3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 24: 3D Studio MAX
Lesson 24 - 3D Studio MAX - Part 1
Before we go on with our comparison of Lightwave and 3D Studio MAX, I'd like to, once again, acknowledge the sage advice of Gary Goodman on a point so obvious that I was remiss not to note it before.
We have been essentially ignoring the price differences between these two packages, realizing that although Lightwave is less expensive at under $2,000, the price of both professional packages is still far less than Softimage. This requires a little clarification. Both Lightwave and MAX are heavily plug-in oriented. The basic architecture of both packages is designed so that new functionality can be easily added and integrated in a seamless way. This is advantageous in that it permits (indeed, invites) third-party developers to create new functionality (just like Photoshop plug-ins) and because it permits the original developers (Newtek and Kinetix) to make changes and add improvements in a convenient way. When using Lightwave, the new user cannot help but be struck by how many seemingly standard features are implemented as "plug-ins" to the underlying architecture. At a minimum, this approach allows new features to be added without having to redesign the interface (menus, tool bar, etc.). MAX takes the plug-in architecture concept to its extreme conceptual limits, such that, from a programmer's point-of-view, almost every feature of the program is a "plug-in."
If a plug-in comes with the standard package as part of the basic purchase price, it hardly matters to the user whether it is called a plug-in or not. But if it must be purchased separately, that's something else. There are some significant tools that do not come with the standard Lightwave package, but which can be purchased as plug-in, that are essentially included in the standard MAX package. A full-strength particle generator (for flames, rain, and many common effects) is standard in MAX, but requires a $250 plug-in for Lightwave. Animation of shader parameters (such as color and mapping patterns) is very powerful in the standard MAX, but weak in Lightwave without a $100 plug-in. There are some other similar examples.
But, in the end, the problem is more serious in the other direction. Using a skeletal-like structure to deform, and therefore animate, the model of a human or animal figure is the central methodology of character animation. Both Lightwave and MAX provide this "bones" technology as part of the standard package. With Lightwave, the tool is complete. The bones can be installed in a model and used to deform and animate it. But, although MAX provides bones in the main package, they cannot be used to deform a mesh without the Physique element of the Character Studio plug-in from Kinetix. Character Studio adds a healthy kick to the price of MAX. Character Studio is an excellent product that contains additional, and very powerful, character animation tools. But the use of bones to animate characters is so basic that, for most users, Character Studio is an essential, rather than optional, feature.
Let's continue with the theme begun last week: As a general proposition, Lightwave is simpler, with less explicit power, and MAX is much more complex, but providing an extraordinarily rich toolset. A consequence is that Lightwave is easier to learn, especially for the beginner in 3D graphics generally, but that a good deal of experienced guidance is necessary to initiate the newcomer into the strengths of seemingly simple tools. We also noted that MAX incorporates very sophisticated logical concepts that must be mastered in order to feel comfortable with the program.
Take the last point first. We already have discussed the basic notion of the "modifier stack," the idea most unique to MAX, as a kind of ultimate undo tool. This is not a fair characterization of the breadth and power of this concept. It is hardly a matter of just making edits or corrections to prior work. Rather, it is huge overarching concept that sees the modeling process from "above", as it were--as a sequence of actions or modifications. A concrete example will help.
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Created: October 7, 1997
Revised: October 7, 1997