Eddie Perberg is the product manager for 3ds Max and he is the third product manager in the last 2 -3 years. Yet Perberg, who comes from a technical background, especially in design visualization, is part of a new commitment to the 3ds Max user community.
The last SIGGRAPH in Anaheim did not go well from a 3ds Max PR perspective. At the Autodesk User Group presentation, due to some late cancellations of speakers and other issues, there was no 3ds Max presence at all. The situation only got worse in the blogs and chat rooms afterwards when user after user and even some historically key founding writers of 3ds Max all pointed to a company that had seemed to turn away from 3ds Max and brought down the shutters.
Now, run the clock forward 6 months and the message coming out of Autodesk is that the commitment to 3ds Max is stronger than ever. To prove this the team is not only hiring, but it has brought back ‘into the tent’ 3ds Max founder Tom Hudson, who originally wrote THUD, the project that became 3ds Max (back at the Yost group).
Tom had long ago left 3ds Max and was in no way connected nor financially linked to the product. He was one of the people posting in forums that when he had sent some great ideas into Autodesk about possible new improvements no one could even be bothered to reply to his email. Today, Tom Hudson is very much welcome at the table to help roadmap the future of the product, Perberg explaining that there would be a full time job for Hudson if he could make himself available, but even if he cannot the company fully expects to work with Hudson and others to build the product and modernize its technology.
“Tom is currently working as part of our development team, as a contractor,” says Perberg, “but as far as I am concerned Tom has a welcome seat as a part of the Autodesk team, and working with 3ds Max from this moment forward. I have talked to Tom a lot about joining the team again and helping us again, he is considering it, but yes Tom has been a great resource for some of the new tools you’ll see in the upcoming releases and like I said I really hope he joins the team in a full time position.”
Autodesk owns, as most readers would know, three key major software applications that all overlap. In addition to Max there is XSI and Maya. Until recently it is perhaps fair to say that Maya was pushed as the entertainment industry choice, and while 3ds Max had some success in the vfx space – see Pixomondo below – you would not know this from Autodesk and their promotion of the product. The question was always from the outset would Autodesk combine the products, Autodesk feels the overall 3D market is broad enough for multiple products. Perberg feels 3ds Max represents a toolset that has always benefited users in a wide range of industries: “Our biggest customers are creative people creating video game assets, our biggest area of customers is the design visualization and animation customers, and our most prominent customers have been those doing visual effects.”
3ds Max has a long history in games and game cinematics and other design areas (3ds Max Design) but users could have been forgiven for thinking that the company saw this as a legacy rather than a future. 3ds Max 2014 has a few new great features. Some such as the ‘perspective match’ which allows for computer aided camera line up are very vfx centric. Others such as the new crowd tool ‘populate’ are relevant to a host of areas from games to architecture to vfx.
But in the past such new introductions sometimes showed promise but then were simply not advanced. “Not so now,” according to Perberg. This very problem of not following through and building and supporting new tools is one of several key areas the new 3ds Max team is working on. “No more is a feature going to be developed and then left alone,” says Perberg, “so if there is more opportunity to grow a feature – like say Perspective Match – that is one of the things we are going to focus on … to continue to grow those things so that they continue to provide more and more functionality, and not just they launch with, ‘Isn’t that cool’, and then they get thrown to the back.”
Another priority is making 3ds Max more friendly to the cloud and remote computing, something 3ds Max has a real blind spot to right now. And a third is the issue of third party renderers. “That is a very interesting conversation we are having in the development team right at the moment,” adds Perberg. “A lot of our customers who buy 3ds Max add a third party renderer. Knowing that – we have been looking at that, and there are a lot of issues on the table, but I can assure you, those are the things I am really looking forward to growing and not being so focused on just one or two and opening that up.”
Perberg has not been in the job long enough, nor has the new team and focus been in place long enough, for any current version of 3ds Max to have benefited from the new push, so it is with some frustration that Perberg has to offer a bit of a ‘wait and watch this space’ on the new features that might be coming. Autodesk, being a publicly traded company, cannot pre-announce features but it seems as an outsider that several key issues face Perberg and the team:
- growing the user base – after years of neglect, they need to make 3ds Max sexy to new users
- solving a distributed computing environment that embraces both cloud and mobile computing
- 3ds Max moving to more than just Windows 64
- increased performance especially with modern GPU platforms
- improved third party rendering support – while Mental Ray is great for some, many users want to work with newer and more physically plausible shaders and renderers
- greater adoption of open standards – in much the same way that Maya is (eg. OpenSubDiv or OpenColorIO)
- menu cleanup and effectiveness
- showing innovations such as Project Bifröst are as relevant to 3ds Max as they are to Maya
- getting the word out about the great work their users are already doing – after all, the 3ds Max community is already enormous, if a bit unloved, from a PR point of view
While Perberg can’t confirm any future plans he did offer this interesting insight on the subject of 3ds Max expanding from just Windows 64. “When it comes to operating systems, I think that that opportunity (to move to other operating systems) is so much broader now as technologies are developing. At Autodesk we are proving that very soon the operating system won’t even be a consideration and the artist will be able to take advantage of whatever operating system – whatever hardware – and still get the most out of 3ds Max and a lot of the other titles at Autodesk.”
3ds Max users seem particularly loyal to the product. “3ds Max is one of the most used software at Autodesk,” says Perberg. “We are at the 80% percentile range of people who use 3ds Max and want to get more out of it. I can’t think of a more testament that people want to grow with the product.”
The return of Tom Hudson has already been very well received by users, but no matter how brilliant the new insights and advances he brings, any development timeline will mean that no hard core new features will appear in the immediate or short term. This exposes Autodesk to a period of having declared the second coming but having nothing to show for it. Expect the vibe to get colder, therefore, before it gets better, no matter how much faith users have, they really want to see results now, not just hear rough plans. Perberg is fully aware of this which makes this coming SIGGRAPH in August a key time for Autodesk and 3ds Max users alike. It will be key for the 3ds Max team to show something serious and fundamental at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver – a no-show would surely cast a gloom almost unrecoverable. But even though SIGGRAPH is months off yet Perberg is very confident about the future.
3ds Max in VFX combined with Powerful GPU performance
3ds Max is being used in VFX and a great example is Pixomondo, which has offices around the globe. This year the company is nominated for an Oscar as part of the team that worked on “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” Enrico Damm managed artists in Los Angeles who were developing 3D images on a massive scale — up to 130 million active polygons and 32GB of textures.
Pixomondo used NVIDIA Quadro K4000 GPUs to accelerate their Autodesk 3ds Max workflow for modeling, animation and rendering, allowing the artists to process assets much faster and work in a higher level of detail. As a result of their pipeline and mix of 3ds Max and Nvidia GPU cards, they could turn on shadows and move light sources around within a scene with real-time feedback.
Importantly, they no longer had to split data-heavy scenes into separate files, which would double the amount of effort and time needed to make edits, and increase shot and compositing complexity. In the end, Pixomondo had the 3d Max accelerated workstations running practically 24/7. When one artist would leave for the day, another could take over on the same system. “We pushed a lot of limits when it came to scene scale,” said Damm. “We were impressed with how the NVIDIA Quadro K4000 impacted 3ds Max viewport performance”.
For more on Into Darkness see our fxguide story.
Pixomondo is just one 3ds Max customer that has been producing outstanding work with the current release of the product, others include the digital environment team at ILM and at the other end of the scale: hosts of smaller one and two man freelance teams working all over the world.
Chaos Group ships V-Ray 3.0 for 3ds Max
In another sign that 3ds Max may continue to rise and find greater usage, the popular renderer V-Ray 3.0 was recently shipped for the software. The Chaos Group said in a release that V-Ray 3.0 includes “significant optimizations to the ray tracing core, Brute Force GI, Progressive Path Tracing, Reflections, Refractions and more are running up to 5x faster; while the new Progressive Production Renderer brings a new era of fast set-ups and quick iterations.”
“When your customers come from a variety of industries like architecture, product design, games, and VFX, the feature requests can be fairly diverse,” said Vlado Koylazov in the release. He is the Lead Developer and Chaos Group co-founder. “But speed and simplicity benefit all artists, so they are at the core of 3.0’s development.”
V-Ray recently found heavy use in ILM films such as Star Trek Into Darkness, Pacific Rim and The Lone Ranger.
You can find all the information and the new V-Ray 3.0 at a specialist site – http://www.v-ray.com – which also includes some nice tutorials.