Maxwell Render for Beginners.

Maxwell Render is a third party unbiased render engine that produces absolutely stunning images. It has a reputation for being slower than other render engines but don't let that put you off. It is powerful, elegant, surprisingly easy to use, and has a superb network rendering solution that scales almost linearly with the number of computers/cores you give it.

The real breakthrough for MicroStation users is that the new Maxwell Render Exporter provides an almost effortless work-flow that retains all of your Maxwell material tweaks and keeps them automatically synchronized through as many iterations of your geometry as you like. This is achieved with the aid of a new feature called "Cache Materials" which I'll talk about later on in this post.

So for those interested in trying out Maxwell Render, here are a few links to help get you started:

Home Page:
30 Day Demo:
PDF Manual:
Video & PDF Tutorials:
Maxwell Exporter Overview:
Materials Archive:

Once you are ready to go, it helps to know that Maxwell Render is a collection of a few relatively simple components:

Maxwell Studio:   [Red Icon]   This is the Maxwell scene viewer. From here you can modify all render parameters and start a render job.
Maxwell Render:   [Grey Icon]   This is the render engine. It can be launched independently, with Maxwell Studio, or via the Maxwell Exporter.
Material Editor:   [Purple Icon]   This is a standalone material editor used to edit externally saved material definition files.
Maxwell Render Node:   [Green Icon]   Launch this on any computer that needs to participate in Network Render jobs.
Maxwell Manager:   [Brown Icon]   Launched this on the computer that administers Network Render jobs.
Maxwell Monitor:   [Blue Icon]   Use this to set-up & initiate Network Render jobs.

Additionally, there are three main file formats that you will need to be aware of:

MXS:   This is the Maxwell Scene file that contains all of your exported geometry; material definitions & mappings; camera, lighting & render set-ups.
MXM:   This is an externally saved Maxwell Material definition file. Note that currently Maxwell does not have the ability to reference external MXM files.
MXI:   This is the high dynamic range Maxwell Image file that is created when you do a rendering. From this file you save your PNG, TIF, or JPG rendered images. Maxwell allows you to stop a rendering at any point you like and as long as you still have the MXI file, you can resume the rendering from wherever you left off.

Maxwell's material definition system is incredibly powerful but at the same time quite incompatible with the way MicroStation defines material properties. The Exporter does its best to map equivalent settings but the reality of the situation is that exported material definitions will need to be tweaked by the user to get the best results from Maxwell Render. This sounds daunting but it really isn't, the "Cache Materials" feature provides a semi-automatic work-flow that allows you to tweak Maxwell material definitions just once and then have them automatically applied to ALL future exports.

Before you start,  it is best if you add the following configuration variable to your project UCF file:

The idea with this variable is that as you do your exports, a sub folder called 'MXM' will be populated with Maxwell MXM files that have the same name as your MicroStation material definitions. In future exports if the MXM file already exists, the exporter will NOT override it and will instead use the material properties from that MXM file rather than those found in the equivalent MicroStation material definition. This means that you can tweak the Maxwell MXM file as much as you like and the changes will automatically propagate to all future exports without any further co-ordination on the user's part.

The exporter currently doesn't support animation or motion blur. Maxwell Render itself seems to be on a pretty descent development cycle but for now it doesn't support RPC People, Procedural Textures, Volumetric Lighting, or a Fur Shader.

To launch the "Maxwell Render Export" dialog box, use the "MAXWELL SETTINGS" keyin. You will become familiar with the settings very quickly but to get you started, here are some screen captures showing the typical settings I use for an outdoor scene. The red highlights indicate the fields that you will need to change most often:

I've been keeping a purely informal list of definitions, tips, & tricks which is by no means complete or even 100% accurate but for what it's worth I've attached a PDF copy to this post in the hope that it gives someone a head start :-)

I encourage everyone to give Maxwell Render a go, you will find that it provides a fantastic complement to MicroStation's tool set.

Happy rendering :-)