CAP 161 - Digital Imaging for Animation

Lesson 5 -Introduction to 3DS Max


This lesson covers material in the first hundred pages of the 3DS Max text. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. 3DS Max purpose and interface
  2. Setting the project folder
  3. Creating and transforming objects
  4. Basic animation

The first chapter introduces you to the user interface for 3DS Max. Let me stress that: it introduces you, it can't 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.

Movie ListAs you start the program, 3DS Max 2012 is configured out of the box to show you a Welcome Screen with a menu of six 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. We will take a look at a few in class to get an overview of the program.

If the screen on the right does not appear as part of the program startup sequence, you can bring it up manually. Open the Help menu, then select Essential Skills Movies.

On pages 4 through 10, the text describes several major components of the 3DS Max interface.

  • Note the four viewports, which typically provide four different views of the scene you are working on. You can change the view in any viewport to customize your working environment.

  • The menu bar and toolbar are in the expected places for most programs. You will learn the use of various choices in exercises.

  • The timeline across the bottom of the screen is used for managing the timing of animations. You can change the number of frames in the scene, the number of frames per second for animation, and the position of keys you place on the timeline.

  • 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 text points out the Navigation buttons in the lower right corner of the workspace. Their functions are important, but you will probably use the mouse controls and the the Viewcube more often. The Viewcube is a tool that appears in the upper right corner of viewports, unless you turn it off, or select a view that does not support it. Drag a Viewcube, click one of its faces, or drag the ring that appears with it to change your view in that viewport.

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.

The text tells you to open a file on page14. It is overlooking an important problem. For several versions, 3DS Max has had an interesting behavior. The best way to accommodate it is to show you.

Set Project Folder

  1. I will put a copy of the start file for this exercise on the Assignment drive on our system. It will be in a folder called Scenes. Copy the whole folder into a folder on your removable storage device (not your network drive) that you will use as the project folder for this and other exercises.
  2. Set Project FolderOnce your Scenes folder is in place, open 3DS Max.

    Follow the sequence in the image on the right:
    1. Click the Application button.
    2. Click Manage.
    3. Click Set Project Folder.

  3. Select FolderIn the dialog box that appears, navigate to the folder into which you copied the Scenes folder in step 1. I called my folder "Boardman", after the author of the book. Select the correct folder, and click OK.

  4. This will allow you to open the scene file. The program will now automatically look in the Scenes folder inside what you set as the project folder. It will also create a set of other folders at the same level as the Scenes folder. This is one of the reasons to set the project folder: you don't want the program to create a series of other folders where you don't want them.

  5. The book's advice about saving right away with a new name is a good idea. Never work on your only copy of anything, It is easier, however, to keep the same filename, but to add a number at the end, and to increment that number each time you save afterward. It is easier to do this because 3DS Max has a built in feature that accommodates the practice. Just select the Save As option as the text states, but on the save screen, click the button with a plus sign just to the left of the Save button. This will add a number to the end of your filename (if it is not there already) or increment the number (if it is there) and save the file.

  6. The text moves on to doing things with this scene that are not very instructive. Let's leave it for a while, and come back to your saved version after we get to know the program a bit.

    To get ready for the next concept, click the Application button, select Reset, and respond to the questions. Do want to save your changes to the program? No, not now. Do you really want to reset? Yes. This will give you a new scene to work on, and the program will still be thinking of the same project folder.

Page 38 discusses creating some objects in an empty scene. We will continue with that section of the text.

Creating Objects

  1. There is no need to turn off the grids in the viewports. I suspect the author only tells you to do it in this step to show you the command. Create a plane in the Top viewport as instructed. Note that it become visible in all viewports.

  2. Create a box, as instructed, on top of the plane. A plane is a two dimensional object. A box has three dimensions. After you drag the box's planar component, watch in the Perspective viewport as you drag a bit more to give the box some height. Click to stop changing the height of the box.

  3. Create a sphere as instructed. Note, as the text explains, that wherever you start dragging, that is assumed to be the center of the sphere.

  4. Create the next several objects, and note that you have more dimensions to define for some of them. A cylinder is defined like a box. A tube must also be told how thick the tube wall is. A cone starts out like a cylinder, then has to have its taper defined. Undo is your friend. Practice creating these shapes. To stop creating, just click the Select Object tool on the toolbar.

  5. The text points out that while you are creating an object, its parameters are displayed in the Create panel, but if you click anywhere else and select that object again, the Create panel does not display parameters. You need to choose the Modify panel to make changes to an object.

  6. Save your file, regardless of what the text says.

Creating Shapes

  1. On page 42, exercise 2-2-2 begins by telling you to use the Reset command. How nice, he got around to teaching it to you. Select the Reset command, as instructed.

  2. If you have not saved your work from the exercise above, do it before you throw it away.

  3. The program always asks if you really want to reset. Tell it Yes. Again, ignore the author's religious hatred of the grid. The grid is good. It helps you find your way in a dark and empty scene.

  4. Right-click the Top viewport to select it. You can do this at any time while modeling, to switch from one viewport to another without losing whatever object is currently selected.

  5. Create a rectangle, as you did a plane in the last exercise. Note that a rectangle has only lines and vertices. It has no surface. Like a plane, it is two dimensional. The text explains that two dimensional figures can be used an animation paths. This is an advantage because the thing following that path will show up in a video, but the two dimensional shape will not (unless you arrange for it to do so).

  6. Create a line object as instructed. Note the use of a right-click to stop adding vertices to the line. Practice a bit with the other shapes to get the feel of creating them.

Chapter Three begins with a description of the three most basic transformations you will make to objects: position, rotation, and scale. It then leaves this discuss for several pages, and resumes again on page 58. Over the next several pages, the text shows the three different gizmos, tools for manipulating objects, that appear when each of the three transform tools is selected. You will notice the differences between the main three when you do the next exercise.

Move Transform

  1. The text assumes you did an exercise a minute ago. Let's catch up.
    Reset your scene.
    Look at the first picture on page 59.
    Create a box and a cylinder, arranged like the ones in that picture.
    How do you get the cylinder in that orientation? Create it in the Front viewport instead of the Top.
    How do you change the dimensions if you are unhappy? Switch to the Modify panel, select an object, and change its parameters.
    However you made the objects, right-click the Top viewport to use it in the next step.

  2. In the toolbar, click the Select and Move button. It looks like a dot with arrows coming out of it pointing north, south, east, and west. Click the box if it not already selected. The box now has a "move transform gizmo" on it in all viewports, a tool that will help you move the box in the scene. Note that the gizmo has three arrows, as well as several line segments in its center. These features are shown in three colors associated with direction (Red, Green, and Blue), and one which is not (Yellow). The mnemonic for this color scheme it RGB = XYZ. You will see this color scheme used in other gizmos and other programs, so learn it now.

    Hover your mouse pointer over the red arrow shaft as indicated in the text. Actually, you can hover over the arrowhead and the same thing will happen: that arrow becomes active, and its shaft turns yellow. The other shafts take on the color of their arrowheads.

  3. Move gizmoThe author is taking too long.

    Drag an arrow of the gizmo. When you drag an arrow, you can only drag along the axis that the arrow lives in. This keeps you from moving the object on an unintended direction.

    What if you don't really have an intention? Get one. Or don't. If you want to drag in two directions, either do one at a time or drag on one of the planes in the center of the gizmo. In the image on the right, I have hovered my mouse pointer over the square plane between the X and Z axes. (Axis is singular, axes is plural.) Note that the arrow shafts on both of those axes are now selected, and so is the their connecting square and its edges. In this state, I can drag the box anywhere on the XZ plane, as defined by the current viewport. The author discusses this on pages 61 and 62.

    Move the box and the cylinder to practice putting them where you want them to be.

Rotate Transform

  1. Continue with the scene from the last exercise. Click the Select and Rotate button on the toolbar. It is just to the right of the Move button. If no object is selected, click the box. Instead of arrows, this gizmo presents circles around the selected object, color coded for the axes in the scene. Dragging on a circle rotates the object on that axis.

  2. There is also a gray circle in the rotation gizmo that has a special purpose. It allows you to rotate the object clockwise or counter clockwise with respect to the current view of the object. This allows a rotation that would be difficult to achieve otherwise in the perspective or camera views. (Camera view? Yes, we can set up virtual cameras, and a viewport can show what they see.)

  3. Rotate the box, and you will probably get what you expect. Rotate the cylinder, and you may get a surprise. The box seems to rotate around its center, but it is really rotating around the center of the first surface you drew for it. This is more obvious with the cylinder because its first surface was a circle that is now at one end of the cylinder. What do you do to rotate the object around its center? You move its pivot point.

Pivot points are the points around which an object rotates. The default location for a pivot point is in the center of its first surface. The text discuses pivot points on pages 69 through 72. You can move an object's pivot point anywhere inside or outside the object. Most often, you will need to place it at its actual center, or at one end.

Pivot Points

  1. This time, start with step 2 on page 70. Continue with the scene from the last exercise. (You are saving as you go along, aren't you?) Select the cylinder in your scene. Rotate it a bit to convince yourself of where the pivot point is.

    Affect Pivot GizmoClick the Hierarchy panel icon. It looks like a box above three smaller boxes.

  2. The top rollout (section) of the Hierarchy panel is the Adjust Pivot rollout. Click the button in it that says Affect Pivot Only. In the image on the right, I have just clicked this button. Note that the gizmo changed appearance to let me know I am in this mode. I could use the odd looking arrows to move the pivot point of the cylinder, but there is a quick way, given what we want.

  3. As the book says, if you want to center the pivot point in the object, you can just click the button in the Alignment rollout that says Center to Object. There is more that you can do with this toolset, but this is the most common change you will make with it. Click that button.

  4. Click the Affect Pivot Only button again, to turn off the adjustment mode. Always exit this mode before continuing to model the scene.

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. Let's have a quick lesson in animation.

Animation 1

  1. Start a new scene in 3DS Max.

  2. Create several primitive objects, such as a box, a cylinder, a torus, a tube, and a teapot. (Yes, really, a teapot. I can explain...)

  3. Click the button near the bottom right of the workspace that says Auto Key. This will create keyframes on the timeline automatically when you transform objects.

  4. Drag the time slider from frame 0 to frame 25. Rotate and move one object.

  5. Drag the time slider to frame 50. Rotate and move two more objects.

  6. Drag the time slider to frame 100. Rotate and move any remaining objects. Turn off Auto Key.

  7. Click the play button (it's a bit to the right of the Auto Key button). The animation should repeat automatically. Show me your work for grading.

Overview of a few other features

Much of your work in 3DS Max concerns creating models. 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. 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.

3DS Max also has built-in modifiers for objects. 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.)

A typical object is constructed of lots of polygons (flat, closed shapes, typically 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.

To significantly modify a shape, we introduce 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.