CAP 201a - Computer Animation I
Lesson 10 - Chapter 15, 3DS Max Rendering
Chapter 15 discusses rendering 3DS Max
scenes. Objectives important to this lesson:
- Rendering setup
- Safe frame
- Raytraced reflections and refractions
- Rendering the rocket
The chapter begins with a discussion of the importance of
rendering. Rendering was listed back in chapter 1 as the first step in
post-production. It could be argued that rendering is
production, as far as the final product is concerned.
The text continues with parameters for
rendering. If you do not already know how to open the Render
Setup dialog box, you are given three ways: Click the Render
Setup icon in the toolbar, select Rendering,
Render Setup from the menus,
or press F10. As usual, I recommend the toolbar
button, since hot keys can mean other things depending on what you are
This dialog box is broken into five tabs, each of which has
sections that affect any render, including a quick render. On the Common
tab, Common Parameters
rollout, several features are defined:
- Time output - default setting is a Single
frame, but you can select the Active Time Segment
(all frames of the scene), a Range of frames, or a
list of specific frame numbers. The last two are more
useful for rendering a portion of a scene. The Every Nth Frame
option lets you make a test render of a series of frames, to check
whether you need to change any settings. It can alert you to lighting,
rigging, and animation mistakes before you spend the time rendering the
- Output size - Settings for the resolution
of the output, including preset resolutions on buttons that can be
redefined by the user
- Image Aspect - the ratio of image width to
image height; if you change this, the height of the images will be
recalculated to fit
- Options - This is a series of toggles
that tell the render engine to consider or ignore specific features of
the scene. Some of the options:
- Atmospherics - Render or ignore atmospheric
- Effects - Render or ignore other kinds
- Displacement - Render or ignore
surface displacement from maps
- Video Color Check - check for colors
that are not safe for NTSC or PAL formats
- Render Hidden Geometry - Render or
ignore objects hidden in the selected view
- Force 2-Sided - Render or ignore the
inside of objects; necessary for an accurate render if the inside of an
object is visible
- Render Output - You use this to save your
render as a file. You specify the type
of file, the location to store the file, the name
of the file, and the codec to use (if you are
rendering an animation). You should be aware of the various output
formats that are options.
The E-mail Notifications rollout is not
discussed in the text, but its existence hints at a problem we have not
had yet. The problem is that a render might take a long
time. This rollout gives you a way to have 3DS Max send an e-mail
completion of a render, provided you have an SMTP server to send the
On page 314, the text discusses the Rendered
Frame Window, which has a lot of buttons to render in specific
ways. We have not discussed the fact the you can leave this
window open while you continue to work on a scene, then click
the Render button on it to see how your changes work
out. You can also use the Viewport to Render drop
down list on this screen to change which viewport
will be rendered when you initiate a render again. This is handy when
you click the Render Production button and realize you rendered the
Canceling a render is also a nice feature,
especially if it will take a while and you hate it right away. The text
describes doing this on page 315.
The Assign Renderer rollout gives you a
place to change the renderer used by various parts of 3DS Max. You
should do so when you need to, but remember what you
have done. This setting is retained until you change it again.
3DS Max 2012 comes with several render engines built in: the default
scanline renderer and the mental ray renderer
have been around for a while. You have used the scanline
renderer in all the quick renders done in this class. The text mentions
that it renders a series of horizontal lines.
If you watch the render window when this is going on, you can easily
see the lines being drawn.
The mental ray render engine does a better
job with bouncing light rays in a scene, but it takes longer to render
each frame. The mental ray renderer produces more careful
rendering of light that is reflected or refracted
in your scene. The author describes mental ray as the more powerful
renderer. You should be aware that you can buy other
rendering engines to install as plug-ins for 3DS Max, which have more
capabilities as well.
The VUE renderer is not really a render
engine, as such. It produces a text file as the render output, so that
the render could be used in other programs.
The iray renderer
is a pretty new feature. The link in the last sentence goes to an
Autodesk video that compares the mental ray and iray renderers. In the
video, the narrator describes various settings she chooses when using
the mental ray renderer to obtain good results, without crashing the
computer generating the render. Thanks to the miracle of time lapse
photography, she shows us that her render actually took almost two
and three quarter hours to produce one frame
of output. Now, imagine her situation: this was a test render. She
needs to change settings and render again. Time to send out for pizza?
She turns to the iray renderer, which has a simpler interface: it only
wants to know how long you will let it render. Its render is superior
to the settings she used, even before it is finished. If it were
obviously a bad choice early on, the operator would be able so save
time by stopping sooner, and adjusting problems (like lighting) in the
scene before the entire render time had been used.
Hardware renderer is described in the video this line links to. The
features it provides are beyond the scope of this class. Watch the
video to get an idea of what it can do, but don't worry about using it
Chapter Exercise 1: Rendering the
This exercise starts on page 316.
- Set the project folder and open the file
specified in the text.
- Open the Render Setup dialog by one of
the methods mentioned above. In the Time Output
section, click the radio button for Active Time Segment.
(This means all frames on the timeline.)
- Find the Output Size section and click
the button for 320x240.
- Find the Render Output section (about
three rollouts below Output Size) and click the Files
button. (It may be the only thing you can do in that section at the
moment.) This takes you to a window where you will do several things:
- Navigate to the folder
where you will save your output (This is more important than it sounds.
You need space to write a video file, and you need to
know where you put it.)
- Enter a filename for your output file.
- The text says to click the Save As Type
drop down, and
choose MOV Quick Time File. This selection is not
possible on a computer that is running a 64 bit version of
Windows. Despite the blessings of Quicktime extolled in the
text, Apple does not provide way for 64 bit Windows to write an MOV
file. If you are running such an operating system, just render to an AVI file instead.
- Click the Save button, and the Compression
Settings dialog will appear. What you see here varies
depending on what file type you chose in the last step. In this case,
use the settings in the text, if possible. This dialog box appears by
itself the first
time, but you will probably have to click the Setup button if you need to access
settings parameters again.
- Look at the bottom of the Render Setup dialog box, and
check to see that Production is selected instead of
ActiveShade. ActiveShade is an in-between kind of measure that shows
semi-rendered views in a viewport.
At this time, check that the viewport you want to be rendered
is the currently selected viewport. The render engine
will only render the currently selected viewport,
except as noted above. If
not, change it! (If you need multiple views in your movie, you make
multiple renders and composite them together in another program like
- Click the large Render button in the
bottom right corner of the Render Setup dialog box. Each frame in the
timeline will be rendered separately and added to the output file.
Remember in step 4, when I told you to pick a folder to send
the output to? Navigate to it (in
Windows Explorer, not 3DS Max) and play the file.
The text turns away from its main topic to consider cameras.
The text explains that you will use two types of cameras in 3DS Max:
In both cases, a camera only sees what you put in front of it. This
adds one more role to your list. You are the director, the set
designer, the actor/puppeteer, the gaffer/key grip (head
electrician/lighting guy), and the camera operator.
- target cameras are linked
to a location in the scene to keep the camera looking at that location
even when the the camera moves. Have you ever heard
of an actor being told to "hit a spot" on a stage or a set? This
is like that, in that the camera is set up to look at that particular
spot. Well, you have to set it up, but that's the point of it.
- free cameras require manual
settings; they do not automatically look at any object or location.
They are pointed at whatever they point at when they
are created until they or the objects they point at are moved.
Basic camera shots are not discussed here,
but they should be, along with some guidelines to
categorize the shots you make. These guidelines are based on having a
human being as the focus of the shot. For shots that do not include
people, use whatever the main object is as the measuring stick:
- extreme long shot - people are often not
visible in this shot that shows a cityscape or landscape
to establish the location of the next shot (also
called an establishing shot for the obvious reason)
- long shot - includes the entire subject,
head to foot. Fred
Astaire had a clause in his contract with MGM that said he was to
be photographed this way every time he danced on screen.
- medium shot - shows a standing subject
from the head to about the knees
- close-up - shows mostly the head
of a subject, may include shoulders, but always ends
above the waist
- extreme close-up - shows a portion
of a face, or a portion of an object
shots can also be categorized by the angle of the camera
(height above or below the subject), and by the kind of motion that the
camera must make in the shot. Follow the link in the last sentence to
read a discussion of these kinds of shots, which should help you to
think more three dimensionally. Consider this tribute to several Alfred Hitchcock
films that shows his use of the camera, and how you might do
similar things in an animation.
Camera lenses in the real world have
characteristics that are related to their focal
length. 3DS Max uses equivalent measurement to simulate the effects
of longer and shorter lenses in its cameras. A related concept is Field
of View (FOV). This is a measure of the width
of the portion of the scene a camera can see. The longer
lens is, the narrower the FOV. The shorter
a lens is, the wider the FOV. In the real world, we
need to change the lens on a camera to change the focal length. In 3DS
Max, we can change to one of several Stock Lenses
with a click on the Modify panel.
A rule of thumb for categorizing lenses:
- focal length 30mm or less - wide
angle lens; makes the background look farther away from the
foreground, includes more foreground than a regular lens
- focal length between 30mm and 200mm - standard
lens, the extremes (30 and 200) will have some characteristics of the
kind of lens they are closer to
- focal length 200mm or more - telephoto
lens; makes the background look closer to the foreground
The text tells us that the default FOV for a
3DS Max camera is 45 degrees. The default
focal length is the rather odd 43.456mm.
Chapter Exercise 2: Creating a camera
This exercise starts on page 319.
- Set the project folder and open the file specified in the
text. Select the Top viewport.
- Click Create, Cameras, Target
camera. Use the illustration on page 320 as a guide to placing
the camera in the scene. (Like creating a target light, drag
from the camera to the target.)
- In this step you need to move the camera
and the target. You can move them separately, but try
the technique explained in the text: select the line
connecting the camera to the target
icon, and use the Move tool gizmo to move them to the
desired height in the Front viewport.
- Pick a viewport to change to the camera's point of view.
Note the explanation of what you should do and what can happen:
- Select a viewport and press the letter C.
- If a camera is currently selected, the viewport should
change to the point of view of that camera.
- If no camera is currently selected, and if there are
several cameras in the scene, you will get a dialog box to pick which
camera to assign to that viewport.
- Quick Render the scene. Move the camera to better placement.
The text briefly mentions moving cameras.
There are advantages to the cameras used in 3DS Max
(and other virtual environments). We can move them as we like, without
regard to the physical limitations a camera crew
faces on a movie set. Some basic terms:
- panning - changing where a camera is
pointed by rotating it
- trucking/tracking - changing where a
camera is pointed by changing the camera's location;
typically this term is used when a camera moves to follow a subject
- dolly in/out - moving the camera toward
(into) or away from (out of) the scene
- push-pull - moving the camera toward
a subject, then away from it
- crane effect - in movies, a crane shot
places a camera on a crane that moves it above the scene. In 3DS Max,
we will create a path for the camera to follow. The path must go where
the crane would have put the camera.
- zolly - zoom in one
direction while you dolly in the other, typically
doing each at the same speed; keeps the focus where it is, subject
stays in place in the frame, but the background changes a lot; see this
example from Goodfellas
and the example at about 3:57 in this clip from Jaws. When done as a
dolly out, zoom in, as in theses examples, the effect illustrates the
flattening effect of a telephoto lens.
- Follow this link to a Yale
page about movie terms for more terms and a few example videos
Follow the steps on page 321 to create a
simple animation for the camera in this scene. Adjust
it to your own design, and render to a video file. Show
me the video.
introduces a pair of concepts that it does not have us use.
Clipping planes are features that we find in
games as well as in modeling animations.
Think of looking at the scene through a cone (base is a circle) or a
pyramid (base is a rectangle), like the
field of view cone that is drawn for a camera. Now imagine that the
cone is bounded by six planes: top, bottom, right side, left side, near
clip, and far clip. What are those last two? Well, lets consider some
vocabulary from next term:
- frustum - the player's view of a scene,
diagrammed as a pyramid whose apex points at the player or camera. The
angle formed by the legs of the frustum (field of view)
may simulate either short or wide-angle camera lenses
- near and far clipping planes
- the near clip value tellls the camera where to start
seeing, and the far clip value tells the camera where
to stop seeing. The planes defined by these distances
from the player are called the near clipping plane
the far clipping plane.
- six planes - the frustum illustrated here
has only four planes: top, bottom, left, and right. You might think
that the far plane is the base of the pyramid, but it is actually
farther away, so you can see a background. Imagine the far plane and
the near plane as well.
If an object is
outside these six planes, it should be culled from the scene. It will
not be rendered, it will not be seen by the audience.
The clipping planes define where an object must be in relation
to the camera in order to be rendered.
Safe Frame view is diagrammed on page 322.
The image showing the camera here shows part of the idea. The innermost
yellow frame is is the title safe frame. It marks the
area where the software has determined that it is safe to put text in
our view. The blue frame is the action safe
frame. Things that happen inside this frame should be visible
to most viewers. The outermost yellow frame is the live
frame. This is the limit of what the render engine
On page 323, the text discusses using raytracing
to get "real" reflection and refraction
in a scene. The text suggests that we can get realistic reflections in
a scene with either a Raytrace material, or a Raytrace
map. It recommends the map solution as
taking less calculation (by the computer). It renders faster, but gives
you less control and less detail than a Raytrace material. Unless we
need the detail of the material, the text says to use the map.
The text proceeds to give us an example of each approach.
Chapter Exercise 3: Creating a Raytrace
This exercise starts on page 323.
- Open the file specified in the text. Make
sure one of the viewports is set for Camera01.
- Pick a sample slot in the Compact
Material Editor. Click the Get Material
button. This time double-click the Raytrace material.
- Find the Raytrace Basic Parameters
rollout. Change the color of the Reflect
swatch from black to white, as instructed,
to make the material as reflective as possible.
- Change the Diffuse color swatch to black.
- Apply the material to the column in the
- Change the render engine from the default
scanline renderer to the mental ray renderer, and do
a quick render of one frame. Warning: do not
overwrite your video file from exercise 1. (Turn off
the check box under Files, and you will render just to the screen
The text breaks off the exercise to discuss the results. You
should have a reflective material, but may notice
jagged edges (jaggies) in the reflections. The text
explains that the jaggies are caused by aliasing, an
effect that rendering can cause unless antialiasing
filters are turned on. In fact, the standard antialiasing filter is
on, but the author wants to show you supersampling,
which means filtering twice.
An interesting part of this discussion is the introduction of
the Clone Rendered Frame Window button, a feature of
the Render window. The Clone Rendered Frame button
opens a second window which is, at first, identical to the render you
just made. However, you can make a change in the scene, and render to
the new window, while keeping the old
one open on screen. This is useful for trying out a change and seeing
which version you should use. (You can undo the new change to return to
the state of the previous render. Or can you? Can a render crash the
computer? Yes, sometimes.)
The problem with this particular exercise is that the images
supplied to show the effects of antialiasing and supersampling don't
look any different from the images that show renders without these
effects. Examine the images below, and you will have a better idea of
what to look for on your screen.
|Jaggies at reflection edges
||Adaptive Halton removes most jaggies
On page 325, the chapter turns to using a Raytrace map.
Chapter Exercise 4: Creating a Raytrace
This exercise starts on page 325.
- In the same scene you used above, select a new slot
in the Material Editor.
- Open the Maps rollout. Click the map
button for Reflections. Select Raytrace,
as you did in the last exercise.
- Click the Go to Parent button.
- Find the Blinn Basic parameters section,
and change the Diffuse color swatch to black.
- Change Specular Level to 98
(bright), and change Glossiness to 90
- Apply this material to the column object
and do a render.
- If you see aliasing, follow the procedure at the bottom of
page 324 to apply supersampling and render again. The results with the
Raytrace map are very similar, and a bit faster.
On page 326, the chapter turns to refraction.
Refracted light is light that has been changed by
passing through a medium like glass or water.
In the exercise that is provided, it passes through a curved wine
glass. The text warns you that rendering refraction takes significantly
longer than reflection.
Chapter Exercise 5: Creating a refraction
with a Raytrace material
This exercise starts on page 326.
- Continue in the scene from the last exercise. Switch your
Camera01 viewport to show Camera02.
- Pick a new sample slot in the Material
Editor. Click Get Material.
- Choose the Raytrace material.
- Find the Raytrace Basic Parameters
rollout. Change the color swatch for Transparency to white
- Uncheck Reflect, and change the value to 20.
- The Index of Refr parameter is for the
simulated Index of
Refraction for the material. (Follow the link for a
discussion of why different materials refract differently.) In short,
the higher the value, the more the material bends light. Leave the IOR
- Open the Extended Parameters rollout
(illustrated on page 327). Set the Reflections Type
to Additive. Set Gain to 0.7.
- Find the Supersampling rollout. Follow
the instructions the the text.
- Go back to the Raytrace Basic Parameters,
and find the Specular Highlights group. Make the changes
noted in the text.
- Apply the material to the wine glass in
the scene. On my computer, the glass seemed to disappear in the
Do a Render.
Read the discussion about changing the IOR
value at the bottom of page 328. If you were going for realism, you
could look up IOR values for various materials on the Internet.
The text repeats the procedure, but uses Raytrace
mapping on page 329, to produce reflection and refraction. The
render on this will take a LONG time compared to the others. For
illustration, the image below followed this procedure for the wine
glass, but used the Raytrace material method for the column/table top.
On page 331, the text turns to a project that puts together
several skills from this chapter.
Project Exercise 1: Camera movement
This exercise starts on page 331. Before we
begin, consider that some shots cannot be obtained with a stationary
camera. The crane shot in High Noon,
the tracking crane sequence in Touch of Evil,
and the extremely long, single take, tracking shot in Goodfellas
are all examples of shots that don't work unless the camera moves.
- Change the project folder and open
the project file specified in step 1.
- Click the Auto Key button to turn on key
frame auto capture. Move the Time Slider to frame 45.
Standard viewport nav icons
|Camera viewport nav icons
- Click the Camera viewport. Note the change
in the Navigation Tools area, noted in the text. If
you missed it, click another viewport, then switch to the Camera
viewport again, and watch the change.
- Use the Dolly Camera tool as instructed
to move the camera closer to the model.
- Use the Truck Camera (pan) tool to adjust
the scene as instructed. It will look like you are adjusting the scene,
not the camera.
- Use the Orbit Tool as instructed. You can
think of it as adjusting the scene or adjusting the angle of the camera.
- The text tells you to use the Truck Camera tool again to
get a view like the illustration on page 333. You may find that you
need to adjust with the Dolly Camera tool as well. Don't worry if you
adjust several times, only the final position is saved in the key
frame, as long as you have not moved the time slider without cause.
- Run the animation to check your work. Adjust
as desired. Turn off Auto Key, and save
The lesson continues by adding raytraced reflections to the
scene. No more faking it, we want "real" reflections in our virtual
Project Exercise 2: the rocket
This exercise starts on page 334.
- Continue with the scene from the last
exercise. Open the Material Editor. Lots of materials
are in use in this scene already.
- Select the first sample slot. It should
already be named Rocket Body Left. The author
explains that we do not need to change the material for the other side
of the body, since we will not see it. This seems sloppy, but it
actually speeds up the renders you will do.
- Open the Maps rollout for this material.
There should be no map assigned to the Reflection channel. (If one is
assigned, drag a button that says None onto the map button for
Reflection. Or try the method in the text: right click and select Clear.
- Change the value for Reflection
to 20. Click the Reflection map button,
choose Raytrace, and click OK.
- Do a quick render. You should see a difference between how
the rocket looked at the end of the last exercise and now. (Shiny,
- Repeat the steps to add a Raytrace
reflection to the materials for each of the
parts listed in the text. These should be:
- Rocket Body Right? I thought they said to leave it
- FIN DECAL
- Control Panel
- Wheel Bolt
- Wheel White
- Wheel Black
- Render again to check your work, and save
Project Exercise 3: the room
This exercise starts on page 336.
- Continuing with the last scene, in the Material
Editor, select the material called FLOORS.
- Change the value for Reflection to 50
(50%), and set the map for Reflection
- Click the button for Map. Choose Bitmap,
and click OK. Navigate to the bitmap file
specified in the text. It isn't there? The text says it is a TIFF file.
It isn't. It is a PNG file.
- You should see the Bitmap Parameters
section. Find the Coordinates rollout, and change
from Environ to Texture. This is the only change for
- Click Go to Parent. You should see the
panel with two buttons again. Click the Mask
button and set it for Raytrace as you did for the
materials in the last exercise.
- Render to see the change
in the scene. Improve the reflection by changing the Reflection
value as instructed in the text.
In the rest of the chapter, the authors fail to provide
numbered steps. On page 337, they tell us how to turn Special Effects
on and off for the current render. (They are turned on presently in
Starting at the bottom of page 338, they walk through creating
a QuickTime movie of the 45 frames you have worked on. It is worth
noting that 45 frames will be one and a half seconds at the default
frame rate for QuickTime. Create a movie of this scene, in AVI format
(because Apple still doesn't make a QuickTime writer for
64-bit Windows). Render it and play it for me.
Oh, by the way: I want something else in the scene as
well. I will tell you what to add to the scene in class.