Studio Max 2020 - The Ghost Update

May 23, 2019 at 10:00 am by Warlord720

As I sit here writing this review, I can only reflect on the struggles I’ve had in finding anything new to write about.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Studio Max. I worked for Max shops for most of my freelance career and feel at home with the application. Maya wasn’t even a wet dream when I started using Studio Max or 3DS Max or whatever it is Autodesk calls it now.

For years this product put food on the table for me and mine, so I will always have an abiding affection for it.

Even though it’s been treated like an unwanted stepchild, it’s still a top-shelf product loaded with capabilities. This upgrade, however, is so “under the hood”, with improvements to performance that’s it difficult to get excited about it unless those improvements affect your workflow.

In fact, I went to the God of the Internet, Google, and found more complaints about this new version not feeling like an upgrade at all and this was from established users. People that have invested money, time and skills in a product that might appear to be releasing a new version that is little more than window dressing.

That’s the way things go when all the work is in items like performance and shader functionality. The dev team gets little love over these “ghost upgrades”. They most likely saw all this coming too. I can’t imagine them being giddy with the excitement of a new release based on an engine tune-up as it were.

Before I go any further down this road let’s keep in mind a few things about Max.  In its defense it is:

  • a modeling tool.
  • a prototyping tool.
  • a production tool.
  • a civil engineering tool.
  • a fluid dynamics tool.
  • a shader tool.
  • an animation tool and the list goes on.

In short… Max is a full-featured 3D program with graph control, dope sheets, curve editor and many more features and tools. So, to a lot of us, it is still a tool worth the cost.

Sure, Blender is good, getting better and shares some of the same features but Blender is not a widely adopted pipeline tool. It is more of a “learn 3D” tool at present. While there are most likely studios out there using Blender… this animator has never worked for one or even encountered very many over the years mainly due to the pipeline issue of converting assets that may lose fidelity during the conversion process.

The point being, at present for some of us, Blender is not an option even though it earned its stripes in terms of functionality. This will change one day and then Autodesk will have to come out with more innovative features each year to compete, but that day isn’t today for a lot of us that use Max.

And getting your engine tuned up isn’t such a bad thing either so let’s take a look at these almost invisible improvements from the What’s New section of the Autodesk website:

As you can see, it’s not exactly a glamorous release. I can see the benefit in the animation preview enhancements and new OSL shaders. Even the MAXtoA PFLow instance mode seems a bit sexy till you dig into it to put into words.

There is just nothing sexy to write about with it or any of the improvements, enhancements, and additions in this 2020 release.

3DS Max remains a solid program loaded with tools and features. It’s still a powerful 3D tool as it certainly isn’t taking any steps backward. All the “new stuff” improves the product but as a tech writer, I want to see NEW and SHINY every release. Not IMPROVED New and SHINY. This is an age of constant innovation which leads to high, maybe even unreal expectations but that’s life.

Maybe next time we get “new and shiny” things.

M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website

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