3ds Max 2021 Adds PBR and Texture Workflows, Python 3 Integration
PBR material - metallic roughness
Autodesk 3ds Max 2021 has a fully scriptable texture baking workflow and is simpler to install. Viewport configuration and rendering are improved, in particular to support PBR rendering for real time applications, and support for Python 3 is integrated.
Texture baking in 3ds Max 2021 has been updated to support physically-based rendering (PBR), map override and OSL (Open Shading Language) workflows. Using a new baking to texture process, artists can represent complex surface effects as simple 2D bitmaps and then assign them to objects.
With a library of baked texture maps, 3D visual effects on objects can be rendered in real time without having to recalculate elements such as materials, lighting and shadows. The process is important for interactive 3D applications like game environments where performance and visual lag need to be balanced and optimised to engage viewers.
This workflow for baking maps and surfaces has wide support for renderers, including Arnold, with full queue control and includes error validation and compatible map filtering. As well as OSL texture maps, other new support includes Blended Box map for projections and the MikkT normal map format.
Renderer maps will change depending on the production renderer that is currently active. According to Autodesk, Scanline has more of the commonly used maps for baking and is faster, but Arnold is better specifically for metalness, roughness, AO and global illumination.
The updated installer in 3ds Max allows quicker, more efficient downloads and installs. Users can choose from four installation modes – online streaming, offline downloading, a physical media-based installation or multi-user deployment. Installation on Windows, macOS and Linux requires no user interaction, and validation of the Autodesk digital signature is automatic. You have an option to roll-back to a clean system mid-installation and may also restart to add, update, or remove components.
Support for Python 3 has been integrated into 3ds Max and the pymxs API has been improved for developers and technical artists who need to customise pipelines. 3ds Max now includes a standard version of Python 3.7 as the default, which allows the use of standard, pre-compiled extension libraries.
To help users extend and customise 3ds Max and integrate the software into a Python-based pipeline, the pymxs API is a Python wrapper for the MAXScript engine that contains a runtime member giving access to the interfaces, functions, structures, objects, properties and variables in the MAXScript environment. (Python 3 does not support MaxPlus.)
3ds Max now is natively integrated with the Arnold renderer v6.0 as the default renderer, replacing Scanline. However, for flexibility, scripts are included that efficiently convert V-Ray and Corona files to the 3ds Max Physical Material – a layered material with controls for dealing specifically with physically-based workflows. Arnold also supports the new Bake to Texture workflows and new AOV workflows.
Performance enhancements accelerate file I/O, and give better control over modelling with a new weighted normals modifier, which works as a built-in, weighted normals calculator that can be directly applied to 3D models allowing you to create precise designs. It generates explicit normals for meshes better and faster.
Weighted Normals improve the shading of models by altering the vertex normals to be perpendicular to the larger flat polygons. When used with the chamfer modifier with zero segments, shading is blended across the chamfered faces rather than across the whole model. Users keep full control over smoothing and blending values. Weight options include area, angle and largest face.
Another performance improvement relates to OSL Shaders. Useful new shaders include HDRI Environment, which controls the positioning and final look of the environment both in the viewport and the final render. HDRI Lights allows users to place HDR photos of real-world lightsources and use them to dynamically update the scene. Uber Noise adds complex types of noise such as Perlin, Fractal, Cell, fBm and Worley.
Other new or updated shaders work as colour correcting tools. Color Correction performs multi-stage colour correction, including channel remapping, hue-range limiting and three-tone color tinting. Colour Curves transforms an input using an arbitrary curve that can be used for gradients or as a colour correcting tool, and float Curves transforms an incoming float value to an outgoing value defined by a curve. New projection shaders project from a camera, or perform object and spherical texture projections.
New PBR materials are now part of 3ds Max in order to make the interaction of light with surfaces physically accurate. Many real-time engines use physically based rendering to describe a set of simplified shading models, defined entirely using a small set of texture maps. These shading models are already supported by the Physical Material, but PBR involves other, unsupported features.
To help users, simplified scripted materials have been created for PBR, with a special UI supplied for the Physical Material. Divided into two types of shading models, PBR Material (Metal/Rough) and PBR Material (Spec/Gloss), the materials make sure that materials are compatible with real-time engine workflows. Both start with a base albedo colour that handles reflections, plus parameters defining roughness and smoothness – and so on.
The two types vary in terms of realism and how much user intervention is needed but their overall purpose is to reduce UI complexity and also to ease the export of material data to real-time engines. Using these materials means any look development performed within 3ds Max will be matched in the engine. It also means that materials or PBR maps built for a real-time engine, including those found online, can be used inside 3ds Max, either in the viewport or for final rendering.
In order to make using PBR workflows easier when rendering and when working with real time engines, configuring high quality, high-fidelity viewports in 3ds Max is now simpler. Earlier on, the viewports have been cumbersome to set up, so now, viewport settings can be saved as presets. Ambient Occlusion (AO) is always visible when working in the viewport, the Physical Material has roughness support and shadows for lights are on by default.
Users can control the use of full shadow-casting skylights, either using them for accurate skylight shadows, or disabling them to limit viewport flicker and visual problems in interiors. You can also set the speed at which camera and lighting effects are progressively rendered in the viewport with a Fade-in Time tool.
To assist in the creation and movement of 3D assets, 3ds Max addresses particular sets of tools including SketchUp import, Substance, ProSound and FBX. For Substance, a new Substance2 map has been developed that is faster and uses the most recent Substance engine for native sbar file loading – that is, exporting maps from Substance Designer is no longer necessary.
Substance tools also support textures up to 8K with support for the renderers included with 3ds Max - Arnold, ART, Scanline and Quicksilver. Scripted tools have been developed to set up Substances with a particular type of material or to bake maps to files quickly.
General plugin interoperability and improvements will now allow a broader range of plug-ins to extend 3ds Max more easily, and at the same time simplify plugin development and installation.
3ds Max 2021 is now available as a standalone subscription or with the Autodesk Media & Entertainment Collection. autodesk.com/3dsmax