CAP 201a - Computer Animation I

Lesson 1 - User Interface


This lesson introduces the student to the software used for the course. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Overview of the user interface
  2. Manipulating the viewports
  3. Creating simple objects (primitives)
  4. First animation exercise
  5. Manipulating an object

The first lesson 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.

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.

The Welcome Screen also introduces a point you want to be aware of right away: some objects on the screen may not appear at first. For example, when I start the program on my instructor workstation, I do not immediately see the Close button on the welcome screen. It will appear after I run a video, or if I perform an act of faith and click the spot where I know it is.

This odd behavior occurs when you open the student files as well. If you open a file and do not see what you expect to see, try a few clicks to make objects appear. This may happen due to the intensive graphic nature of the program. Be aware that 3DS Max should be run at 1280 by 1024 (or higher) screen resolution in order to see all of the controls in the user interface. As such, it should be run on a computer that is faster, has more memory, and has a better graphics card than the average user needs.

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. In the first set of exercises, you get to change the views, exploring what some others look like. 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 work in one viewport at a time, but when you make a change, the change should immediately appear the other viewports as well. You can select a viewport by clicking it.

The lesson introduces you to the menu bar and tool bars available in 3DS Max. You will use several commands on each in the first exercises.

Exercise Notes and Questions

Note: Exercises should be carried out in the classroom. You will not get very much out of them by just reading, nor will you learn what is required by just experimenting on your own. Each exercise is meant to cover specific content that you will be required to know.

Work through the exercises and turn in your answers to all questions below as part of the homework for this assignment.

Exercise 1: Load the file indicated in the exercise. (We will discuss file locations in class.) Note whether all objects appear in all views immediately. Practice switching views as shown in the text.

Exercise 2: Get a feeling for creating the basic objects in this exercise. Note that you may have to move the mouse in a different direction than you might think to orient the object the way it is shown in the text. You can delete objects if they turn out wrong, and try again.

Exercise 3: Note the Reset command, shown in the text. It means to discard the current project work and start a new project. This exercise also introduces the command panel. Each time you click one of the six buttons at the top of the command panel, the rest of the panel can change dramatically, giving you options for that command set.
Question 1: What is the name of each of those buttons?

It seems inevitable that a computer book will use undefined terms sooner or later, even though the terms are obviously commonly used. The term I see in this section is spline. For now, understand that one definition of a spline is a drafting device used for drawing curves.
Question 2: Use a search engine to find more definitions on the Internet. Turn in what you think is a good one, along with a URL to your source.

Exercise 4: Use this exercise to get a feel for switching from one tab to another in the command panel. Note the book's recommendation that you should modify an object's properties from the modify tab, not the create tab.
Question 3: How do you quickly set a spinner control to its minimum allowable value?
Question 4: If a panel extends below the screen, how can you bring the hidden section into the user interface?

This exercise introduces the quad menu. It is called that because you may get four context sensitive menus with one right click. Whether you get all four menus or not depends on what you right-click.

Exercise 5: This exercise walks you through viewing a simple animation, and making a change to it. The change illustrates that you can make an animation run faster by moving a key frame to an earlier spot in the sequence, and slower by moving the same frame to a spot later in the sequence.

This exercise also introduces flyouts by showing some that are in the viewport navigation tools.
Question 5: Where in the user interface are the viewport navigation tools?
Question 6: What is a flyout?

The text discusses a few screen rendering modes that you should recognize and use: wireframe and smooth + highlights. In this discussion, it is only talking about how objects are shown in your viewports, not how they will appear in final (rendered) version at the end of a project.
Question 7: What is the function key that switches between these two rendering modes?

Exercise 6: You will learn how to turn on the Zoom About Mouse Point feature under Preferences, Viewports. This will give you fine control, when needed to zoom in on a feature of a screen object.
Question 8: What is the keyboard command to undo the last View operation?

Practice using the commands in this lesson to zoom, rotate, and undo.

Exercise 7: This exercise introduces more features relating to perspective views. Complete this exercise as well to finish the first lesson.