Where is Autodesk headed with 3ds Max?

loocas | 3ds Max,opinions | Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Autodesk 3ds Max 2008 banner

The “new” version of 3ds Max, renamed to a fancy “3ds Max 2008”, has been out for a few months now and one can’t resist to ask one self a question: “where the hell is Autodesk aiming at with 3ds Max?”
I don’t know, but let’s take a look at the features that might at least suggest the way Autodesk might target the market with 3ds Max:

  1. The, I need to say great, new MAXScript Pro Editor
  2. Some modeling enhancements
  3. New Scene Explorer lists
  4. Very nice “WYSIWYG” viewport systems
  5. Couple more additions and features, but mainly some bug fixes and polishing

All these are great and very much welcomed additions to 3ds Max, however, something “feels” wrong about all this.

Autodesk has been known for its sharp marketing decisions and strategies that aren’t walways praised by the userbase and some of these practices are, kinda, almost obvious in the recent software updates from the Media&Entertainment division. While Maya get some nifty features that rather suggest a positive move towards the high-end film and TV industries, Max rather packs its arsenal towards the arch&viz and games industries. While games are, at least the AAA next-gen recent and upcoming titles, being done in various software packages, including Max and Maya, the segmentation towards film, TV and arch&viz is a bit more different. Max has always been considered the prime tool for arch&viz industry, plus games needless to say, while Maya has always been considered the high-end film and TV animation package. In my opinion and experience, both of the packages are equally good at one or another discipline, including many other segments I didn’t even mention. So, why bothering taking a think over Max’s future industry place? Well, I haven’t spent years working on my skills to a point I dare to say I master 3ds Max just to find out one day that all I’m good for is “rendering out boxes of the upcoming neighborhood” for some arch&viz company. Don’t get me wrong, I admire some of the arch&viz companies’ work that has been done and shown, but it’s definitely not my kettle of fish when it comes to what I want to do in this fantastic CG industry. My aim is simple, yet quite difficult: to become as best at what I do as possible and be as much competitive in the field of computer animation and visual effects in the field of high-end film and TV productions. Well, even though the next-gen game titles look kick-ass nowdays, so I guess, trying that one out might be fun as hell as well. But definitely, the arch&viz field isn’t where I’m headed! So there’s the concern about the tools I use every day to produce the best CG stuff I can on the most fun projects I get my dirty hands on!

So, back on topic, where’s Max going to? Is it more viz type oriented software, or games oriented, or someplace in between? Certainly, the toolset Max’s armed with, can handle all sorts of projects and if you run out of ammo, feature-wise, there’s always the uber-huge user-base that provides both free and commercial plugins and tools to boost up Max’s performance. Max’s been seen in all fields in the past, it’s only been the recent years I noticed the slight shift and software segmentation, I guess mainly due to Autodesk acquiring Alias’s Maya, which leads to a conclusion, while assuming Autodesk wants to keep both of the packages, at least for a while (milking the cow while it’s still juicy), that Autodesk doesn’t want to compete with itself on the same playground, so, why having two, quite differently based, 3D DCC packages competing each other in the same field, when they can have both of them, but differentiate them enough so that they fill gaps in different fields. This theory of mine can be backed up with certain, not-so-obvious, hints from the real production evironment you may find yourself in. For example, while Maya got updated its scripting and programming capabilities to a, presently, standardized Python, Max still sticks with its, good, but proprietary, MAXScript. While Maya, recently, got the fantastic cMuscle Plugin (for the subscribers), Max, so far, nothing. There are even other Autodesk products that actually favour Maya over Max, at least in their current versions, like Toxik, that can be setup to read Maya’s rendered layers and composites, while it kinda ignores Max. Toxik is a desktop based compositing system (Toxik 2008 that is) that’s primarily aimed at mid-end to high-end visual effects market, at least for its price and feature set. Also, there’s the thing with two, differently designed, yet similar DCC packages that doesn’t make much sense from a capitalistic point of view to keep competing with one another.

Well, no matter what the future brings, the following next releases will further, either confirm, or completely disregard my concerns, however, it never hurts broadening your skills and knowledge by learning more, different, packages to strengthen your competitivness and, of course, rate ratio ;) The best bet would be to learn, but by learn I mean thoroughly unerstand, different fields of the individual packages where they shine the best, like animating in Motion Builder, modeling in, let’s say, modo, particles and rendering in Max and character/props setup in Maya (this was only an example of a “dream” pipeline). There’s only one problem though, and that is the pipeline integration and interoperability of the individual software packages, which is still, in 2008, a big issue even in the mid/big-sized studios all around the world.

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