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KellyM

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  1. Autodesk Maya 2016 is now out and available. Although I'm not too happy about the main interface changes, other changes like the overhauled Hypergraph interface are welcomed and long overdue. Improvements in the Modeling toolkit and more effects in Bifrost are good to see and the new Profiler tool makes me wonder how I lived without it all these years. Integrating the Mudbox Sculpting tools into Maya is a great improvement and other small improvements like the Delta Mush deformer are huge time savers. Interface Changes Maya 2016 has gone over to the dark side. The main background interface color is now a dark gray. There have been studies that most CG users work in low-light environments and that darker colors cause less eye strain when burning the midnight oil. I personally feel it is more of a user preference and I like the lighter colors. The good news is that you can easily switch color schemes if you want. There have been lots of subtle changes to the Maya interface in this release and I found myself hunting for commands at times. There is a helpful Find Menu option in the Help menu that will help you locate any commands you can't find. The most annoying change was that the menu set hotkeys changed, but you can switch them back if you want. The Shelf interface also changed quite a bit with the Curves shelf rolled into the Surfaces shelf and the new Rigging, Sculpting and FX shelves. Several other shelves including PaintEffects, Toon, Muscle, Hair and Fur are hidden by default. All the Shelf icons have also changed. This change made it easier to scale the interface for different displays and resolutions including support for touch screens, but as an experience user, I find it frustrating to have to learn the new icons. These icons are also used in the main menus and in the marking menus. To help in learning the new icons, the development team has color coded them based on function, so all the polygon oriented commands are orange and the surface and curve commands are blue. The Hotkey Editor also changed, but this is a great change. It includes a keyboard visual and shows automatically which keys are used when the Shift, Ctrl, Alt or Command key are pressed. This lets you quickly see which hotkeys are still available to be assigned. There is also a search command for finding specific commands. Another nice new addition is that the Text tool can now use all OpenType, TrueType and Postscript fonts that are available on the system. Improving Animation Playback Within the Animation section of the Preferences dialog box are two new evaluation modes that you can enable. The Parallel evaluation mode increases overall animation playback by using all the cores in parallel. The Serial evaluation mode uses only a single core for playback. There is also a GPU Override option lets you take advantage of any GPU processors on your installed graphics card. You can also display any evaluation data in the heads-up display and there is also a new Profile tool, shown in Figure 1, lets you see a graph how much time each process takes to display the scene. Using this tool, you can quickly identify those objects in the scene that take too long to render compared to the other scene elements. For game developers, this provides a quick and easy way to compare all the elements in a scene. Figure 1: The Profiler tool shows in a graph how much time each animation process takes. Image courtesy of Autodesk. Using the New Sculpting Toolset Maya 2016 includes a full set of sculpting tools taken from Autodesk's own Mudbox package. Selecting the new Sculpting Shelf opens an array of different sculpting tools. The Visor also includes several sculpting presets that you can practice on, like the T-Rex in Figure 2. The Sculpting Shelf includes tools for Sculpt, Smooth, Relax, Grab, Pinch, Flatten, Foamy, Spray, Repeat, etc. Each tool has its own settings that you can access in the Tools Settings dialog box. There is also a symmetry setting for mirroring any changes to the opposite side of the model simultaneously. For more control over the sculpting tools, you can use a graphics tablet. To prevent unwanted changes, you can select a region of vertices and freeze them. The Sculpting tools are also integrated with the Blend Shape Editor, allowing you to create animated morphs of objects. Figure 2: The Sculpting toolkit includes a variety of different sculpting tools that are used directly within the viewport. Overhauled Hypershade Maya's Hypershade interface for creating shaders has been completely redesigned. You can access the new Hypershade interface using a button on the Status Line. The new interface includes a node editing interface that you can use to attach node inputs and outputs. Also, each node only displays by default the most commonly used attributes to help keep the panel small and simple or you can open the full Attribute Editor to see all the properties. The new interface, shown in Figure 3, also lets you dock several panels anywhere you choose and you can open several different shader trees within their own tab to work on several shaders at once. Figure 3: The Hypershade interface has been completely overhauled for Maya 2016. Image courtesy of Autodesk. There is also a new Soloing feature that you can use to isolate the display of any single node independent of the others. The new Material Viewer panel lets you see the render results of any shader including bump maps and textures in real-time. You can also select from several different preview objects include spheres, planes, cloth and teapot and also from several unique interior and exterior HDR environments. Bifrost Improvements Maya 2016 has added some new features to the Bifrost simulation engine including the ability to simulate fire, smoke, cloud and fog effects. This new set of effects is called Bifrost Aero. Foam effects, like those shown in Figure 4, have also been added to the water simulation tools including bubbles and spray effects. The foam particles can be set to appear based on the distance from the camera so that those areas close to the camera are rendered at the highest resolution. Figure 4: Foam and water spray effects have been added to the Bifrost simulation engine. Image courtesy of Autodesk Bifrost now includes new attributes for defining Surface Tension and Viscosity, so you can now create a simulation where the oceans are filled with honey or molasses. XGen Shading XGen has been updated with several new nodes including a node that lets you change the color of XGen hair. New nodes can use a texture to color the hair or a ramp to change the hair color from root to tip. There are now also a new set of XGen hair presets and instanced geometries that you can choose from. You can also save existing setups as presets to be used later. Color Management Maya 2016 has a new Color Management system based on Autodesk Color Management. This technology is included in multiple Autodesk products providing a consistent look across their products. You can also define a set of rules for all imported images that are used in the rendering pipeline. Game Exporter Maya 2016 includes an improved Game Exporter dialog box for exporting models and animation clips. You can select to export all objects in a single FBX file or to export each object as a separate FBX file. You can also save out FBX setting presets to insure that all exported elements use the same settings. The File menu also includes options to Send to Unity and to Send to Unreal built-in. Delta Mush Deformer Getting a skin mesh to work with a rig can be a real challenge, but Maya 2016 has a new deformer that helps automatically correct many of the common problems that happen when animating a rig. The new Delta Mush deformer is used to smooth out the motion of an animated skin. The default application of this deformer does a great job in fixing skin problems where the skin weights are out of line. Other Improvements Maya 2016 also includes a large number of small improvements scattered across the existing features. The UV Editor now includes several brushes for working with UVs including Unfold, Optimize, Cut, Sew and Pin tools. You can also select and work with edge loops and rings in the UV Editor. The Multi-Cut tool has been updated allowing better snapping and the ability to make 90-degree cuts. There is also a new pivot editing workflow that makes it easier to align objects and to snap pivots to specific locations. If you hold down the Ctrl key while moving a component with the Move tool, the component moves along its normal. This is a nice new feature and a real time-saver. For polygons, the Hard Edge display mode lets you see any edges marked as hard edges without all the wireframe edges. When animated objects move about the scene, you can now set their Motion Trails to fade after a given number of frames. You can also use the new Anchor Transforms option to see the motion of a single object relative to the other objects. Summary Although I get really nervous anytime a software team messes with the user interface, there aren't any changes here that can't be undone and with time the new interface will become familiar. For the Hypershade interface, however, I'm thrilled to see the new changes. The old Hypershade was clunky and difficult to use, but the new one makes sense and lets me see the changes as they are made. The new Sculpting interface is also refreshing and I love to see the new Bifrost and XGen features. It is also nice to see support for game engines built into the package. Finally, the Profile tool is a great new enhancement giving users the ability to see where potential problems are in their animations. This also works great in preparing animations for a game engine. Maya 2016 is available for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh OS X. For more information on any of these products, visit the Autodesk web site located at www.autodesk.com. A free trial version is also available at www.autodesk.com/freetrials.
  2. Once again, the latest release of 3ds Max includes a bevy of new features. Some of these features are major and present full-blown interfaces like the new Max Creation Graph and others are minor, but still impressive, that will make us wonder how we ever lived without them like the Physical Camera, the Camera Sequencer and support for Templates. Collectively, all the new changes make for the best version of 3ds Max yet. Max Creation Graph One of the greatest aspects of 3ds Max is its scripting interface, MaxScript. This powerful set of tools enables you to extend the functionality of the software any multiple ways. If a feature doesn't work the way you'd like, you can tweak it to fit your needs. The only problem with MaxScript is that you need to be familiar with programming constructs to take advantage of it. This equates to an automatic dismissal to most users. To make MaxScript more accessible and user friendly, the wizards at Autodesk have created a new way to build custom tools. This new feature is called Max Creation Graph or MCG for short. Max Creation Graph is essentially a visual interface for creating MaxScript code. It works by wiring together several different nodes in a manner similar to the Slate Material Editor. Using these nodes, you can create procedural content, modifiers, and unique tools. If you've worked hard on a unique graph, then you can save it as a compound that can be easily reused to build even more complex functionality. Figure 1 shows a simple Max Creation Graph (MCG) used to create a new modifier that implodes the current object. Max Creation Graph tools are easy to share also. Before building your own, you can look online for some interesting graphs to get you started. Some of the more interesting graphs available online let you instantly create a building. It also includes parameters that let you edit the size, shape and style of the new building along with full control over the applied texture map. If you're not sure where to start, check out Christopher Diggins's Blog (he was the developer behind MCG): http://area.autodesk.com/blogs/chris and one of the MCG Facebook groups that's been created by users: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1611269852441897/ Figure 1: Max Computer Graph (MCG) enable you to extend the functionality of 3ds Max using a visual node-based interface. Image courtesy of Autodesk Camera Sequencer In previous versions of 3ds Max, you could create a multi-camera animation using the Video Post interface, but this method was clunky and required a lot of steps. You could also render out each little piece and combine them in another external video editing package, another solution which was also clunky. Rather than add a whole new video editing toolset within 3ds Max, the developers built a Camera Sequencer that lets you choose which camera is used during which frames. It is a simple solution that fits easily within the timeline without all the overhead. The new Camera Sequencer lets you cut between cameras, trim and reorder shot sequences by simply dragging within a modified timeline built into the State Sets interface. All these actions are done without changing the overall animation in any way. Open SubDiv Support 3ds Max 2016 includes support for the OpenSubDiv modeling construct. This format can take advantage of parallel CPU and advanced GPU architectures for faster viewport display. Within 3ds Max 2016, you can also define hard edges using the new Crease and CreaseSet modifiers. Figure 2: Support for the OpenSubDiv format takes advantage of advanced GPU systems for faster viewing. Cloud Rendering 3ds Max 2016 includes the ability to render using the Autodesk 360 cloud servers. Each render costs a number of credits, but it is a huge time-saver at certain times. The Cloud rendering option is included within the Render Scene dialog box. New Physical Camera The traditional cameras in 3ds Max were great, but they weren't based on any real-world settings, so trying to duplicate an animation created for pre-visualization was a task in trial and error. With the new Physical Camera feature, cameras now include settings for Shutter Speed, Aperture, Depth of Field and Exposure making it easy to match real-world cameras to the virtual ones. iray and mental ray Improvements 3ds Max 2016 includes the latest versions of iray and mental ray. New to iray are Light Path Expressions. These let you isolate specific lights and/or geometry objects based on layers and change their settings during post production. iray also includes a Section Plane option for looking inside a designated section. There is also a new Irradiance render element. New to mental ray 3.13 is the Light Importance Sampling feature, which lets you specify which areas are rendered in higher detail. There is also a new Ambient Occlusion render element. Better Skin with the Dual Quaternion Option For character animation, the addition of the Dual Quaternion option in the Skin modifier lets you eliminate unrealistic effects caused by twisting adjacent bones that makes the underlying skin collapse. With the Dual Quaternion options, you can paint skin weights to control the amount of influence the bones have over the surface. By targeting the areas where collapsing takes place with this skin weighting option, you can eliminate major collapse problems. Support for Stingray I don't know if you saw the press releases this summer for Stingray, but Autodesk officially now owns its own game engine and 3ds Max has been upgraded with features that make it easy to move your 3d assets directly to this game engine. Using a feature called a Live Link, you can sync objects created in 3ds Max with the Stingray game engine to see the changes immediately. To learn more about the Stingray game engine, visit the site at www.autodesk.com/stingrayengine. Also, the ShaderFX interface has been upgraded to allow you to create shaders for the Stingray game engine. Templates Several new templates appear in the Welcome screen (Figure 3) that first greets new users. The default templates are for creating an Architectural Outdoor scene using real-world lighting, an Outdoor HDRI Courtyard template with image-based lighting, a Studio Scene template for indoor lighting configurations and even an Underwater template. These templates automatically adjust the environment settings including system units, rendering and lighting settings needed for each of the various conditions and provide a quick jumpstart for excellent results. Figure 3: Start-Up Templates let you get a jump-start on the creation of your scene with lighting setting pre-configured. There is also a Template Manager that you can use to create new templates and to edit existing templates. Once defined, templates can be quickly shared across an organization saving valuable time and insuring consistent settings for multiple projects and users. Selection Highlighting Especially for new users or for those working with a complex scene, finding the exact object that you want to work with can be tricky. To solve this dilemma, 3ds Max 2016 includes a new Selection Highlight feature. This option highlights the selected object with a blue outline and any other object that can be selected is highlighted in yellow as the mouse cursor moves over them, as shown in Figure 4. This feature makes it easy to be sure that you are selecting the correct object. This option can also be disabled if it gets annoying. Figure 4: Selection Highlighting makes it easy to locate and select the exact object you need. Other Improvements 3ds Max 2016 includes support for touch panels such as the Wacom Intuos 5 and the Cintiq 24HD Touch, including the ability to navigate a scene using finger gestures. Zooming a scene is accomplished by pressing with a finger and thumb and then separating them to zoom out or bringing them closer together to zoom in. Panning the scene is accomplished by swiping with two fingers. Tumbling the scene is accomplished with a single finger swipe and tapping with two fingers returns to the home view. Another new improvement to the Chamfer modifier lets you apply all chamfers as quad-only results. You can also control the tension of the applied chamfer and apply a different material to the chamfered results. The Alembic format is supported in 3ds Max 2016. This lets you bake animated data into a small, easily transported format for sharing with others or for improved playback. Using the Autodesk Translation Framework (ATF) import and export settings, you can now have a way to share data with SolidWorks CAD data models. Finally, the Text spline primitive can now use OpenType fonts for creating letters in a scene. Summary With the large variety of new features, there are plenty to explore. I personally love the new Max Creation Graph interface for not only creating my own new tools, but to download and check out the amazing work of others. New tools are sprouting up to easily accomplish all sorts of new features. Other new favorites are the Camera Sequencer and the Live Link with the Stingray game engine. If you get a chance to use the new Stingray engine, this feature is awesome and saves tons of time in checking out assets. I'm also happy to see the new Alembic and OpenSubDiv formats supported. These make is so much easier to work between 3ds Max and Maya and the ATF makes it possible to interface with SolidWorks finally. 3ds Max 2016 is available as a stand-alone product. 3ds Max 2016 is also available as part of the Entertainment Creation Suite, bundled with Autodesk Maya, Mudbox, MotionBuilder, Softimage, and Sketchbook Designer. 3ds Max 2016 is also available as a subscription for a nominal fee. The subscription model offers free upgrades as extensions become available. For more information on 3ds Max 2016, visit the Max product pages on Autodesk's web site at http://usa.autodesk.com. A free trial version of 3ds Max is also available at www.autodesk.com/3dsmaxtrial.
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