The biggest thing to happen to 3ds Max in this version—which is what makes it 9 and not 8.5—is that it’s gone 64-bit. When you install it on Windows XP x64 Edition, it is capable of using up to 8 GB of RAM for its purposes, which means that you can work on more complex and resource-intensive scenes than ever before. Apart from this, plus a couple of new features, this release is all about improvements and enhancements.
In keeping with the find-good-plugin-and-buy-it trend, Autodesk has integrated the ProBoolean tool in Max, to overcome the shortcomings of its own Boolean tool. Messing with Booleans isn’t a good idea otherwise—the resultant mesh can too often end up with bad triangles and can be a nightmare to work with. Pro Booleans, however, are cleaner, and offer a lot more options, including the ease with which more objects can be added to the Boolean.
Taking a lesson from Maya’s Trax editor, 3ds Max can now break animations into independent layers, bringing some sanity to complex animation. Using it is fairly easy—it’s similar to the functionality that’s already existed for Character Studio—if you’re comfortable with that, there’s practically no learning curve.
Another noteworthy addition is the new shaders for Mental Ray—the CarPaint shader, which creates realistic paint for your car models (in case you didn’t guess), and the Arch shader, which simulates rounded edges on objects (notice that none of the edges around you in reality are perfectly sharp), so you don’t have to fiddle with chamfering any more.
The first noticeable improvement in Max is its ability to handle more polygon-heavy scenes without choking. Apart from that, some older features have been polished as well.
Working with Cloth is much easier now—tailoring clothes is much easier and more streamlined, and doesn’t require you to keep editing the original surfaces to get right. The Cloth simulator calculates collisions much better, and the new Cling parameter lets you make them “sticky”, much like wet clothes.
The Hair and Fur plugin, which demonstrated some instability in version 8, has been tweaked, and didn’t crash the whole time we used it. It has also done away with the separate interface—which was, honestly, rather clunky—and now you can comb and style hair right in the viewport you’re working in.
Other tweaks—including the optimisations to the FBX file format which enables Max and Maya to work together better—are relatively minor, and were expected anyway.
Using 3ds Max 9, it’s hard to tell that it’s a new version—there’s nothing that comes off as special, at least on the surface. The improvements are there, no doubt, but the biggest thing that justifies this release is that it’s available in a 64-bit version. If you’re using Windows XP x64, and have more than 2 GB of RAM, you’ll see the difference.
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