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Use this at university for creating my 3d images and 3d animations, Ok Im not that great at the animation part of it yet, but we've only just started to learn this feature.
The interface is a little bit mind boggling to start with, to be honest, I didn't have much of an idea what to do, being completely honest, I had lessons on this program week by week in university but it didnt take too long before I got to grips with the programs and was creating realistic looking scenes for my assignments.
The effects you can create are brilliant; create a really effective glass/mirror effect on items which just has to be seen to be believed, and all you have to do is play around with settings in the material editor, its all to do with, layers and filters that you put on each object.
beware this product is highly memory intensive, its great and a fast progam to use if you're just creating a scene in the mesh view you are first presented with, but once you try rendering your image/animation this is when it can get tricky, the PC's we have at uni have 4GB ram and they can struggle on occasions if the scene is highly detailed. But for basic work and beginner work, you'll be fine with 1GB, but 2GB minimum is recommend personally by me. Im not sure what the actual specs of the program are for PC requirements becuase i haven't had to box to look at, I'm sure a quick scout through Autodesk's website would find you the info you need.
A couple of bugs in the program such as not loading filters from a scene if you load 3d max up on a different computer, but this may be becuase of the different networks and file directories at my universities. Can also crash at some annoying times so make sure you save it often. Also the hair and fur function always goes belly up at my university but worked on my home PC so just another note worth mentioning
3D studio Max is a brilliant program IF you know how to use it of course. It can take a while for you get used to the program but you can create so many things! After using Lightwave (another 3D program), i find 3D max so much easier to use. You will find many professional using this program to create game characters such as Assassin Creed. This program can also be used for special effects in films and animation which do look really effective. Although i do find the rendering a bit of a pain sometimes when you create large files.
Things you can do
well there are so many things you can do for example you can change your environment background to suit your objects you have created. You place lighting anywhere and create effective shadows.
There are also so many shapes you can create its unreal! Also you can make animations, a simple one like a walk cycles, although they are very difficult to get used to and get right.
The down side is that it only works on PCs and not mac.