Evolution: 3ds Max Entertainment Creation Suite

3ds Max has grown to become a suite of products. The latest release has more than 100 new features. Jon Peddie Research Contributing Analyst George Walsh takes a close look.

By George Walsh

3ds Max has come a long way. From its birth as 3D Studio, a DOS program developed by the Yost Group to its current Autodesk incarnation as one of the most widely used 3D modeling applications on the planet. That trip took about 20 years and Autodesk has been adding features and capabilities all the way. At Autodesk’s virtual online conference on October 13, the company filled us in on the innards of most of their products—including 3ds Max Entertainment Creation Suite 2011. There are over 100 new tools in 3ds Max. As part of the conference Autodesk demonstrated how each of its tools fit into creation pipelines for games, special effects, and movies.

3ds Max Entertainment Creation Suite 2011 includes three basic modules and three that are only available if you buy a subscription to the product. Those first three are 3ds Max 2011, Mudbox 2011, and Motion Builder 2011. The latter are Composite, Cityscape, and MatchMover. Here’s an overview of the new features in each component.

3ds Max

You can model and texture characters, props and environment more efficiently in 3ds Max 2011, with expanded Graphite and Viewport Canvas toolsets that deliver new brush-based interfaces for 3D painting, texture editing, and object placement. A new in-context direct manipulation UI helps make polygon modeling faster while customized user interface (UI) layouts keep your choice of frequently used actions and macro scripts readily accessible. And, for projects where collaboration is critical, a significantly enhanced workflow with Containers lets multiple users to work in parallel, helping to meet tight deadlines.

With the Character Animation Toolkit (CAT) now fully integrated, you can use default settings to more quickly create working rigged characters or customize rigs for more demanding set-ups.

Autodesk positioned the new Max suite as a tool suitable for most tasks in the pipeline: an image sequence for the final, refined product of a production, an animatic for review, or part of an interactive experience. Included in the list of new tools are: Slate, an intuitive new node-based material editor, for creating and editing complex material networks, and  Quicksilver hardware renderer can render quickly and supports advanced lighting effects. Meanwhile, the new ability to view 3ds Max texture maps and materials in the viewport means that you can make interactive decisions in a higher-fidelity context, helping to reduce errors.

3ds Max includes over 100 new tools than its predecessor, supports direct import of Sketchup files, and has over 1,200 new shaders.

Mudbox 2011

Autodesk Mudbox 2011 software helps accelerate design, sculpting, and approval phases with new tools for deforming and posing models, and the ability to create turntables for presentations. The texture painting toolset is significantly extended with image adjustment brushes and blend modes for paint layers, while a Vector Displacement map extraction method offers new possibilities for creating and rendering details. In addition, it offers multi-layer PSD exchange with Adobe Photoshop; and support for Windows 7 and Mac OS® X 64-bit operating systems.

Deform and pose models to change their design, access occluded regions, present them for approval, or prepare them for map extraction. With tools for quickly creating and editing joints, and the ability to import weighted skeletons from Autodesk 3ds Max 2011, the new toolset lets you create and manipulate poses as part of the design, sculpting, painting, or approval process.

MotionBuilder 2011

Built on a real-time 3D architecture, MotionBuilder provides you with an interactive environment to create, edit, and play back character animation. With MotionBuilder, you can import or capture live files from any industry-standard motion capture system and use the cleanup, filtering, blending, and editing features to manipulate and massage dense data.

You can perform real-time rigid body dynamic simulations as part of, or alongside, your character animation; simulations can be blended with keyframed or motion-captured data.

Using Autodesk MotionBuilder software to pre-visualize their scenes, directors can experiment with camera angles and framing, and visual effects supervisors can more effectively plan visual effects work and stunts, all within a display that closely mimics the final output.

MotionBuilder 2011 software delivers features that let you integrate it more smoothly and reliably into production pipelines. With a more consistent method for handling materials, artists might find it easier to use MotionBuilder 2011 alongside other products. In addition, skinning and blendshape deformations are now calculated on the GPU, the in-viewport experience is significantly more interactive, and playback many times faster, while the Story Tool offers stability and performance.

3dsmax screenshot
3ds Max is Autodesk's flagship 3d modeling and animation tool with a strong position in entertainment as well as design


Only available for subscription users, 3ds Max Composite, a fully featured HDR-capable compositor based on technology from Autodesk Toxik software, provides a toolset that incorporates keying, color correction, tracking, camera mapping, raster and vector paint, spline-based warping, motion blur, depth of field, and tools to support stereoscopic productions.


Also available only to subscription users, CityScape adds support for common GIS imagery and elevation formats, together with tools for modeling road networks and terrain, that will help enhance the existing capabilities of 3ds Max and 3ds Max Design software. With CityScape, 3ds Max Design users can more quickly grab elevation data and satellite imagery from existing government sources and construct a more accurate context for a proposed building site.


Autodesk MatchMover software delivers 3D camera tracking. This toolset lets artists extract accurate 3D camera and motion data from video and film sequences in order to insert CG elements into a scene.

3ds Max Entertainment Creation Suite 2011 also includes the Mental Ray renderer and The Quicksilver renderer that can offload all or some of the processing from the CPU to the GPU. Autodesk says there’s more to come in the next version of 3ds Max—most notably multithreading.

What do we think?

Although the main focus of Autodesk’s virtual conference was to sing the praises of its products in the entertainment industry, there is increasing intersection between the different worlds. Game developers can use simplified models drawn from real car designs, the same holds true for movies. Architects and industrial designers are increasingly building animations to demonstrate their work and they’re interested in the sophistication that can be added with professional DCC tools. There were people who saw this coming all those many years ago when Gary Yost and his crew were creating cool tools for drawing, animation, and modeling. As usual of course, many companies lived and died waiting for the uplift. Many of those products are showing up in Autodesk’s suite packages.