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This page covers the history of 3ds Max, the modeling, animation and rendering package by Autodesk.


Early History of the Yost Group

External Link:'The ANTIC Cyber Graphics Software' by Martin Doudoroff

Short History of 3ds Max

Around the release of Autodesk 3D Studio R2 (DOS) which was the first version to feature the IPAS interface for 3rd party extensions, the Yost Group developers of the application (Gary Yost, Tom Hudson and Dan Silva) started thinking of a next-generation software based on Object-Oriented Programming techniques and running under a Windows OS. After hiring some more developers, the team delivered two more releases of 3D Studio DOS (R3 and R4) while actively developing the project code-named "Jaguar".

3D Studio MAX

was officially announced at Siggraph 1995 and shipped to users in April 1996. At the same time, the Autodesk Multimedia Division was rebranded as Kinetix, a division of Autodesk. Thus the full name of the official product was Kinetix 3D Studio MAX. The product contained about the same feature set as 3D Studio DOS R4 but implemented all tools using a completely new object-oriented, procedural modeling paradigm featuring the Modifier Stack, an easier to use linear version of the Prisms/Houdini procedural pipeline. Some elements like the Material Editor and the animation controller system were largely enhanced compared to the DOS version, and the render subsystem allowed for volumetric effects and 3rd party plug-in renderers (which started appearing shortly after the first release - RayStudio and RayMax being the first two available). Release 1.0 required Windows NT 3.51 and supported the first 3D Labs GLiNT hardware accelerator cards available for the PC via custom Heidi drivers.

There were two point updates - 1.1 and 1.2. The SDK shipped with 1.1. 1.2 was an update to support WinNT 4 which featured the Windows95-style UI.

3D Studio MAX R2

(code name Athena) was officially announced as Siggraph 97 in LA,CA on August 4th 1997 and shipped to customers on September 24th, 1997.

It included over thousand new features and workflow improvements. The most notable additions were

  • Ray-tracing in the Scanline renderer via Raytrace materials and maps developed by Blur Studio's Steven Blackmon and Scott Kirvan (who later split to form Splutterfish and develop another popular renderer - the Brazil r/s).
  • Lens Effects Post Effects licensed from Digimation
  • NURBS modeling tools
  • MAXScript programming language licensed from John Wainwright/Lyric Media
  • OpenGL support

There was one point release - 2.5. It was the first and only non-free point release in the history of 3D Studio and included among other enhancements NURBS additions (support for Trims) and VRML import support.

3D Studio MAX R3

(code name Shiva) was announced at the Game Developers Conference in April 1999 on San Jose, CA and was released to customers on June 15th 1999. It was the last version to be published under the Kinetix logo, although the division was already merged with Discreet Logic but had no Corporate Identity design yet. The core of the program was largely rewritten to allow better integration of MAXScript and the Scanline Renderer was enhanced with support for pluggable Anti-Alias filters and Supersamplers. The User Interface was redesigned to support larger true-color icons on customizable tabbed toolbars where custom MacroScripts could be placed by the user.

Code Name Trivia: Shiva is the Hindu god of destruction, thus the project code name signified what the core of the application went through before being recreated. At the same time the Autodesk VIZ version from the same development cycle was code-named Kenny, for exactly the same reason! During the same time, Gary Yost, the "father of 3ds Max", was working in complete secrecy on bringing mental ray to 3ds Max in a project code-named Ganesh, a name closely associated with Shiva. (The connection for 3D Studio MAX R3 to mental ray stand-alone shipped to customers in May 2000)

The point update to 3.1 is considered by many the most stable version of the software in its history.

Discreet 3dsmax 4

(code named Magma) was initially announced at Siggraph 2000 in New Orleans in an early technology demo. It featured among many other things

  • a new IK system,
  • QuadMenus context menus and a unified ActionItems UI customization system,
  • ActiveShade render preview mode,
  • a redesigned Modifier Stack (Stack View) with support for Drag And Drop,
  • new Editable Poly modeling toolset,
  • DirectX Shader support in viewports,
  • ActiveX support in scripted rollouts,
  • MultiRes mesh optimization based on Intel technology

and more.

There were two point releases to individual customers - 4.1 and 4.2, and a special 4.3 update which was for Educational users (schools, universities) only.

Discreet 3dsmax 5

(code named Luna) was the first release ever to support the plug-in format of the previous version. Plug-ins developed for 3dsmax 4 could be used in 5 without a recompile, while both 2 and 3 required completely new versions. The biggest addition to 3dsmax 5 was the Advanced Lighting sub-system of the Scanline Renderer where two new plug-ins were introduced - a brute-force Global Illumination module called Light Tracer and a Radiosity module based on further research by the developers of Lightscape. (Historical note: Lightscape was acquired by Discreet Logic a couple of years before the Autodesk acquisition.) This also incl. Photometric and Day lights support. Further additions were

  • the inclusion of Reactor (previously a separate plug-in published by Discreet based on the HAVOK dynamics engine);
  • Set Key animation mode;
  • a refactored Track View with Curve Editor and Dope Sheet modes and
  • an enhanced UVW Unwrap editor
  • Render To Texture feature
  • New Named Selection Sets editor
  • New Transform gizmos
  • Character Assembly and Bone Tools
  • Spline IK
  • Gimbal rotation mode
  • Auto-Tangent interpolation
  • Improved Skin Modifier with Weight Table
  • Improved HSDS modifier UI
  • Support for Layers (taken from 3ds VIZ)
  • Ink'n'Paint Material
  • Translucent shader

On the human resources side, it is interesting to note that the product was developed under Chris Ford, previously senior Maya product manager who moved to Discreet when Alias dropped Wavefront. (He is now PRman business director at Pixar). Other related 3D Trivia: Bob Bennett, previously product manager for 3d Studio DOS, was Maya Development Manager for many years until the Alias acquisition by Autodesk - he is now with Luxology.

There were three point updates - 5.1, 5.1SP1 and 5.5 (the latter was the extended version with the Particle Flow extensions).

Discreet 3dsmax 6

once again required recompiled plug-ins (which later would be usable in 7 and 8). The main new features were

  • mental ray as alternative renderer
  • Particle Flow (previously shipped as an Extension to 5 for users on subscription),
  • a refactored Schematic View
  • Shell modifier
  • new Vertex Paint
  • Reactor 2 dynamics
  • network support for Render To Texture

Discreet 3dsmax 7

(code named Catalyst) was an evolutionary update on top of the 3dsmax 6 core. Main new features were:

  • new Editable Poly tools incl. Bridge, Deform and Relax painting, Soft Selections Painting, Preserve UVs option etc.
  • new Edit Poly modifier which was supposed to ship as Extension to 6 but made it into 7.
  • Support for Normal mapping generation and rendering
  • mental ray 3.3, incl. Sub-Surface Scattering and Ambient Occlusion shaders and Render To Texture support
  • Per-Pixel camera mapping
  • Flat shaded view
  • Character Studio 4.3 included in the base package
  • SkinMorph and SkinWrap modifiers
  • TurboSmooth modifier
  • Parameter Collector
  • Refactored Reaction controller (formerly known as Reactor controller)
  • Walk-Thru mode for First Person navigation in the viewports.

Autodesk 3ds Max 8

(code named Vesper) was published in the Fall of 2005 and was the first release in the history of the product not to break the SDK compatibility in a 3rd major update - in other words, plug-ins from 6 and 7 could be used in 8 without the need for a recompile. The Discreet division of Autodesk was moved closer to the Mother Ship and turned into "Autodesk Media and Entertainment Division", AMED or Autodesk ME for short, leading to a full circle in the history of the 3D Studio line which started as Autodesk 3D Studio in 1990. The "M" in "Max" was capitalized again.

Main new features were:

  • Asset Tracking with support for 3rd party solutions and Autodesk Vault shipping with the package.
  • Enhanced XRefs
  • MAXScript Debugger
  • Support for Scene States
  • Hair and Fur (shipped as Extension to 7 earlier that year, based on Joe Alter's Shave & Haircut)
  • Cloth (also available as Extension to 7, based on Size8's ClothFX, formerly known as Stitch)
  • Editable Poly enhancements - Shift Ring and Loop, better Bridge and Edge Connect, Open Chamfers option, clean removal of edges.
  • Enhanced Skin tools incl. Grow and Shrink, Loop and Ring, Weight Tool
  • Enhanced Unwrap UVW with Pelt Mapping support, better Relax options and Render Template tool
  • Sweep modifier and enhanced spline options incl. rectangular cross-sections
  • Brush Presets
  • Real-world map scale
  • Motion Mixer support for non-biped objects

Autodesk 3ds Max 9

(code named Makalu) was the first release to include both 32 bit and 64 bit builds of the software. It shipped to customers in October 2006 and required once again recompiled plug-ins due to the switch to a newer Visual Studio compiler and because the MaxSDK6 was getting old and was in need for an update to fix long-standing bugs.

A 64 bit version of 3ds Max was demoed as early as the year 2000 when Intel was attempting to introduce the Itanium line of CPUs. A "real" 64 bit build of 3ds Max 8 for the x64 architecture developed under a project name "Scopic" was shown to the audience of the Autodesk User Group meeting at Siggraph 2005 and was later merged with the Makalu project to deliver both 32 and 64 bit on the same DVD for 3ds Max 9.

Major new features:

  • Project Path support incl. support for relative paths
  • Proxy Textures Manager
  • .NET support in MAXScript incl. classes, objects and UI controls.
  • ProBoolean and ProCutter (shipped as Extension to 8, based on PowerBooleans 3rd party plug-in), enhanced in this version with MAXScript exposure of ProCutter.
  • HAVOK 3 engine support in addition to the existing 2
  • better mental ray 3.5 integration with support for Physical sky and sun, Arch.&Design shaders and more.
  • Faster screen redraws in Direct3D mode incl. incremental D3D Mesh cache updates, faster spline redraws and more
  • Viewport Stats option for all viewports.
  • New Hidden Line viewport shading mode
  • Support for CG shaders
  • Animation Layers
  • Hair styling in the viewport, support for reflections
  • Updated PointCache incl. interoperability with Maya 8 (which uses the same cache format)
  • Better interoperability via FBX

Autodesk 3ds Max 2008

(code named Gouda) was "demoed" at Siggraph 2007 in San Diego, CA and shipped to customers on October 17th, 2007. It was SDK-compatible with 3ds Max 9, allowing plug-ins for the previous version to once again be used without a recompile. The name change allowed Autodesk to align all its products within a fiscal year - Autodesk Fiscal Year 2008 started in March 2007 - and signify to users which versions are interoperable (for example, 3ds Max 2008 should be able to import/link data from AutoCAD 2008 and Revit 2008). The SDK version number still shows the internal version as 10.

Major new features:

  • Core code optimizations leading to
    • 10+ times faster viewport performance with 10K+ objects
    • Faster selection, material assignment, transformations, parenting, layer assignment operations
  • Adaptive Degradation system updated to perform view dependent object culling (similar to the Object Culling Utility which was a prototype of the system and has been removed)
  • Scene Explorer framework developed as a testbed of running Managed Code and DotNet components inside the 3ds Max application.
  • Review
    • per-pixel lighting and shadow casting from up to 64 lights using Shader Model 3.0;
    • preview of mr Sun and Sky in the viewports
    • preview of Arch&Design mental ray shader in the viewports
  • MAXScript tabbed Editor ("ProEditor") based on the open source Scintilla controls and SciTE editor with features like
    • multiple documents in a single tabbed interface
    • collapsing and expanding of code blocks
    • search and replace supporting Regular Expressions
    • Bookmarks
    • extensive style and color customization controls with support for various languages and per-directory style definitions
    • auto-complete and macro definition features
    • customizable right-click context menu
    • Find In Files options to search for a string in multiple files
    • optional support for version control systems like Perforce or Subversion
  • Inclusion of all Avguard DLX extensions into the MAXScript Core
  • Working Pivot mode for quick object and sub-object transformations about an arbitrary point.
  • Selection Preview mode in Editable Poly
  • Edge Chamfer Segments in Editable Poly
  • Support for a file per frame using Maya's native Point Cache format as an option to share baked deformation animation between 3ds Max and Maya.
  • mental ray 3.6 enhancements including
    • Sky Portal light for transferring outdoor lighting into indoor scenes
    • Photographic Exposure Control
    • Photon Emission from A&D Material
    • mental ray Production Shaders included but unsupported (these are supported in 3ds Max 2009)
  • Various improvements to the Character Studio Biped
  • Keyboard shortcuts override system

Autodesk 3ds Max 2009

This version was announced in February 2008 and released on March 31, 2008. It is the first (and probably last) full release built in shortened development cycle of just half a year. This was done to align the release data of all Autodesk Products and also make it clear that product A will work with product B if both carry the same fiscal year number. While the SDK is unchanged, a compiler change makes the recompilation of plug-ins necessary, but with very little overhead for the 3rd party developers.

Another major change is the introduction of a dedicated version of 3ds Max for the design and visualization market called 3ds Max 2009 Design. The two flavours of 3ds Max 2009 use the same binary and are fully compatible to each other including file format, data and plugins, but have different icons, slpash screens, documentation, tutorials and learning paths to enhance the user experience. There are only two differences between the two versions - the "Design" version does not include the SDK and the "Entertainment" version does not contain a Lighting Exposure Analysis tool developed for architects performing LEED certification.

Major new features are:

  • Unified view navigation controls with most Autodesk products using the ViewCube (alreay in Maya) and Steering Wheel system providing orbiting, first person walk-trough, fly-trough and a viewpoint history features for casual users.
  • Photometric Lights have been reworked and streamlined with
    • more area light shapes,
    • photometric web previews in the file dialog and the viewport,
    • realtime preview in the viewports,
    • Falloff controls for accelerating photometric lights processing.
  • New Iterative rendering workflow with simplified controls in a renderer-specific control area in the Virtual Frame Buffer (fully scriptable) including:
    • Caching of Geometry and GI for fast reshading.
    • Support for rendering pixels of the selected object only.
    • Region rendering with gizmo display in both the viewport and the VFB.
  • Updated Composite Map with support for various transfer modes, masking and color correction per layer.
  • New Color Correction map.
  • A&D material hardware preview in the viewports now supports shadows.
  • Autodesk ProMaterials (shared between various products) for simpler scene setup and data interchange.
  • mental ray Production Shaders are now enabled and supported.
  • mental ray Proxy object with animation support.
  • mental ray provides new auto-balancing BSP2 acceleration method.
  • The Daylight system now supports various weather models including control via weather files.
  • Multi-threaded Hair buffer rendering and viewport redraws. Support for Skylight.
  • Character Studio "Hands As Feet" support for quadrupeds and in place mirror option
  • New direct Soft-Selection manipulation workflow.
  • MAXScript improvements incl. enhanced UI controls and a new binary search method for fast data access in sorted lists.
  • Improved interoperability with Autodesk Revit via FBX and Metadata.
  • New OBJ I/O plugin licensed from Guruware.
  • 3ds Max 2009 Design Only: Lighting Analysis Tools with Light Meters and Light Overlay for measuring light intensity from physically-based sources

Autodesk 3ds Max 2010

Released on April 18, 2009.

Major new features are:

  • Graphite Modeling Tools (formerly PolyBoost) integrated via a Ribbon interface.
  • Introduction of Containers for sharing and publishing content between scenes.
  • XView Geometry Checkers for interactive checking of error conditions in scene objects.
  • Ambient Occlusion and Exposure Controls preview in the viewports.
  • Soft-shadows support in the viewports.
  • MetaData support in the .MAX file allowing for external access to asset information without opening the scene in 3ds Max.
  • Quadify Modifier based on ProBoolean Technology.
  • Cloth Tearing and Inflating.
  • mental ray Global Tuning Parameters
  • mental ray FG and GI cache interpolation
  • New Material Explorer based on the Scene Explorer technology.
  • New OBJ I/O plugin.
  • Flight Studio plugin included.
  • ProOptimizer based on PolyCrunch technology.
  • ProSound with support for up to 100 sound tracks in stereo
  • Particle Flow Advanced based on Orbaz Particle Flow Tools Box #1.

Autodesk 3ds Max 2011

Released on April 8, 2010.

Major new features are:

  • New Slate Material Editor based on NodeJoe technology.
  • New modeling tools including Object Painting.
  • Enhanced Viewport Canvas in-view painting tools using layered PSD files.
  • CAT (Character Animation Tools) included in the package.
  • Support for Local Edits to Containers content.
  • Quicksilver hardware renderer based on DirectX technology with support for hardware and software anti-aliasing, Soft-Shadows, Depth Of Field, Ambient Occlusion, Indirect Illumination, Reflections.
  • Support for 3ds Max materials representation in the viewports.
  • Autodesk Material Library with around 1,200 materials.
  • Support for saving to 3ds Max 2010 file format.
  • FBX File Link of Autodesk Inventor Files.
  • Improved Autodesk Inventor import.
  • Native Solids import based on nPower Software technology.
  • Ribbon Customization.
  • In-view Caddy manipulators.
  • Sliding Command Panel
  • New OpenEXR I/O plugin based on Cebas technology.
  • Autodesk Composite 2011 based on Toxik technology included.

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