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Maxwell Render Review


A Peak at Maxwell Render by Next Limit Technologies
This is meant to be a quick peak at Maxwell Render and not a tutorial or an in depth review. The next disclaimer I will make is that I tried out Maxwell on a brand new version of VIZ 2006, having just purchased the program. I am basically unexperienced with the program. I say basically new because I borrowed a friends laptop with MAX for a weekend a few years ago to play with it and see what the program is about. Aside from that I have not used MAX or VIZ before so that should be taken into consideration for Maxwell’s sake.

The next disclaimer I will make is that I tried out Maxwell on a brand new version of VIZ 2006, having just purchased the program. I am basically unexperienced with the program. I say basically new because I borrowed a friends laptop with MAX for a weekend a few years ago to play with it and see what the program is about. Aside from that I have not used MAX or VIZ before so that should be taken into consideration for Maxwell’s sake.


What is it?
Maxwell is a third party render engine based on the actual physics of light. It is based on real world physics and is heavily based on the principles of photography in its setup and operation. It is in its alpha stage and should soon be going beta. At this point it operates inside your main program using the graphic user interface (GUI) that the program has in place. It will have its own GUI when it goes gold with its official public release. Basically I am reviewing the rough draft so to speak (No insult to the programmers that have gotten it this far). The community is having the opportunity to purchase it early, at a discounted price until June 15th, to test it so to speak and help make a product that is ready for production purposes when it is finally released. I have no problem with this set up, I would rather know up front that I am testing something than purchase a program and have numerous patches and upgrades offered down the road, such as some software companies do. What really attracted me to Maxwell Render is their grand plan, to offer a plug-in for a majority of the 3D packages out there, programs like SketchUp become that much more of a feasible tool if you can easily render what you model, same goes for Rhino. Take a look at their site and see the programs they are working on plug-ins for: Next Limit Technologies Maxwell Render , you will find them under ‘Product’ in the “Plug in” page. I hope they are able to carry off this ambitious endeavor.

Installed, now what?
Ok, I installed the two new packages, what next? Remember I mentioned I was a newbie to VIZ, so take that into consideration. I really think Next Limit Technologies should have a basic “Maxwell for Dummies”. Sure they have a forum set up and people try to answer your questions or post technical treatise on the principles of photography, f-stops, shutter speeds, etc., But I found nothing like a quick start guide, all the technical information is available but for a mentally challenged person like myself, working a day job and trying to figure out the program in the evenings, I stumbled a little. Installation went fine, but since the plug in wasn’t even designed for VIZ 2006 I was worried that my problems may have been software related and not my own incompetence, turns out it was the latter. I will disclose my findings so you don’t have to repeat my mistakes, they will be based on the program within VIZ 2006. If you are not interested in this mini-tutorial, skip down to “So what do you really think?”


Russell’s Maxwell for Dummies!
I imported an old residential project via DXF so I was working from a blank slate so no info clinging to the mesh or scene would mess me up. I then go to the ‘Customize’ menu and adjust my scene preference to inches (Just what I am use to, get a little confused using metrics which is the default for Maxwell), but wait that doesn’t do it, there is a button for scene units, you really want to set that to inches (as I found out the hard way). Lesson, make sure the scene is converted to the units you plan to use. Maxwell is based on the physics of light and needs to know how far those photons are bouncing; if it isn’t set up you will get a black screen. Now I need to go to the create object type panel (warning you will not find the Maxwell camera or lights in the drop down menu, no matter how hard you look), go to the camera options and select either targeted or free ‘Maxwell’ camera, I chose targeted, since it gives me the distance to the target which can help in some of the Maxwell settings. Use your manipulation controls to set up your camera and POV and set that as the view you are going to render and look at during our adventure. With the camera selected go to the settings panel, here you can set the camera f-stop, shutter speed, lens and a bunch of other settings. Here is a link to Metin’s site that has some very useful information about these and other settings: Metin's Maxwell Tricks and Tips Lighting will be covered later. OK, that is about it for VIZ settings for the time being.


Now I make the adjustments for the Maxwell Render program. I use the F10 key to bring the render options up and at the very bottom of the common page, make Maxwell Render my default render engine. The rest of that page is straightforward; render size, atmospheric effects, and advanced lighting.

Now go to the ‘Renderer’ tabbed page, this is where the real fun is accessed. The very first option is “render time”, I left it at 20 minutes for my testing purposes, you can see pretty quickly what you are basically going to get and increase it accordingly once the scene is basically set up to get rid of the screen noise, etc.. Lets move to ‘Environment’ section, I used the sky dome and tweaked intensity and color and enabled sunlight, I didn’t get the location portion to work right, supposedly you can select presets or enter your own longitude and latitude and time of day and get an accurate light setup, it would be a very useful feature and I will play with it some more to see where I am messing up. You can also create a geometry and apply a Maxwell emitter material to it to light your scene and adjust its location correspondingly.

Now go to the systems section, this is the most important part in my opinion. The first option is scene scale, it is very important, without the proper units ratio Maxwell can not work properly, since I am using inches, I set this value to ‘0.0254’, if your scene was centimeters it would be ‘0.01’, I believe, remember I told you metrics confuses me. Lets put it this way, Maxwell works in ‘Meters’ so you have to either set your scene to meters or provide the conversion factor here so that it can calculate the energy of the light off of your mesh.

Now there is a setting elsewhere for where your image will be, forget it and go down to the export options and tell it where and what type of file you want it to make and remember if you do another rendering it will overwrite it. I think they should add an option of a program folder and adding numerics after the rendered image so that you don’t overwrite a good rendering by accident (You don’t think I am speaking from experience, do you?), maybe I just didn’t discover it. This should get you up and running, there are a lot of features and setting, I try to keep it simple while figuring something out. Now do a sample rendering to make sure everything is working out before we move onto texturing, you should have a pretty good gray scale image going, minus transparencies. Here is when you want to make sure focus and any depth of field is correct before you spend a bunch of time texturing your project.


Color, where is the color? Heed my words, you have to use Maxwell’s texturing and shaders and there is no preview in the ‘materials control panel’, this will all be part of the final release with the GUI, I believe. Next thing, even though Maxwell is set up as the renderer, the materials options aren’t Maxwell’s unless you chose one of their shaders: Maxwell Dielectric (Transparencies, etc.), Maxwell Diffuse (colors and bitmap textures), Maxwell Emitter (Light), Maxwell Metal (Metal objects of course) and Maxwell Plastic (Shiny plastic material types). If you aren’t using one of these as your base you aren’t going to get any color. Now for the praise, the materials and options are pretty simple and straightforward, but create pretty nice effects, this part was amazingly simple. I don’t know the program well enough, but it doesn’t seem like there is a layering of material so that you could put grime on top of another texture, but I have heard that the texturing will be much more robust and advanced in the final version when it is a stand alone product with its own GUI. Remember this is alpha stage testing. Now just texture your objects and you are ready to test render and make adjustments to scale, UV mapping and color as needed, that part was very painless and should look pretty good when you do your final rendering with a longer render time. Hey that is another point, I think it is pretty cool that you determine the rendering time, at least you can get things out the door on time even if the quality wasn’t allowed to bake long enough for your liking. I have heard people complain that the rendering is pretty slow, first off if the final image is worth it, great, better than a fast and ugly image. I am also told that there should be speed increases in the final release. Another note, a seat of Maxwell Render will farm out to four (4) CPU’s, either four single processor computers, two dual CPU computers or one quad CPU computer, so this should help out in the speed area, I did not test this aspect of the program so I cannot comment.


So what do you really think?
First off it is an ‘Alpha’ stage product so I actually have to say I am pretty impressed. I had a few crashes after starting and stopping the render, making adjustments to lighting or materials several times and starting up again, but never during the rendering itself, so rendering was stable and I was abusing it when it did crash. Aside from the location lighting feature it all seemed to work as it should. I think that once I figured it out, getting a pretty decent rendering was pretty painless, I recently purchased another major package with node based texturing and it took me longer to get out a decent rendering and this time I was learning two programs at once.
In the needs work category, lighting and shadow control are a definite must for architectural visualization. On top of that the materials functionality needs to be increased, what is there works well, but more options and functionality is needed in order for it to compete with the product lines already established in the market.

Will I use it? Probably especially as plug-ins for programs like SketchUp become available, I have concerns about proprietary material shaders, I use Okino Nugraf to translate models in and out of cad and 3D packages and I am not sure how well the materials will make the transfer, it is nice to know if you switch to another package you can make some sort of retrieval of your projects. Then again, if Next Limit Technologies manages to provide all the plug-ins on their list, that may not be an issue, time will tell.

ImageFollow Up: I was able to achieve shadows by bumping up the light source considerably after experimentation.



Note: Since I wrote this, Next Limit Technologies has released a beta version with increased performance and advancements, that tie into their vision of the stand alone release. See more information Here
Author: Russell Thomas works and lives in Seattle Washington, and is the founder of 3Dallusions LLC, 3DAllusions Studio: 3DAstudio and the 3Dallusions Forum: 3DAllusions Forum

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