Review: Autodesk 3ds Max 2009 | WebReference

Review: Autodesk 3ds Max 2009

By Nathan Segal


This new version of 3ds Max offers a wide range of updates to a popular application. In this article, we take a look at several of these updates.

One of the first things to note is this application comes in two flavors, 3ds Max or 3ds Max Design. The difference is this: If your productivity is largely in the entertainment industry and you need the SDK (Software Development Kit), 3ds Max 2009 is the program for you. On the other hand, if you work in architecture, civil engineering or manufacturing, 3ds Max Design is the better choice. The major differences between the two programs is that 3ds Max Design has all the features of 3dsMax except for the new Exposure lighting analysis tool. In contrast, 3ds Max Design doesn't contain the SDK.

New Features: ViewCube and Steering Wheels

One of the things immediately noticeable in this interface is the ViewCube, which appears in a corner of the viewports when you start the application. When it's inactive, it's semi-opaque, but once you get close with your cursor, it solidifies in appearance. It gives you some quick options for navigating around your scene. To elaborate, clicking on the faces of the cube (such as Front or Back), will take you to a new view. Clicking on the curved arrows will rotate the view. Another option is to click and drag on the cube to set a custom view. The ViewCube offers a way to quickly orient you in your scene, though it can be confusing intitially. Once you get used it, it can be a handy tool.

(See Figure 1)

Steering Wheels are another option for navigating your viewports. To activate them, press Shift + W or close them by right-clicking in the viewport. The Steering Wheels come in a variety of forms, such as Full Navigation Wheel, Mini View Object Wheel, etc. They are constrained to your cursor and allow you to pan, zoom, and orbit around your scene. While useful, the movements were often quite fast and several times I got disoriented in my scene.

(See Figure 2)

One aspect that I did like was the Rewind option, which would allow me to go back and forth through the scene history.

(See Figure 3)

A few quick options exist that allow you to view your scene differently. To elaborate, press F3 to see your scene in wireframe mode. To see your model with wireframe edges over the shaded model, press F4.

Right-clicking in the scene opens the quad menu with different options that pertain to the scene.

(See Figure 4)

The User Interface

The interface has been redesigned, with controls being more centralized, depending on the functions. As an example, the user view has been renamed, "Orthographic," and the Rendering icons have been changed, as well as the workflow. These changes have been based on usability studies.

One of the new features is the InfoCenter (used in other Autodesk products), which offers a new way to access Help files and obtain important information.

(See Figure 5)

This loads by default, but in my exploration of the interface, it disappeared and I was unable to find it. After exploring the help menu, I reactivated it by right-clicking on an unused section of the interface (the Selection filter). This brought up the menu you see below. Here, I was able to reactivate the InfoCenter dialog box, which appeared on my screen at the top left of the interface.

(See Figure 6)

To use the InfoCenter, type in a keyword, then click on the InfoCenter icon to the immediate right. This brings up a list of subjects associated with the keyword. Among its many options, you can configure what type of data you want to receive. To do so, click on the triangle drop-down icon to the right of the magnifying glass. This brings up a popup menu. Choose Search Settings at the bottom and this brings up the InfoCenter Settings dialog box.

(See Figure 7)