CAP 161 - Digital Imaging for Animation

Lesson 5 -Introduction to 3DS Max; Modeling


This lesson covers material in chapters 1 and 2 of the 3DS Max text. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. 3DS Max purpose and interface
  2. Creating and transforming objects
  3. Modeling objects

The first chapter introduces you to the user interface for 3DS Max. Let me stress that: it introduces you, it does not make you an expert. There are far too many buttons, menus, and choices to become an expert in one lesson, but we must start somewhere.

3DS Max is a program for modeling and animating objects, and for creating stills and videos from those objects.

As you start the program, 3DS Max shows you a Welcome Screen with a menu of seven videos that introduce you to major features of the program. I recommend that you play them all when you have time to do so and earbuds to listen to them.

On pages 2 and 3, the text describes the major components of the 3DS Max interface.

  • Note the four viewports, which provide four different views of the scene you are working on.
  • The menu bar and toolbar are in the expected places for most programs.
  • The timeline across the bottom of the screen is used for managing the timing of animations.
  • The command panel has several subpanels, each dedicated to a particular kind of work: creating, modifying, managing relationships between objects, managing complex motion, display tools, and miscellaneous tools.

The lesson introduces you to the menu bar and tool bars available in 3DS Max. You may feel overwhelmed by the number of details the text presents. It is unlikely that you will remember all of it until you have used this program for a few weeks. 3DS Max will be your companion through all of the 200 level CAP classes.

The text describes the viewports shown in 3DS Max, panels that show several different simultaneous views of your project. These four panels can be changed in size, in orientation, and in content. They can be set to show other views than the default set: Top, Front, Left side, and Perspective. Note: the default set of views (other than perspective) corresponds to standard orthographic drawing, a way to use drafting or CAD tools to show three dimensions on a flat surface.

You will usually work in one viewport at a time, but when you make a change, the change should immediately appear the other viewports as well. Sometimes you make changes in one viewport and watch the change in another to make sure you are doing what you think you are doing.

Page 8 discusses the three most basic transformations you will make to objects: position, rotation, and scale. The text shows the three different gizmos, tools for manipulating objects, that appear when each of the three transform tools is selected.

Pivot points are the points around which an object rotates. The default location for a pivot point is in its center. Page 9 shows that you can move an object's pivot point anywhere inside or outside the object.

Several of the topics on the next few pages will make little sense until you use the program, so we will pass over them for now.

Chapter 2 begins the topic of creating models. The text states that "models represent the objects in your scene", but this is not true. Models are the objects in your scene. If a 2D animator is an actor who makes and manipulates drawings, a 3D animator is an actor who makes and manipulates models. It is less like being a cartoonist and more like being a puppeteer.

Before you can make a puppet and make it dance, you need to know some basics about 3DS Max objects. (Exercises are in about 20 pages.) The text presents examples of two sets of shapes 3DS Max knows how to create with a couple of button clicks: primitives and extended primitives. They are mostly regular, geometric, solid shapes. It is not necessary to memorize which list each shape is on, but it is necessary to know many of these basic shapes as starting points for your model. Remember the lessons about drawing based on geometric shapes? This is a 3D application of the idea.

Page 23 introduces modifiers. One or more modifiers can be added to an object to change its shape. For instance, you can add a bend, a taper, or a twist modifier to an object, and you can change the properties of the modifier to make it just the way you need it. (Or you can use more advanced modeling techniques, which you will see later in the curriculum.)

One advanced tool the text hits briefly is the Free Form Deformation (FFD) modifier, on page 24. Adding this modifier to an object lets you greatly customize its appearance. This tool can also be used dynamically, to animate a change in appearance. In the exercises in this chapter, you will not need this tool. Instead you will add the Edit Poly modifier to an object to allow you to manipulate various parts of it independently.

A typical object is constructed of lots of polygons (flat, closed shapes with a fixed number of sides). Polygons have various numbers of vertices (points that define the shape of the object). (Vertex is singular, vertices is plural.) A vertex may or may not seem to be a corner. A curved line has vertices, but it doesn't seem to have corners. This is an illusion. The reality is that it actually has corners. Let's define a corner as a point where the line segments change direction.

Vertices are connected by line segments, which are just called segments in 3DS Max. The segments are the edges of the object. It will be apparent from wireframe illustrations in the text that adjacent polygons share edges and vertices. An area enclosed by the edges of one of the four-sided objects in our examples is called a surface.

You should realize now that models are constructed from basic shapes that are combined and modified. To discuss modifying a shape, the text introduces the idea of turning a shape into a mesh. Mesh objects have sub-objects (e.g. vertices, edges, polygons) that you can modify. A mesh object allows us to modify its vertices, edges, polygons, etc. in a way that dynamically adds new connections where they are logically needed, as though those connections had always been there. If you move a segment, new connecting segments and vertices will appear if they are needed to avoid a break in the object's surface. Unless you want a break.

To turn an object into a mesh, you have a few options:

  • add an Edit Mesh or Edit Poly modifier to the object
  • convert the object to an Editable Mesh or an Editable Poly (with its quad menu)

If you add a modifier to an object, you can still change the properties of the original object. (But it might break if you do.) If you convert an object to a mesh, you no longer have access to the original object's properties. If you add a modifier to an object, the file for the scene gets bigger and takes more memory to render than if you convert to a mesh (or a poly). This may be confusing. Remember also that a poly is just a special kind of mesh, a newer kind that has more options. If you make an editable mesh or an editable poly, you can refer to either as a mesh and be right, although not very precise.

The text introduces you to sub-objects that are commonly available in a mesh or a poly (converted or not). Note the illustrations on page 30 showing icons to select the various kinds of sub-objects you may want to work with:

  • vertex - all the points you see in wireframe view (selection icon is three dots)
  • edge - any line connecting two vertices is an edge (selection icon is a triangle)
  • border - borders are sets of edges that surround open holes in an object, like the rim of an empty can (selection icon is a kidney shape) This is only available on poly objects, not mesh objects.
  • face - subdivisions that are parts of a polygon This is only available on mesh objects, not poly objects.
  • polygon - a polygon is a surface bounded by edges; with this tool you can select multiple surfaces on the object (selection icon is a square)
  • element - an element is a series of connected polygons (selection icon is a cube)

You will also need to understand what a spline is. Our original CAP 201 text defined it this way: "A spline is an open or closed linear or curvilinear element". Did that help? A spline is a line that you draw, which may create a closed figure (or not). Splines are usually two-dimensional. Splines can be used to determine the shape or movement of other objects in the scene. They can also become objects. In the illustrations on page 28, the text shows that you can:

  • Draw a spline that represents the outline of a cup, then Lathe it (rotate it around an axis) to create a solid figure of the cup.
  • Draw a spline in a rough circular shape, then Extrude it to form a solid tube, shaped like the spline.
  • Draw a spline that is used as a path by a Sweep command, which extrudes another object through space. Think of pushing PlayDoh through a stencil, and controlling the path that the extruded dough follows.
  • Use the Loft command, which is like the sweep command, but it uses one spline for the path, and another for the object to be extruded.

Back to sub-objects. Each kind of sub-object presents some unique operations that can be done with it. Some operations can be done with multiple sub-object types. Look at pages 32 - 34 and note the slightly different editing choices available for vertices, edges, and polygons. You will need to know about several editing choices do the first exercises:

  • Extrude - This moves a sub-object three dimensionally out of or into the parent object. For example, you can extrude a polygon out of an object. This will cause new polygons to be created that connect the extruded polygon to its previous connection points.
  • Chamfer - Chamfer turns the selected sub-object into a series of flat faces. Think of a wooden cube. If I chamfer one of its edges, I am effectively shaving off that edge, leaving a new polygon in its place, and adding four new edges (the edges of the new polygon) to the figure.
  • Fillet - This is like chamfer, but the new faces are rounded instead of flat.
  • Weld - This tool fuses the chosen vertices at a point between them.
  • Bevel - This tool can work like the extrude tool, but it can also modify the edges of shapes that connect to whatever you extrude.
  • Inset - This tool lets you shrink a polygon, while maintaining its shape and position. New faces are created to connect it to the edges it was connected to.
  • Cap - The Cap tool covers an indicated hole or gap in a model. Be aware that the cap that is formed will be flat, regardless of the curvature of the surrounding material.
  • Extrude Along Spline - First there must be an object in your scene that you will extrude a surface from. Second, there must be a spline, a line that may or may not be curved, that will act as a pattern for the extrusion. The command lets you create an extrusion that copies the shape of the spline. It does not necessarily flow along the spline, but along a path that matches the path of the spline. I suppose Extrusion That Mimics the Path of a Reference Spline would have been a more accurate name for the command.

The author seems bent on providing more information than you will need for this chapter. Be aware that there are several ways to smooth out an object. One is illustrated on page 37, where a box shaped object is made rounder and smoother with NURMS (non-uniform rational mesh smooth). The text warns you not to use this method with too many iterations (repetitions). It does not say why. When you use too many iterations, the computer will crash, you will lose your unsaved work, and you will have created something that is too detailed to use. The Turbosmooth modifier discussed on page 38 is a safer choice.

Primitive objects can be combined into compound objects, as indicated on page 40. This method allows you to add, subtract, and otherwise combine two or more shapes into a single object. However, you should be aware that the Boolean and ProBoolean object types are prone to failure when they are given too many shapes to combine as one. The simple examples on page 40 should be fine, but don't assume you can combine an unlimited number of objects into one compound object.

That is enough material for now. Try the first tutorial in the chapter.

Tutorial 2-1, alien character: This tutorial begins on page 42. You will need some help to carry out all the steps, so look at the notes below for supplemental advice. Make sure to save your work incrementally.

  1. In step 1, draw a box the approximate shape of the one shown in the book.
    1. Select the Perspective viewport.
    2. Click the Create Panel tab on the Command panel, then click the Box button.
    3. Hold down the left mouse button and drag in the Perspective viewport to draw the bottom of the box.
    4. Release the mouse button, and move the mouse up to draw the height of the box.
    5. Click again to lock in the height. The actual dimensions of the box will not matter.
    6. Click the Modify Panel tab.
    7. In the Parameters rollout, set Length Segs to 5, Width Segs to 8, and Height Segs to 7. Press the F4 button on your keyboard to see the edges of the segments if you cannot see them already.
    And the author thought one sentence was enough for that?
  2. In step 2, the author's instructions do not resemble what he did in the picture. The scale tool will not produce this effect. Do this instead:
    1. Select the Front viewport. Adjust with pan and zoom (page 6) as needed to see the box clearly.
    2. Open the dropdown for the Modifier List. Find the Edit Poly modifier and click it.
    3. You will now have access to the sub-object features in the Edit Poly modifier (page 31). In the Selection rollout, click the Vertex button, which looks like three dots arranged in a triangle. Click the box for Ignore Backfacing, so that there is a check in it.
    4. Click the Select and Move button on the main toolbar (it looks like arrows pointing north, south, east, and west).
    5. One at a time, click each vertex indicated in the image for this step in the text, and move it to the position indicated. In the image on the right, I have moved six vertices. You can see the red and green arrows attached to the Move gizmo that is still associated with the last vertex I moved. Move vertices in your box for each of the alien's eyes.

  3. Step 3: Extruding
    1. On the Selection rollout, click the icon for Polygon sub-objects (it looks like a red square).
    2. This will work better in the Perspective viewport, so click it to select it.
    3. Hold a control key down. Click all eight of the polygons representing the alien's eyes. You will adjust them all at once.
    4. On the Edit Polygons rollout, click the Extrude button. Hover your mouse over one of the eyes, and you will see the mouse pointer change. Click and drag to extrude the polygons into the box, making eye sockets. Note that new polygons are created as you do this, connecting the polygons you moved to the polygons remaining on the front of the box.
    5. Click the Extrude button again to end the extrude operation.
  4. Edges
    1. Click the Edge sub-object button (it looks like a hollow triangle).
    2. As you did with the eye socket polygons, hold down a control key to and select all of the edges indicated in the picture in the bottom left corner of page 42.
  5. The author's instructions are incomplete. (Why am I not surprised?)
    1. Do NOT click the Chamfer button in the Edit Edges rollout. Find that button and look immediately to its right for its Settings button. My mouse pointer is hovering over the correct button in the image on the right.
    2. Click the Chamfer Settings button, and you will see the Chamfer Edges dialog box.
    3. Put a check in the box beside Open.
    4. Leave the Amount and Segments settings at 1, and click the OK button. The dialog box will close, and you will have a mouth hole in the box.
  6. Lips from a border
    1. Click the Border sub-object icon (looks like a kidney bean).
    2. His instruction about the shift key is not helpful.
      Click the Scale tool icon in the main toolbar. The Scale gizmo will appear in the scene.
    3. Click the edge of the mouth hole and all of the border edges should be selected.
    4. Drag the top handle of the gizmo down, and the border should scale into the mouth, simulating lips.
    5. Click the Move tool icon, and drag the edges of the lips toward the back of the head.
  7. Save your file. Now, if you can do so, sculpt the mouth a little more. For example, you can select the outer edges of the lips and move them a bit away from the face.
  8. Eye sockets
    1. Click the icon for Polygon sub-objects. Your last polygon selection should still be selected: the polygons at the back of the eye sockets. If they are not selected, ctrl-click them.
    2. With the eye socket polygons selected, press the Delete key (keyboard).
  9. Shape the eye sockets. Yeah, that's all the author gave as an instruction. He does realize you've never used this program before, doesn't he? Let's call it good and move on.
  10. Add a Spherify modifier to the model. Adjust the value of this modifier to your own taste.
  11. Add another Edit Poly modifier as instructed. Do NOT delete the polygons on one side of the head.
  12. Do NOT carry out this step. It is a nice idea, but I want you to do it another way.
    1. In the image on the right, I have activated the Top viewport. Do that.
    2. I have also selected the Polygon sub-object mode of the newest Edit Poly modifier. Do that as well.
    3. Now, the way to select two polygons at once is to click one, then hold down a control key and click the other. Do that, selecting the same polygons I have selected in this image. This takes us to the Bevel instructions in the next step.
  13. With the two polygons selected, bevel several times to make an antenna, using the steps below. Make sure to monitor what you do in the Perspective or Front viewports, since it will not be obvious what is happening in the Top viewport.
    1. Click the Bevel settings button.
    2. Use the Height value to control the distance the bevel extends, and Outline Amount value to control the size of the end of the bevel. When you are happy, click the Apply button.
    3. Bevel the polygon at the current end of the antenna, changing the values again. Repeat this as needed to sculpt an antenna that has several segments including a small bulb on the end.
  14. We will look at mirroring and recombining next year. Ignore this step.
  15. Ignore this step as well.
  16. In the remaining steps, the author trusts that you will be able to sculpt the alien with no further instructions. Try it out for 20 minutes, and show me the result at the end of that time.