Autodesk's 3ds Max 2012 in Review

July 24, 2011 3:28 pm

Tags: 3D, 3ds Max, Autodesk

Product Review: Autodesk's 3ds Max 2012

There is a reason Autodesk is the most successful producer of 3D software in the world. Just look at their recent Entertainment Creation Suites 2012 release. It includes 3ds Max 2012 (or Maya 2012), Mudbox 2012, Softimage 2012 and MotionBuilder 2012, all updated with one-click interaction between programs. Basically, you have a complete 3D studio in a box. And, with major improvements across the board for all four applications, there isn't another comparable package available. This is as good as it gets in a 3D suite. The Entertainment Creation Suite 2012 gives the artist tools to create anything he or she can imagine. It's that simple.

I'll be covering the exciting new version of 3ds Max 2012 in this review, but my colleagues here at have reviewed some of the other programs in the Creative Suite 2012. Kurt Foster (modulok) gives an in-depth look at Autodesk's new version of MotionBuilder 2012 and Sergio Rosa (nemirc) provided reviews of both Mudbox 2012 and Maya 2012. All three programs have major upgrades and are very well regarded by our writers.


3ds Max 2012

I had reviewed 3ds Max 2011 with great enthusiasm last year. The program surprised me as it wasn't nearly as difficult to use: the program was intuitive and I found the support/learning aspects to be some of the best I had encountered. So, I came to 3ds Max 2012 with great enthusiasm. I was not disappointed.

The most compelling new feature of 3ds Max 2012 is the rocket-fast Nitrous Viewport. Autodesk has tweaked the Nitrous drivers to work with the newest accelerated GPU technology and multi-threaded processors, enabling the viewport to display unlimited lights, soft shadows, ambient occlusion and transparency in ways that were never possible in previous versions of the program. Also included is the ability to render in several non-realistic modes, like colored pencil, ink, pastel and more. These rendering modes are also available in the Quicksilver renderer as presets. The results are excellent, too.


Another outstanding addition is the iray renderer. Created by Mental Images, the same company that created the mental ray renderer, the iray renderer takes a lot of the guessing out of the rendering process. If you've used mental ray, it can be very hard to configure with a lot of trial and error used to find the right effect. The new iray renderer is much simpler. You simply tell the renderer how long you want it to render and it figures everything out for you. Iray simply refines the image given the time you have allotted. You can set it to unlimited and stop the render when you are satisfied. The results are beautiful and fast. One small downside at present is that iray can only use materials from the Arch & Design and Autodesk Material libraries.

MassFX Toolbar

3ds Max 2012 also contains the first module of the MassFX rigid-body simulations: mRigids rigid body dynamics. Replacing the old reactor physics system, mRigids uses the multi-threaded PhysX engine from NVIDIA. Now it is much easier to create a number of dynamic rigid-body simulations directly in the 3ds Max 2012 viewport. The mRigids module supports static, dynamic and kinematic rigid bodies and feature rigid, slide, hinge, twist, universal, ball & socket and gear constraints.

Other important updates/upgrades to the new 3ds Max 2012 include:

  • Enhanced UVW wrapping with the Least Squares Conformal Mapping (LSCM) method.
  • Single-step Suites interoperability: One-click transfer between all applications in the Entertainment Creation Suites 2012.
  • Substance Procedural Textures: 80 new textures for game/web models.
  • Sculpting and Painting enhancements: new Conform brush, new Transform brushes and more
  • Pro Optimizer improvements: allows for much better/faster optimization of models.
  • Darker color scheme
Single-click export in Creation Suite 2012

I'd also like to add that Autodesk 3ds Max 2012 help files are now in the html format at the Autodesk site and updated every day. The help/support of Autodesk is one of the main reasons I like the program so much. Although I wish there was a separate printed manual, being able to download the html help files and search through/print is a great alternative. Of course, the Area is one of the best support sites of any 3D programs I have used. They also post to Twitter and Facebook pretty much daily. Outstanding support for 3ds Max 2012 and the entire Creative Suites 2012.

Final Thoughts

3ds Max 2012 and the entire Entertainment Creation Suites impressed me from the start. Autodesk is the first company to send their entire software installation package on a custom USB stick. Not only was it easier (and faster) to install, it makes so much more sense. I fully expect other 3D software companies to follow suit very soon.


The new Nitrous Viewport alone is enough reason to upgrade. Throw in the iray renderer, better rigidbody dynamics, multiple small improvements (for a full list, check this link), and it's clear that this is an important and vital upgrade of 3ds Max. At the Autodesk luncheon during last year's SIGGRAPH conference, Autodesk gave a passionate and emphatic presentation, saying essentially, "We are back and we are serious about making 3ds Max the best 3D program out there."

After working with 3ds Max 2012 for a month now, I'm convinced that Autodesk means what it says. I expect even more improvements to the application as Autodesk continues it's XBR (Excalibur) plan to "revitalize the software at its core."

Substance Procedural Textures in action


3ds Max 2012 is available as a standalone product for $3,495 (upgrade from 2010 or 2011 is $1,745), and as part of the Entertainment Suites. Pricing for the Standard and Premium suites can be found at the Autodesk website. You can also download a free 30-day trial of 3ds Max 2012 here.

Full hardware requirements for 3ds Max 2012 are here. There is outstanding support for 3ds Max all over the web. You might start with Autodesk's The Area and, of course, Renderosity's own 3ds Max Forum, moderated by wheatpenny.

My thanks to Autodesk for providing software for testing/review and to Katie Adams at RAZ PR.


Be sure to check out the following:

Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.

July 25, 2011

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