 5-inch-thick pile of documentation. The stack would be even higher if the
newest features were not covered only by online documentation.


Except for the interface, 3D Studio Max for Microsoft Windows 95 and Windows NT has
almost nothing in common with MS-DOS versions. Everything happens in the main four-window
editing screen.


I had no trouble getting started. Installation went easily under Win95, although there
were several picky requirements: Enter the serial number and a separate CD-ROM key code,
install a parallel port dongle (hardware lock), and finally telephone the vendor for a
permanent authorization code. The box code expires after 30 days. Everything worked on the
first try except for the full-license authorization.


3D Studio Max could do almost every graphics job well, from basic object design to
photorealistic animation.


To do high-end 3-D modeling, you must be familiar with nonuniform rational B-splines.
NURBS have started to make an appearance even in inexpensive 3-D packages.


Ordinary 3-D modeling uses polygons to build up objects with flat surfaces and visible
joins between planes. NURBS modeling makes complex objects such as people, flowers and
submarines.


Incidentally, the word rational in NURBS has no psychiatric implication. It simply
means that NURBS are based on ratios of polynomial equations.


This release of 3D Studio Max has NURBS support for the first time. It can do
parametric, polygonal mesh, NURBS surface and spline, and Bezier patch and spline
modeling. The resulting models convert easily between geometric classes. Primitive objects
available include capsule, chamfer box, cylinder, oil tank, teapot and torus knot.


To deform an object, you scale, twist, teeter, bevel or adjust to fit. Each such
operation is not only undoable, it’s also recorded in an editable stack of
operations.


No more undoing and then redoing dozens of operations to change something—just go
back and alter a previous operation, retaining the subsequent changes for the new object.
Object definitions can even be cut and pasted into each other.


Particle functions include particle cloud, particle bomb, spray and snow, all of which
can be constrained by gravity, deflection and displacement space warps or attached to
user-defined paths.


You can apply wind, gravity, motor, force and collision particle dynamics.


A space warp, a kind of hidden structure for a scene, invisibly makes objects bend,
deflect, displace, explode, stretch, surface-fit, taper and twist. Th objects move as if
affected by gravity, waves, breezes or freeform paths.


You can specify self-luminous objects or add moving sunlight and shadows. The range of
cameras (viewpoints) covers just about anything a Hollywood director might order, complete
with lens selections.


Animation channels—linear, Bezier, noise, expression, motion capture, attachment,
surface and script—each have a separate control.


The rendering precision goes up to 10,000-line resolution, plenty for broadcast
television or theatrical-quality films.


With TCP/IP and network tools, teams of designers could do rendering at multiple NT
platforms using only one licensed copy of the package.


Studio Max can handle .3ds, .shp, .prj (3D Studio native), .bmp, .gif, .jpg, .rla,
.tga, .tif, .png, .avi, .flc, .eps, .psd, .dwg, .dxf, STL, PostScript and plain text
files.


So many features would take a long time to learn. If you want only to turn an AutoCAD
drawing into a 3-D object, Studio Max is overkill. Try Studio Viz instead.


Studio Max is relatively low-priced for a product whose capabilities extend almost to
infinity. Once a graphics professional has come up to speed, the skills will transfer to


3-D rendering and animation at all levels.


3D Studio Viz 2.0 is not a plug-in for Studio Max. Instead, it optimizes the main
program’s architectural features to turn AutoCAD DWG-compatible files rapidly into
presentation-quality 3-D images.


Viz does .dwg file linking, which means you can run AutoCAD 14 and Viz interactively.
Several people could work on the original drawing and the final presentation
simultaneously without everyone having to start over after every change in the original.
Changes automatically show up in the Viz rendering.


The most impressive animation feature is the way 3D Studio Max can reorient and change
the play of sunlight during the day.


If you only work with exteriors or interiors of buildings and already use .dwg files,
by all means get Viz instead of Studio Max. It is much easier and comes with a one-hour
videotaped tutorial.


Viz is strictly for architects, interior designers and those who must turn such work
into presentations. If you do full 3-D creation and animation, look to Studio Max even for
architectural renderings. Max does them well—it just has loads of extra features you
may not need.


In graphics design, as in no other application, a user must be able to undo mistakes
or, better yet, retain a stream of archival files. Max has a user-definable autosave
feature and, more importantly, it can auto-increment filenames so you can quickly save a
new version while keeping a number of historical copies of images.


Another way it cuts down on space-wasting multiple saves is by keeping all operations
performed on a spline-based model in a user-accessible stack. Modify early operations from
this stack without having to work back through the undo steps or start over from an
earlier file version.


Character Studio may be a great plug-in, but I was unable to evaluate it because of the
multilevel security locks.


I don’t object to security. But from a practical viewpoint, if you upgraded Viz
from R1 to R2 and also wanted to run Studio Max and possibly use a printer, you would have
to attach three flimsy dongles to the PC’s printer port and hang a printer cable from
them.


And if you wanted to use Viz in the intended interactive manner with AutoCAD, you would
have to install a fourth dongle. That’s four dongles and a printer cable just to run
a couple of programs, unless you prefer to power down the computer and change dongles each
time you run a different program.


And don’t forget the multiple passwords on the CDs and the third password to
sidestep the 30-day expiration. That’s entirely too much security hassle. Autodesk
should take pity on the user and stick to one hardware dongle.


I ought to be grateful that, because Character Studio is just a plug-in, it has no
hardware lock. Although I didn’t receive the necessary authorization code, it’s
possible to get it if you have already registered Studio Max. According to the
documentation, you locate a file in the Studio Max directory and copy it to the Character
Studio directory.


Those who attempt to authorize the software online should be aware that entering the
serial number is only the beginning. Autodesk asks for a great deal of data about computer
make, model and specific configuration.


It isn’t easy to complete the boxes with dummy information to guard your privacy.
There is an option to enter a computer brand or processor not included in the menu, but
when I tried it my application was rejected.


This data may be grist for Autodesk’s marketing plans, but it is far more than the
company needs to know about users who have already paid plenty for its software.  


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.

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