Introducing MAXtoA Version 0.80

By Jennifer OConnor - 14 Nov, 2016 - 3ds Max

Introducing MAXtoA 0.80

Arnold for 3ds Max Plugin

Released on November 15th, MAXtoA 0.80 is our next major milestone in Arnold integration. It is now available on the Solid Angle web site, and requires 3ds Max 2017 SP2 or greater.

Image by Lee Griggs

Highlights of New Features:

  • Support for 3ds Max Photometric lights.
  • New Volume object supporting OpenVDB files.
  • Hair & Fur Support
  • Light Filter modifiers for Arnold lights.
  • General Arnold light improvements.
  • UI improvements for AOVs and Shaders.
  • Texture options.
  • Path, Diagnostics, and Override options.
  • Stability and miscellaneous improvements.

Please see the documentation on the Solid Angle site for details on the specific settings and the new features. Full MAXtoA version number is 0.8.514.0, and Arnold is version The installer includes 3ds Max 2017 SP2, and will install if SP2 or greater is not detected.

MAXtoA Beta

Before diving into some of the specifics in this update, I want to take a moment to mention our 3ds Max beta program. If you are interested in testing the latest features, hot off the press, then we’d love to have you as part of our beta tester program. With an application as big and complex as 3ds Max, it is difficult to test every kind of scene, every workflow. We rely on our users to help put things through their paces, and to help shake out the issues and give feedback on what we have developed. If you are interested, contact

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Another great benefit for our Arnold early-adopters is a free cloud rendering preview. This fast and simple service renders Arnold scenes watermark-free for both images and animations.
Visit to sign-up, download the cloud plugin, and start rendering your scenes fast and free.

And now for the new features and benefits of MAXtoA 0.80…

Photometric Light Support

One of our priorities with MAXtoA is to support existing 3ds Max features, and to support legacy scenes, features, and workflows, as much as practical. Adding support for Max’s Photometric lights has been high on our list of features to support in Arnold.

Ultimately, our desire is that you can easily switch between your favorite renderers based on your immediate needs in a project, and still get the results you expect. With this new Photometric light support, you can switch between any renderer that supports Photometric lights and the Physical Material (like ART and Arnold) and render your scene. The translation of the Photometric light into an Arnold light is transparent to you, and no additional effort is needed on your side.

You can also mix Arnold and Photometric lights to take advantage of the native strengths of each type. For instance, an Arnold ‘Distant’ light type will render faster than relying on image-based lighting through a window for an indoor scene.

Image courtesy Howard Holtzman. Rendered with both Arnold and 3ds Max Photometric light sources.
There are a few things to know about what is not supported in the Photometric light. Basically, if it doesn't exist in the Arnold light, it can't transfer.

Here is a brief list of what is not supported:
• Some light shapes do not support Spherical distribution.
• Only supports ray traced shadows – other settings are ignored.
• Exclude / Include is not supported.
• Incandescent lamp-color shift is not supported.
• The light shape is not visible to the camera rays.
• Shadow parameters are not used.
• Legacy Atmosphere & Effects are not supported.

Every renderer will work a bit different when it comes to the interplay of light in your scene, and its effect in your final image. Note that the Physical Scale value in the exposure control has an influence over how your 3ds Max and Arnold lights render. You may need to Disable or adjust the Physical Scale to get the intensity you expect.

New Volume Object and OpenVDB Support

Volume Smoke animation by Mads Drøschler

MAXtoA 0.80 now includes a Volume object to support the loading and rendering of OpenVDB files. The Volume object is in the Create tab, Geometry category, and Arnold grouping, along with the Procedural object:

As you can see, there are a lot of fun things you can do with the new Volume support:

Aurora Bunny by Neil Hazzard
In the Volume object you can select a single VDB file, or an animated sequence of VDB files. When selected, you are able to choose the Parameter and Velocity grids in the VDB file, and make them available to the shaders:

Once you press Ok, the Volume object will change size to the selected VDB and the optional Volume Collector shader will be applied. Drag the new Volume Collector to the Slate editor to modify it's parameters.

Flaming Torus Knot by Zap Andersson

You can get OpenVDB volumes to play with in MAXtoA at, and tutorials are on the Solid Angle web site.

Hair & Fur Support

Image by Cedric Lavoie

As you can see from our furry friend above, Hair & Fur now has basic support in MAXtoA. This is an early preview -we'd love to hear your feedback, and see your work!

New Light Filter Modifiers

Arnold’s built-in Light Filters are now available in MAXtoA 0.80 as Light Modifiers, available when an Arnold light is selected:

The four built-in light filters are included as separate modifiers: Attenuation, Barn Doors, Light Blocker, and Gobo (also known as Projection).

The fifth option, the "Arnold Light Filter" modifier, allows you to place a custom light filter shader into the modifier:

You can either drag a Light Filter into this slot from the Slate Material Editor, or click the button to select a shader, then drag it to Slate to edit the parameters. There are no checks on the type of shader placed in this slot; selecting the wrong class of shader may crash Arnold.

Modifiers for lights are a new workflow for 3ds Max. Modifiers give you the ability to copy and paste your Light Filter onto other lights, including instancing the modifiers to multiple lights. You can apply modifiers to Group objects containing lights by using Copy and Paste from a single light onto the Group object. The modifier is then instanced to all lights in the group, and controllable from the top-level group object.

The modifier approach helps to keep the light UI clean, and allows us to provide the best experience for viewing and adjusting the parameters of the light filter. The Light Blocker is one, in particular, that may take some explanation on how to use:

Once created, you'll likely change the shape of the gizmo, and choose one of the Transformation buttons to set an initial position for the blocker. The gizmo starts one unit in size, so Scale is the dimension of the object.

There are several Types of blocker you can choose from - the Plane option likely works as you'd expect, with the light being blocked by the gizmo in the view. The other 3D shapes act like a "black hole" of sorts, and your light simply does not have an effect within that volume. Outside the 3D shape, and even where you'd expect a shadow to fall from the gizmo, it simply doesn't have a shadow.

The Box shape gives you the interesting ability to use a shader (map) and control a light-removing Gobo with the gizmo. Adding a shader to the modifier will switch it into Box mode. The height of the box does not matter.

Hint: Turn off "Real-World Scale" and Invert the output of the image to use it as a projection:

The advantage with the Shader option is that it can remove or add illumination in a specific region defined by the Box, that the gizmo is in a physical space in your scene independent of the position of the Arnold light, and that the gizmo position/size/rotation is animatable.

The use of modifiers is something you will see more of as we integrate other Arnold features and settings into 3ds Max.

New Quad Light "Portal" Option

In the Arnold light – when a Quad shape is selected – we have a new Portal light option.

When checked, this disables anything related to the illumination produced by the light object (a Portal doesn’t generate light), and the object now only serves as a clue to Arnold that there is a portal in the scene. Use this on opening to interior scenes to improve results.

Workflow Improvements for AOVs

AOVs – or Arbitrary Output Variables – are like Render Elements in 3ds Max in that you can separate out elements of your rendering and produce additional images that can be composited in post-production, among other things.

After the first release of our AOV workflow we decided to make some improvements to help clarify the steps, and to give you the ability to filter and find AOVs in you scene. First change is on the top of the AOV UI:

The Driver (or File) type is now a drop-down, which allows for developers to add new drivers. You also explicitly press the Add AOV File.

When you are selecting the AOV to add you now have a tree view for the AOVs, with the shader at the root, and a Filter option to quickly find your AOV:

Arnold Shader Material/Map Grouping

We’ve improved the organization of Arnold Shaders in the Material/Map browser. We now categorize the shaders based on the information in their metadata files, rather than the DLL the shader exists within. This gives you a better idea of the purpose of different shaders. The only deviation is that the "Built-In" group contains a mix of core Arnold shaders:

Texture (tx) Settings

We now support Arnold’s Texture options:

Search Path Options

You now have the ability to define Search Paths for Procedurals, Shaders, and Textures. When you are working within MAXtoA, Max will use the paths defined for your project. These additional search paths are saved with Arnold Scene Source files.

Diagnostics Tab

Render Diagnostics options are now available in the Render Setup dialog box. This includes Log, Error Handling, and Feature Overrides.


You can now control the Verbosity and Warning levels of the Arnold log. This streams to the Render Message Window; modify setting there if you want to provide the diagnostic log to a file. You also have an option to log detailed texture statistics when the Verbosity Level is set to “Debug”.

Abort on Error

This checkbox is now on the Diagnostics tab, which is consistent with other plugins.

Error Colors

When the “Abort on Error” checkbox is off, Arnold will provide diagnostic colors on pixels that experience either a bad texture, bad shader, or “NaN Pixel” (Not a Number).

Feature Overrides

You now have the ability to disable features for test renders or troubleshooting issues:

Legacy 3ds Max Map Support

You now have a checkbox in the System tab to enable the support of legacy maps (shaders) in MAXtoA. Previously, an environment variable was required to enable this feature.

Enabling this option allows Max to process the legacy maps for Arnold. One of the limitations is that you cannot feed an Arnold shader into a Max shader – you can, however, feed a Max shader into an Arnold shader with this option. Another limitation is that this will not work if you are sending your scene to an Arnold Scene Source file for use as a procedural, or to kick the file for rendering.


We continue to make rapid progress in getting new features out to Arnold users. If you can, participate in our beta testing, and help us make this plugin the best it can possibly be.

Automobile image by Lee Griggs
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