2002 – 2005
With 3ds Max 5 I wanted to introduce a new piece of documentation to help users understand and get up to speed with the software new features in a fast and efficient way. After a few tests and proposals, the new booklet was approved and for 4 months a year from 2003 to 2006, it became my self-inflicted (but overall enjoyable) day and night project.
During the early releases of 3ds Max, new features were numerous, exciting, and revolutionary: new animation tools, new particle systems, global illumination, the introduction of mental ray, etc…
Since I used the software quite a bit, I understood the frustration users felt when it took days, if not weeks, to figure out and learn all that new stuff after each upgrade was installed.
I wanted a document explaining all the improvements with a clear user point of view. It needed to explain not just the new possibilities, but also how and where they were best suited in the various workflows.
On top of that, I wanted the document to be as visual as possible, as text was a very inefficient way to express abstract and graphical concepts.
A sample of the images created for each of the books.
3ds Max 5
3ds Max 6
3ds Max 7
3ds Max 8
Design and Development
The New feature Guides were color booklets about 110 pages each with hundreds of illustrations each. Some illustrations were large, high quality renderings showing a new feature capability. Some others were smaller renderings showing different options or applications of a feature. Others were user interface screenshots with detailed callouts to explain each parameter.
Together with the text, they were giving the user a full exposure of what the feature was for, how it worked, and what could have been done with it. All this in an easy and quick read that could have been enjoyed over lunch.
It was a lot of work to produce one of those booklets. I usually started about 4 months before a release by collecting all the new features developers’ documentation and playing with the daily builds. The goal was to understand the features and their possible production usage, so that I could explain them in contest and not in an abstract way.
The next step was to come up with a plan for each feature and create all the images. Images were driving the text, not merely supporting it. Images were also a lot more time consuming to create than text, but they say they are worth a thousand word.
The last step was the writing and the desktop publishing part, making sure all the pages had a nice visual appeal and that everything was flowing properly. Unfortunately I had no control over the cover, and it was always the part that disappointed me.
Society for Technical Communication Awards
- Distinction in Technical Communication for 3ds Max 5 New Features Guide (Jan 2004)
- Distinguished Award for 3ds Max 6 New Features Guide (March 2004)
- Distinguished Award for 3ds Max 7 New Features Guide (March 2005)
Only 5 guides where created (3ds Max 5, 6, 7, 8, and a one for 3d Studio Viz, online only). When I left the Max documentation group, the New features Guides ended.
I believe that the content and the style where extremely useful and well received by the end users, but it was also a lot of stress for a single person to produce all that material.
The last guide for 3ds Max 8 was done in collaboration with other writers, but it didn’t work as well as the quality and amount of images suffered. The content was also less user-centered than the previous ones and started resembling the style of the online help, the thing I wanted to avoid in first place when I made my initial proposal.