3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 71: 3D Studio MAX 3 Reviewed
Lesson 71 - 3D Studio MAX 3 Reviewed - Part 13D Studio MAX 3 may already be available by the time you read this, but certainly by early August. I've been writing a book on this program--3D Studio MAX 3: In Depth--to be published in September by Coriolis, and have accordingly spent the past seven months working with a seemingly endless succession of beta versions. So my viewpoint is not that of a reviewer who has been playing with the package for a week or two and reading the manufacturer's hype.
From the very start, I realized that the release of MAX 3 would have a massive impact on the 3D graphics landscape. At the present time, the world of professional-level 3D tools is still divided into two tiers. Softimage and Maya represent the upper tier. Maya has replaced Alias Power Animator in the Alias/Wavefront lineup with great success. Softimage is still struggling to release its next-generation product (codenamed Sumatra), with the currently posted promise being for year-end. Both Maya and Softimage have come down in price from the former standard of around $15,000, but they remain very expensive.
The lower tier of professional 3D is occupied by MAX and Lightwave, in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. The concept of "lower" is a bit funny when you think that Lightwave was used by Digital Domain in the production of Titanic, but the distinction between the tiers is nonetheless valid. Lightwave is in the lower tier because, to a great extent, it wants to be. Lightwave has always sold itself on accessibility, both in terms of price and in ease of operation. It is true, however, that Lightwave has lacked many significant features, most importantly Bezier splines, vertex weighting for bones, and a full-strength texture mapping toolset. The new generation of Lightwave, version 6.0, will be released shortly, and I saw a copy at a recent convention. It's fantastic, and I'll cover it for you when it's released. I also saw the fabulous new Mirai from Nichemen Graphics, which stands a good chance of changing the "Big Four" into a "Big Five."
But however exciting the new Lightwave (and the new Mirai) may be, the arrival of MAX 3 is a more important event, perhaps the most important event in the last three years. MAX has always sought to position itself as a top-tier program at an "affordable" price. It has been extremely successful (and probably dominant) in the games industry, but has not yet really broken into Hollywood. And a lot of people, especially those with experience in other applications, just don't like MAX. The program is unbelievably and unnecessarily complex. It's extraordinarily difficult to learn, and feels much more like a technical than an artistic environment. Yet MAX has always been the program to watch. Autodesk is a huge company with a powerful commitment to establishing a leading position in 3D graphics and animation. None of its competitors in the 3D world can pretend to compete with its marketing muscle. In today's economic world, a company with the big bucks and the staying power can win the race, like it or not.
The situation reminds me a lot of Japanese industry in the past generation. The Japanese didn't invent the television or the automobile, but they did figure out how to mass-produce an extremely reliable and attractive product at lower cost. MAX tends be least attractive where it has been innovative. Many ideas unique to MAXÂ e.g. the modifier stack and quaternion rotationsÂhave never been embraced by any of its competitors, and with good reason. But with MAX 3, the program has reached out and assimilated the ideas that have worked well for the competition. One may complain, as Apple fans have done about Windows, that a much larger company has simply copied the work of the true innovators, but the bottom line is price. If MAX 3 offers most (or nearly all) of the most popular features of competing packages at a lower price, they will get the business in the long run.
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Created: July 19, 1999
Revised: July 19, 1999