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I Did a Project With Only Standard 3ds Max and Arnold (No VRay). Here is How It Went...

Lately I have been experimenting with using just standard 3ds Max…no plugins, no 3rd party applications, not even an adjustment to the UI. Why would anyone want to do this, you may wonder? Well, when you have over 140k students from all over the world, speaking different languages and using different versions of the software…you gotta keep things default. It gives the most people, the best chance to be able to follow along. Right now, I am creating tons of new content, specifically for my students trying to learn 3ds Max better, so here we are…default settings only.

BUT, I’m liking the results! You know from this channel that I like to experiment with new software and find the best workflows, so this time, Arnold Render – the default render engine included with 3ds Max -- is up. Can it hang with my go to render software of VRay? We shall see. Also, can the basic modeling tools in 3ds Max create every shape and form I can imagine? Well, all power users of 3ds Max should already know the answer to that question, but if you want to see how, check out the video.

When thinking about what project I wanted to create, I immediately thought about the other two things I love doing besides 3d – riding bikes and playing guitar. Please note…I am not good at these two things, I just really like them 😊. Guitar won out because it seemed like a simpler project to demonstrate with. So…I took a bunch of pictures of my Junior Martin and I was on my way.


Next I started with the poly modeling, obviously. I have to say, I thought this guitar would be very simple to model, but it turns out that there were some tough details to get just right. In this case, I used the open subdivisions method for my smoothing, in conjunction with a crease set modifier to tell all my edges how to behave. I worked out very nicely, and it gives you a lot of control over your smoothing.


So, this is where I started entering into unknown territory, however, I know that having vast experience in something like V-Ray means that even in a totally unfamiliar rendering software, things will probably come quite naturally to me. I was right about this. The Arnold light had everything I would expect in a good 3d light (basically all the same things a V-Ray light does). All the settings are combined into a single light type, so a spherical light, a disc light, a rectangular area light – all these are easy to create with a single Arnold light type. Essentially, this part of the process was so similar to VRay that I just knew how to do it. Interesting!


Materials worried me a bit, because I am so used to VRay materials – and I love them. I will say, though, that again, if you already have experience doing V-Ray materials, or PBR materials, everything will feel very familiar to you with only minor differences. I was able to jump in right away and start creating. With Arnold, you actually have two options – you can use the 3ds Max Physical materials, or you can use the specific Arnold Shader. I just stuck with the Physical material because it works, and it was a little closer to what I am used to. A lot of you have probably already used Physical materials before. Arnold materials work as well and are not that far removed from the Physical material or a Vray material if that is your thing. Overall, the materials did not hang me up, and my guitar was looking pretty cool.


Render settings definitely had the potential to be a stumbling block. I knew this would be “different” than what I was used to. Render settings can get quite confusing and convoluted. Fortunately, with Arnold, the quality settings are quite straightforward. You just have to control the samples and the bounces for various different parts of your rendering – for example, specular reflection. Or, if you want to keep it simple, you can just do that for the overall quality only, and you will get great results. So, like VRay, you can pretty easily find the key settings and simply turn those up and down for quality vs speed.

One thing I absolutely LOVE about VRay is the frame buffer and the of course, THE LIGHT MIX!!! I was worried that Arnold would suck in this realm…but I was pleasantly surprised. Arnold does have a similar frame buffer to VRay, where you can control exposure, color balance, etc. And…it does have something similar to lightmix. In fact, it can basically do the exact same thing. I’d say it is a little more awkward to use, but it performs the essential task of allowing you to adjust your lighting after the fact. Great!

The one thing I HATE about Arnold is how confusing it is to setup basic render channels, or do something basic like a material override rendering. It is all possible, but it is not nearly as user friendly as V-Ray is on the same tasks, In my opinion.


The last thing that I did was create a little sound wave looking thing going through my scene with the help of the fantastic new array tool which has been recently added to 3ds Max.

And I call that “done!”


Okay, so if you want to check out this project, along with 7 hours of additional professional training in 3ds Max – meant for anyone trying to learn the software better or for the first time – I will put the links in the description with a special youTube discount.

So…after doing this project, do I even need VRay anymore? Well…no, not really. If I was desperate to save money, I could totally cancel my Vray subscription and still create awesome stuff. That is pretty clear to me. However, will I be cancelling my Vray? No way! I love Vray! I’m used to it, and I have an efficient workflow that has been honed over many years and treated me well. I am hooked on it. However, I will say that I believe Arnold is a fully capable render engine – and if I took the time to use it for an extended period of time, I could probably get just as comfortable with it as I am with my current workflow.

What do you all think? Are you ready to save some cash and drop your V-Ray subscription? What specific benefits does Vray offer that are worth paying extra for?

Or maybe…you’ve already switched to Corona? Let me know in the comments. Should I test out Corona in the future?

Check out the video and comment with your thoughts!


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