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3D Studio Max R3 In Depth / 3DS Max 4 In Depth
Author: Rob Polevoi ('Max3 in depth) / John McFarland and Rob Polevoi ('Max4 in depth)
Publisher: Coriolis
ISBN: 1-57610-432-x (Max3) / 1-57610-869-4 (Max4)
Purchasing (Max3 In Depth): [Amazon.Com
] [Fatbrain.Com] - RRP US$49.99
Purchasing (Max4 In Depth): [Amazon.Com] [Fatbrain.Com] - RRP US$59.99
Reviewed: 28th October 2001

Front Cover Shot:

 

Overview

As almost anyone whos done even a little bit of 3D graphics will be aware, 3D modelling is not an easy thing to do, let alone master. The best programs for creating 3D models tend to be very expensive, and often require a degree just to create even the simplest of models. There are always free/shareware programs that do the same job, but they rarely offer the same feature set or power of the industry standard programs.

3D Studio Max is one such program, I've been using it for simple things for quite a long time now, and have always been intimidated by the interface and feature set. There are litteraly 1000's of features that I have no idea how to use, or what I might want to use them for. Some people say that the visual studio programs have complicated interfaces, but I'd have to say that they are comparatively simple when put alongside 3D Studio Max.

Therefore, I can definitely say that a good book on the program is not just useful, but essential. This is where "3D Studio Max R3 In Depth" and "3DS Max 4 In Depth" comes in. So why am I reviewing two books in the same review? well both books are on different versions of the same program, and both books follow a very similiar structure - therefore many of the points (good and bad) for one book will also apply to the other book. So instead of just repeating this article twice, I've done one combined review...

Two great books for a complicated subject

Both books are made up of a healthy 675-700 pages, spanning 22 different chapters and 6 sections (each one covering a different major aspect of 3D modelling). The book moves to a fairly fast beat - introducing several excercises/techniques in every chapter, and just as much theory.

As I already stated, 3D Studio Max R3 is a complicated program (and 3DS Max 4 is even more complicated), and even the author acknowledges this: "3D Studio Max 3 is so deep and complex that no book can sound its bottom" - from the introduction. I like the way that the author kept things realistic - he would have been very foolish to claim that this book (or any book) would cover this whole program. The other problem with 3D graphics in general is that the field is constantly evolving and changing - no book can cover everything, because as soon as it's published a whole new area will have come to light...

Having said this, the book does go to a considerable depth (hence the title) on all of the major areas of the program, and associated techniques - if you got all of the techniques discussed in this book under your belt then you would be more than capable of catching up and learning the new techniques as they appeared. As mentioned earlier, both books follow a similiar structure - and this is very evident on the contents page; both books follow almost identical chapter/section headings - which is summarised in this following list:
• Working with the program, and the interface you'll need to master.
• Working with the basic max tools, and other foundation techniques
• Modelling - creating meshes, primatives etc...
• Applying materials and textures to the meshes that you create
• Lighting, cameras and the rendering of scenes/movies
• Animation - an incredibly important part of all 3D graphics.

The above list covers pretty much everything you'll need to know, each section is broken down into several chapters, and each chapter is often broken down into some explanation/theory and then some excercises to back up what was just explained, and to show off new techniques you'll want to use. It is all compiled very well - it is possible to jump straight to a chapter on texturing (for example) and get started with those excercises; yet it also works very well if you choose to (properly) read the book from cover-to-cover. Obviously it is much easier (and advisable) to go along the cover-to-cover route if you are serious about learning this program, but once you have read it you can still use the book as a reference resource.

As I mentioned before, I've had some experience of using the program - limited mostly to some very very simple box-modelling. So as far as this book was concerned I was a beginner, but with a little experience of clicking buttons and seeing what happens (or what doesn't!). One thing that I had never understood was texturing meshes - I could do some quite cool robots/cars/airplanes using box models, but had never been able to texture them properly. The first thing I did upon reading this book was to jump to the section on texturing - I had a vested interest in wanting to find out how. 30 minutes later I was quite happily texturing my 3D box models properly - no joke. I have to say I was very pleased with myself at having worked out how to do it, and was very happy with the book - it had taught me to do something I had been trying to do for ages. I can now easily say that you will learn from this book - the step-by-step excercises are great for learning from. The broad depth and breadth of this resource means that you are quite likely to find a section (and usually an excercise) for any major feature you want.

The other main point to be raised is the aims of the books - they are mostly aimed towards standard 3D graphics - rendering still images, movies etc... but there is also a healthy mention of game and real-time related graphics work - low polygon modelling, texture skinning etc... which is definately a good thing. I have seen several books on this and similiar programs completely ignore the game/real-time computer graphics community - yet we make up a rather large proportion of end-users.

The included CD with this book is also very good - all of the lessons are stored in max files for you to look at, usually with one max file for each step, so you can read through the book and play around on-screen with the authors examples to make sure you know whats going on.

Where does it fall down?

As already stated, Max 3 or Max 4 is a deep program, and no book will give you the complete resource. However, combined with the better online tutorials you will get quite a long way with this book before you need something bigger/better.

The main problem with this subject is it's complexity - it is just not a beginners subject, no one could ever create a 1-2-3 dummies guide to Max (that would be worth reading anyway). The author has done an excellent job at bringing the entry barrier for 3D graphics to a reasonable level; however, dont expect an easy ride. You will hit the floor running if you have a good head for 3D graphics (any Direct3D experience will stand you in good stead) - the program is complicated enough, if you cant get your head around simple 3 dimensions and objects then dont look to this book for too much help. It will help to understand some of the key-words for CG as well - radiosity lighting, ray-tracing, texure coordinates/textures, meshes, primatives to name a few - if you aren't familiar with these then they are explained in the book, but it may mean that you need to keep jumping around for definitions if you cant remember them.

In general the book will require a reasonable amount of intelligence from the reader - many of the topics will rely on knowledge of other topics (and being able to remember them), and it also requires general ability - when the author gives a description you NEED to get it sorted out in your head before you carry on. Maybe what I'm saying is that a 12yr old child may well be fluent on a computer, but will find this subject incredibly hard; yet a 20yr old university student will be much more capable of the work/subject matter.

The overriding disadvantage of "3D Studio Max R3 In Depth" is that it's for 3D Studio Max R3 - and this summer (2001) 3DS Max 4 was released, so we are currently one version behind. Due to the extremely high price-tag for Max-4 ($2000+ I do believe) you may well be better off buying a second-hand/reduced copy of 3D Studio Max R3; for the majority of uses this version is just as good as V4 - it will be mainly serious professional types that are upgrading. Either way, there's a book for whichever version you can get your hands on...

In Summary

Now it's time for you to decide whether this book is for you. I would have no problem with recommending this book to you if you intend to use the progam seriously. There are a large number of books on the subject, and I can guarantee that this is by far one of the better books.

The main decision is over which book you need - based mainly on which version of the software you own. Both versions of the software are still pretty expensive, but you may be able to find reduced-price or second hand copies of 3D Studio Max R3 - now that 3DS Max 4 has been released.

 

Good Things Bad Things
• Well segmented into theory and excercises. • Not aimed at beginners at all - a general level of knowledge/ability is required.
• Covers all of the main areas that you need to know. • Assumes knowledge that not many beginners will be in possession of (it is aimed at intermediate-advanced readers though)
• The accompanying CD is well done, and useful when reading through the book. • Theres no point in owning this book unless you also own the software- which is pretty obvious :)
• Does an excellent job of bringing the entry-barrier down for the field, ie, you dont need to be a rocket-scientist to understand it.  
• Two books, for two versions of the software - both are very similiar, so you have a good resource whichever version of the sw you own.  

 

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