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3DS Max Product Manager Frank DeLise interview

By Dave Baker, Neil Blevins,
Pablo Hadis and Paul Roberts


A number of changes have taken place at Autodesk since last year’s restructuring plans were announced. The change of 3DS Max product managers among them. With layoffs reaching 500 jobs, including a number of engineers, 3DS Max users have been worried about how this may affect future software development. The announcement that Frank DeLise was appointed as new product manager was well received, but doubts remained.

In order to find some answers regarding which direction 3DS Max development will be taking we talked to Frank DeLise, who kindly agreed to reply to our questions. Since he participated and led the design of 3D Studio MAX in some of its early versions we also took the chance to ask some questions on the subject, as well as how his video game development experience may influence 3DS Max in the future. Below are the results.

The Interview

How did you first get involved with 3D Studio? How did you become 3D Studio Max’s lead designer in its early years?

So I was an early adopter of 3ds dos in the early 90′s. I was luck enough to have it in college for my computer graphics degree. During that time I made some 3D logos for various broadcast companies and posted images to the bulletin boards back in the day.

One of the ADSK sales guys found my work and asked if I would be interested in working with sales support as an AE. So I joined ADSK and travelled to companies around north America, teaching workflows, converting customers and learning a lot.

After a couple of years during 3ds max development, I was asked to join the design team to help with 3ds max 1.0. My job was to help define and design some of the core 3ds max features and vet them with customers.

However during this time, I still used the product heavily and even got involved in some high profile projects as an artist. Also during this time I produced 10+ training videos on how to use 3ds max.

I did this for 3ds max 1, and 2 and 2.5. From there I moved up to product management and led 3ds max 3 and 4 and some of 5.

Tell us about your experience in video game development. Which studios did you found/work at and which video games did you help develop?

After 5+ years, I decided I wasn’t quite done being an artist yet. I had a burning desire to build a video game. So I set off to create a modern military game based on the an EA game called Battlefield 1942. I wanted to convert all the WWII assets into modern day tanks and plans, change up the gameplay and make a fast paced modern experience. I called it Desert Combat. I created a website, grabbed some people online and started my fantasy project for fun. A group of about 10 of us got it off the ground and before we knew it over a million people were playing it online.

To our shock, we decided, hey we might have something here.. so we pitched to EA to use this as a tool to create a bigger online experiences by releasing the mod tools we developed to make the game. EA agreed and paid for all our max tools and website to teach others how to mod Battlefield. This helped launch a small studio in NY where I was able to get more work and even do military training applications.

Soon after, the developers of Battlefield hired us to help design the next Battlefield franchise called Battlefield 2. Our job was to prototype future gameplay for the franchise using the desert combat work.

When our work was complete, DICE the makers of Battlefield acquired my company.

In 2005, I decided to create another company called Kaos studios in NY which I eventually sold to THQ and grew to over 100 employees.

In 2008, I become a consultant for various game companies and technologies and spent some time raising a new family.

In 2011, I rejoined ADSK as a Senior product manager, bringing experience as an artist, designer, developer and GM of various studios and projects to help drive new and existing products.

I am very excited to be back at ADSK as I believe they have a great future and exciting new changes coming.

You have ample experience in making actual artwork with Max, how do you think this experience will help you in your role as head of the 3DS Max team?

Yes, I have used max extensively and still use it today. I am in a good position to drive 3ds max as I know how to use the product, but also know the inner workings.

I have missed out on the last 4+ releases, but I am catching up on the changes Ken and Shane made to the product since I left.

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by Brandon Davis - January 24, 2013 10:35 pm

Wait, is it 1997 again? For you new kids who don’t remember 3ds DOS, Frank is going back to his old job.

by Brandon Davis - January 24, 2013 10:37 pm

Er…well, almost.

by Pablo Hadis - January 24, 2013 11:08 pm

Hey Brandon. Does this one ring a bell?

(Courtesy of Pete Addington)

by Brandon Davis - January 24, 2013 11:16 pm

I’m 42 now and that’s my mid-20s calling me. Frank was the one of the first people to do a video training series….oh VHS! And in the latter half of the 90s was probably the most visible person involved with 3D Studio. I still remember his motion capture controller demo with the turret that was live controlled by mouse and fired by keyboard presses. Revolutionary stuff back in 1998.

by Anonymous - January 24, 2013 11:27 pm

he sounds very “suit”, let’s see what happens

by Johannes Schloerb - January 25, 2013 12:41 am

Awesome! Welcome back – and thanks for this interview

by abangan - January 25, 2013 1:42 am

“performance, stability and improved workflows” are good but Along this , max apart from arch&design and game Industry is poor in other Industries .
need more standard tools (not profesional and update tools! only standard tools ) for animation,VFX and new tecnology support

maya,xsi,houdini,cinema4D,modo,blender have more tools for every industries

Liquids,smoke,fire,powerful and fast fraction and bullet tools,good and fast skinnig,terrain tools,fast 3d paint and UVlayout,good project managment,ptex and alembic support and etc
now max is not index tool in entertainment industries

when ?!!
we are tired to using plug-ins for Filling max’s Holes ….

by Daniel Wichterich - January 25, 2013 5:42 am

Animation performance is number one priority? That would be a dream come true…

by Chris - January 25, 2013 11:47 am

“Liquids,smoke,fire,powerful and fast fraction and bullet tools…”

I do not think we will see this anytime soon integrated into 3ds max – well, maybe liquids with Naiad technology. So you got to rely on FumeFX, RayFire and thinkingParticles and you have to keep dreaming of a complete 3ds Max.

by abangan - January 25, 2013 3:49 pm

dear chris
I know we can’t see this tools soon but I near 6-7 years Linger for this upgrades and now more of this tool and tecnologies near 7-8 years old …

yes I have to keep dreaming of a complete 3ds Max but why this dreaming tools for max users and daily used tools for other 3d users ?

I love max and more then 10 years using this in my projetcs and finally I being forced to using maya ! why ? because with one price give a more complete tools !
with alone max can’t support big and even some small projects because very incomplete in many context , for exam if I need working in VFX industries I must spend money for max,fumefx,rayfire,xsi but some times I can do all of my work only with XSI,maya,modo even free blender and if these software can’t support my work I can use nayad,arnold render,vray and Recently fume fx and etc for other packs . in VFX and animation max lives for max’s plug-ins and now these plug-ins publishing for other 3d packs and max is step to step going to memories .

now see Status of max in some big 3dsmax-base companies : blur studio add XSI to their pipeline,illusion start replace maya Instead max,blizzard add maya,pixomondo,scanline and even makutaVFX in india use maya and xsi near max and ….
why they can’t using only max in their 3d base pipeline ?

I Upset for this and like many of other max’s users hoping frank rescue max and know frank low timing for this big !

by well - January 26, 2013 3:34 am


Among all major 3D tool 3ds max is the most “complete” tool(or balanced).

Have you use Maya particle?
How would render volumetric in XSI without plugin?
Will you do character animation in Modo?

Some of max houses adopted Maya or XSI.
Some of Maya houses adopted max, too

I agree max need more improvement.
i agree we need better skin/UV/alembic.

But, I don’t think “Liquids,smoke,fire,powerful and fast fraction and bullet tools, terrain tools,fast 3d paint ” is more important than “performance, stability and improved workflows”

by Igor Posavec - January 26, 2013 5:47 am

oh no, please no max with 100 build-in fancy sfx programs (build-in once and never updated again)!

- Max would cost $ 25.000,- (with $ 6000,- subscription)
- Max would boot 8 minutes till it raise all those dlu-s

In Maya and XSI you don’t have FumeFx, Vray and Naiad as default either. If you work in VFX industry, you will need anyway to mix dozens of software, there is no surprise. And the studios have the money to chose and invest in it. I don’t want Autodesk to chose for me weather i am Krakatoa or destruction simulator.
I don’t need Naiad and i don’t need RayFire each time i start max, and i am sure almost none of need it in the fundamental everyday work. We spend 1/2 day with geometry and the other half of the day with light, rendering and scene setup (3d art&design processes). The rest is … the rest.

Max need on first place core-rework and finishing base functionality: modern selection and modeling tools, vertex (and other painting tools), perfect fast and progressive viewport, UV tools, excellent IK… MudBox or ZBrush like geometry tools or implementation… you know, all this stuff we talk about since 10 years.

by Anton - January 27, 2013 2:10 pm

@Igor Posavec
How you think their rewrite core tools of 20 years old software ?
This never happen, just forget.
BTW rayfire in base just a maxscript. Most 3rdparty plugins has couple mb dlo or dlu.
Watch how much unusable stuff loaded with standard max installation.
So 3rdparty plugins is just drop in the ocean

by abangan - January 27, 2013 3:33 pm

hi again
I come back only for some answer and quastion ! ;)

daer well

1-do you have any unit for “3ds max is the most “complete” tool(or balanced)” ?
complete tools set ? performance,stability or workflows ? max in which part is very indicator vs other 3d pack ?

2-I agree None of 3d softwares aren’t complete but for comparation we must more Fair ! with only one or two or three tools or problems not any of this software better , Although nparticle in maya is nice and character animation in modo is powerful . for more info can search nparticle in youtube and read modo 601 reviews and user forums in internet :

3-do you have any sample for “Some of Maya houses adopted max” ?
VFX user know if any maya houses company using max most for “max’s plug-in” but if these plag-ins publish for maya or other packs how much companies have extra money ?

4-i’m agreed with you “performance, stability and improved workflows” are important but for new version aren’t enough,please comparate with new version upgrades for modo,C4D,houdini,blender and etc.when I read list of these softwares upgrades and then see max 2013 upgrades only say @&*^%…!
in max 2013 ken so more focus on performance, stability and improved workflows and now you can see user’s feedbacks :

and also you can see max’s users what needs from max :

also better see rumors about 3ds max in 2012 and see how many users easily accept these rumors (but why easily accept?) :

and also see idea and hope to next max version between users :–3ds-max-design-2013/will-there-be-a-3ds-max-2014-or/–3ds-max-design-2013/3ds-max-2014whats-coming-down-the-line/

What is your opinion ? I say my view ! I can see many users disappointed from max and future of max Dependent to frank’s strategies Especially for 2014 and 2015 versions

by brandon young - January 28, 2013 12:40 am

i love max, but its a collection of bandaids. A frankenstein of plugins. Max is almost completely unusable ( at least on high end productions) with out a handful of plugins.

by Well - January 28, 2013 3:13 am

Then explain how Maya is “with one price give a more complete tools !”. Except rigging/character animation, I don’t think Maya is better than max out of box.

If you think “character animation in modo is powerful”, you need to do your homework first,

nParticle looks great on paper. If it is really that good, why does many many studios spend money on Houdini or even TP/PFlow.

I looked ” comparate with new version upgrades for modo, C4D, houdini, blender “. I don’t see much different.

Lets look at Modo. It vertion 6. Where is a full animation system? Particle? The new kind of IK system is not even their own code. They bought the code.

C4D 14? Digital Sculpting / Improved Modeling Toolset / Camera Enhancements / Better and Faster Rendering Integration(with Nuke)
It looks as boring as max.

Honestly some users will always be disappointed.

If you put a new features, someone will scream “no new feature, make it stable and fix bugs!”

If you improve an existing feature, someone will say “I don’t use that, I use xx. Why do you waste resource? Just buy that”.

If you really buy “that”, someone will complain “Autodesk just buy stuff.”

If you improve/fix something invisible but fundamentally important, people does not even know the change. But, just say “fix the core”.

by Patrick85 - January 28, 2013 5:24 am

Days of 3d max finished. Every new max release works slower, ancient tools must be completely rewritten. But every time AD adds useless, slow and buggy piece of code.
I don’t buy this.

by ali - January 29, 2013 6:32 am

vray in render full slow
mentalry slow render all not professional
for 3dsmax working render support renderman or furyball or arnold render

by Cyrille - January 29, 2013 9:34 am

I’ve been using max since its DOS version, but still I’m amazed how slow and non efficient it is now.
On big scene, I’m experiencing so much freezing and lagging it’s a nightmare.
I hope Mr Delise will cut the b***** on user experience and all, and just put the f***** coders to work and have a fully multithreaded 3DSMAX.
Come on! it’s 2013 and still when Im doing operations on objects I can see than only one of my 16 process is working, while VRAY is multithreaded and all, the core program is so slow it’s beyond understanding.
Come on guys, do some REAL work on the program PLEASE

by alih - January 30, 2013 5:45 am

The overall work
Particle fumefx and thinking program should be 3ds max
Another point of all companies. Why not render in 3dsmax

renderman Arnold Furryball do have the ability
The next step is to pull one of these three programs
New measures should be done after to 3dsmax6 after you added something significant?
New programs such as Blender makes it much stronger than 3dsmax
Would you sell it to fit 3dsmax
Priced at $ 1500 with limited features

4000 price features professional

6000 prices with full amenities, all facilities should be

by Freddie Dingo - January 31, 2013 4:50 am

I’ve been using 3ds Max for over 9 years (starting with 5.5) and everyday I’m disliking it more. I’m working as a professional in the architectural visualisation for over 7 years,. Today I’m still using Design 2009, for the reasons they keep adding new features in every version we are not using, especially for Mental Ray (we use Vray) and animation. Now I understand there are a lot of people using it, but it makes the program way to complex and slow to load. Give people an option to choose what parts they want loaded, or standard setups for different users. Compared to Modo (yes, I know there are more features in 3ds Max, but still) 3ds Max feels outdated in terms of loading time and user interface.
The only reasons we keep using it, is all the custom scripts we made, and because it’s the industry standard, which provides lots of content and tutorials etc.
And I believe it’s priced way to high. We stopped with the subscription in 2009, because Autodesk gives us a new versions (sometimes ever more unstable) with more and more features (plugins) we don’t need!

by abangan - February 5, 2013 2:08 am

my discuss with well about max going to other 3d softwares! I opening speak about other 3d packs only for exam,Comparison and Criticism to max not for analysing other

softwares and also I think with Prejudice to max and destroying other softwares , 3ds max not going top.

but now I Forced defending from my Claims and answer to questions about other 3d softwares ! ;)

–about maya :
1 – I before told my job is animation and VFX so maya with one price give a more complete tools for me and if my job been arch&design max with one price give a more

complete tools !
2 -every body can read about particle and nparticle in maya’s documents in internet and Judge (Although I more love pflow and toolboxs).
maya have particle (ordinary or good) and can do some work (maybe simple work) but we have not some standard and normal tools in max . so we can not compare for example

pflow in max vs particle in maya and then camparate flouid,fire,smoke in maya vs max !
3 – and about why houdini or fumefx or thinking particle or rayfire or … more using for VFX ? this is easy ! because dynamic tools in maya are normal for works but

houdini have powerful and Efficient pack for dynamic&VFX and the other plug-ins are specialty for VFX

–about modo:
1 – modo have particle or have not ,their IK for their or not , what Relevance to our discuss ? with these
2 – modo have particle and used for cloud simulate and if some code from other developers team are bad what are your views about mentalray,iray,character studio,CAT,lens

effects,pflow toolbox and etc in max ?!
3 – everybody need more info about modo’s facilities can see in modo site and for now I only give a exam for better compare.for many 3d users maya=animation so better see maya users ideas about fast modo upgrades,new modo 601 animation tools and compare with maya after release maya 2013 :
and see review about new animation upgrades in 3dworld magazine :
and also see how much upgrades in one version and compare with autodesk softwares …

–compare with new upgrades in C4D :
your opinions is honorable but in my opinion C4D,modo,blender new upgrades are nice and I have enough Reasons for my claim but this page isn’t suitable Place for discuss

and Propaganda for other packs !
but one exam in C4D 14 : new complete sculpting pack income (and thinking use it with powerful C4D’s podypaint3d in one pack) ! nice camera tools set for matte painting and

animation,nice dynamic upgrade for more complete tools set,intepolate with photoshop,aftereffect,nuke and alembic with them and etc.if is low upgrade so what is max 2013

upgrade ?
see 3dworld magazine for C4D 14 reviews and result of this reviews :

–”Honestly some users will always be disappointed”:
yes complete agreed but Few percent of users are dissapointed and dissatisfied from max,softimage,maya (and other autodesk entertainment pack tools) VS other companies’s 3d

software ? can see in forums …

– At the end I have a Request from other max users !
if max Progress is important for your jobs and belief max for some industries in the Boundary edge please more active and writing your ideas about max (like me and dear

well) even giving more info about user’s views to developer teams,maybe effect …. ;)
I hope to mr delise for changes because :
1-I think he love 3ds max and intrest to his work and max’s Progress
2-for now he is new manager and need to Prove himself So ready for changes
3-he been max user and more familiar with problems in max for production
4-nice history in game industries and enough info about entertainment industries and max’s deficiencies.

by Tommy - February 6, 2013 12:59 am

@ali: i think you had no idea what you are talking about…

by ali h heidari - February 6, 2013 8:31 am

Please 3ds max remove plugs from
thinking particle fumefx ray fair Replaced in its 3ds max 2014

by Pablo Hadis - February 6, 2013 1:11 pm

@Tommy: Please be corteous when replying to others. You may disagree completely with someone’s opinion, but you can express it with courtesy. Rudeness is unnecessary.

by abangan - February 6, 2013 11:33 pm

I think ali opninion about need suitable render engine for animation in max.
vray and mental ray (and any raytracer-base engine) are more used for single frame rendering,these engines are slow for animation and animation effects (like motion blur) and some time their renders have flicker.
renderman engine-bases and arnold render have suitable performance for animation&VFX render and furryball is a nice and fast GPU render for animation.some news come about furryball’s plug-in coming soon release for 3ds max.
these render engines are one important reason for animation and VFX users to choise other 3d pack like maya or houdini for their jobs.

by Tobbe Olsson - February 7, 2013 4:56 am

I have used PRMan in production, and I’ve used Arnold since early 2000 when all it could do was basic Monte Carlo Skydome renderings that caused so much fuss back then. To say that V-Ray can’t compete with Arnold and PRMan, I personally think is nonsense. I try to always have an open mind and if there are any benchmarks out there that shows me that PRMan and Arnold are superior in every way, then I’ll take on-board that information.

The thing is, most renderers have their own strengths and weaknesses. There is no one perfect renderer for all scenarios. Krakatoa is a also a renderer but designed to be good at a particular aspect, which is why it’s useful for most any 3D artist as an off the shelf solution and your studio don’t have a dedicated RnD department.

As for 3DS Max, I personally feel I am one of the few who still thinks it’s a really solid platform. Especially coupled with a few plugins. 3DS Max, I find, when working on massive feature film scenes, is as fast as Maya and Houdini but that can change depending on what plugins are installed. Unfortunately if you have certain plugins installed, performance takes a huge hit.

My main concern with 3DS Max is pricing and where it’s going in the future development wise, which I wish Autodesk would be more open about. I am keeping my options open. While it’s early days for me, I do enjoy Houdini a lot as well. I love(d) Naiad and feel I have a very strong knowledge of the software. I think Clarisse shows promise, but since it’s so early it’s still lacking so many features that you need to put it into production for a lot of tasks. And it lacks a lot of 3rd party support. I am very concerned about Autodesk’s future but I feel confident in knowing that I can go to other software packages if needed and my solid foundation won’t be wasted. I’ve found Houdini to be easy to pick up and I suspect that the same would go for most experienced 3D artists, regardless of the package they’ve invested a lot of years in. Autodesk isn’t bulletproof and hopefully they realize that. For now, I still enjoy creating in 3DS Max. For areas like liquid simulations and organic modeling, I turn to other software, but at the moment 3DS Max 2013 is still a good package that I see plenty of good work coming out of and find comfortable producing good work in.

Anyway… that was a long rant. But while I question 3DS Max’s future, I would never go as far as saying it’s been useless since v4,5 or whatever old version that some of you have fond memories of.

by Steve Green - February 7, 2013 5:14 am

I wouldn’t say useless, but there’s a rather good thread on polycount commenting that it peaked in 2009 for VFX work, and the additions since then have not helped.

It certainly feels like there’s a lot of bloated tonka toy UI on top of the (already aged) shell, aimed at new users that alienates existing ones.

by Well - February 7, 2013 11:27 am

Interesting… discussing vfx side of 3ds max in “polycount” forum.

by Steve Green - February 7, 2013 1:59 pm

Sorry I should have said in general (although I hear plenty of complaints from VFX/Particle people)

Although it’s a games forum there’s crossover for pre-rendered cinematics.

Here’s the thread

by Damon - February 10, 2013 6:27 am

I think the most telling thing about the interview is when the 3ds Max Product Developer himself says “I have missed out on the last 4+ releases,”

Why would that be?

by Rotem - February 10, 2013 9:46 am

@Damon Because he wasn’t the Product Manager at the time?

by Stephen Davidson - February 17, 2013 9:34 pm


Put back “Polyboost” how it was originally in 3ds max 2009….

That graphite system absolutely butchered a simple and effective tool that I am fully accustomed to.

Please rebuild graphite to resemble polyboost…I beg you, seriously!

by untn - June 27, 2014 2:53 am

I hate to say this but 3ds Max is losing it, it became so slow it’s like it living on it’s legacy Autodesk must know that people are thinking to leave if they keep charging them high prices with no actual improvements in the product especially in performance.

by really - June 27, 2014 2:23 pm

@untn Have you even tried 2014?

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