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MAXScript 101


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Author/Animator/Musician Michael Hurwicz looks at MAXScript 101, a training DVD by John Wainwright, the creator of MAXScript and determines that this is one of the best video-based training courses of any kind.

John Wainwright's MAXScript 101 training DVD is one of the best video-based training courses of any kind that I have run across. John is the original creator of MAXScript, so his credentials as a MAXScript geek are impeccable. However, excellent geeks are not always excellent instructors. John is both. On every essential point -- content, organization, presentation, production values -- this DVD is first-class.

I'm not going to try to summarize the content: (Click here for a detailed synopsis.) I will say that the DVD covers a lot of territory for a 3 1/2 hour course. By the time you've gone through the DVD, you should be able to tackle scripting most of the basic things you can do interactively in 3ds Max . Not that you'll know all the details of the code -- you won't -- but you'll know how to proceed to build the tool you want. This is particularly true because of the MAXScript Listener, which records most of what you do in 3ds Max and displays it as MAXScript. This makes the initial steps of building a script a no-brainer much of the time. The rest of the job often consists of wrapping some generic code around the function-specific code the Listener gives you. The basic coding skills that this DVD gives you can really go a long way in combination with the Listener.

3ds Max includes some good beginning MAXScript tutorials (based on John's own introduction to the early releases of MAXScript). So, for $95, what will this DVD give you that the free tutorials don't?

Basically, I find the DVD easier to absorb and follow, both for getting the "big picture" architecture of MAXScript and for detailed code explications. A big part of this, I am sure, is just John's ability to explain this stuff in terms I can grasp. It's also partly because of various kinds of visual aids that are difficult to duplicate in written tutorials. At its simplest level, this includes the mouse cursor pointing to things as John refers to them. I find this incredibly helpful. In addition, when John talks about a particular code block, he is able to highlight it and even label it. (See the figure below.) And then when he talks about the relationship of that code block to another block, he can draw an arrow from block to block.The same holds true when talking about something in a viewport.

These kinds of visual aids can also help when presenting overview material. One small example is the overview of rollout construction, what order things have to come in and why. (See figure below.)

The DVD intertwines theory, demonstration and detailed code explication very effectively. First, John will present an overview of a code example, along with some succinct, rigorous discussion of relevant MAXScript architecture. Then he'll run the code so you can see what it does. Finally, he dives into the code itself and talks about how it works line by line and block by block.

You can try to follow the same strategy with written tutorials, but it's a bit like trying to put together your first tricycle from the instructions in the box, as opposed to letting Mom or Dad help you. If what you really want to do is ride your new trike, take the help. You'll put together the next one all by yourself, and the skills you pick up will transfer to bicycles, motorbikes, cars and trucks.

There are two areas in which the written materials have it all over the DVD:

  • First, the written materials are up-to-date. The DVD dates back to Max 5. For the most part, this really doesn't matter: The basics haven't changed. However, I am sure an updated version of this course would contain some changes, to reflect improvements in recent versions of MAXScript. For instance, the DVD mentions persistent global variables. As of Max 8, these are recommended against, in favor of scripted Custom Attributes.

  • Second, the written MAXScript reference is searchable. The DVD is easy to navigate for a DVD, but when you're looking for some specific information, it's still much faster to search the MAXScript reference.

Ultimately, the written materials and the DVD are complementary. For actually learning the basics of MAXScript, I bet that most people will have an easier time with the DVD. As a reference, for updates, and for more advanced topics, the written materials are necessary.

I find that video tutorials are the best way to absorb most computer-related topics, especially in the early stages of learning, I doubt you'll find a better one than this for MAXScript.

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