CAP 201a - Computer Animation I

Lesson 2 - Chapter 3, Modeling the Red Rocket


This lesson continues the introduction to the software used for the course. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Modeling from reference art
  2. Modeling the Red Rocket, part 1


Chapter 3 jumps into its project on the first page. It begins with a new concept: what if we have some reference art that we want to put in the scene so we can see it while we are constructing our model? That might have been nice while you were modeling the dresser last week. This project provides you with three reference images that you will add to objects in the scene. They will be removed when the modeling is done, but they will help to make the model resemble the real world object the model is supposed to look like.

Project: Building the Red Rocket

On page 52, the text reminds you to set your project folder.Two things about that.

First, if you already have a project folder set, and a file from that folder open, you can't effectively set a different project folder. You can do it, but it won't make any difference.
Close the open file first by clicking the Application button, then selecting Reset. Then answer whatever questions 3DS Max asks. This will close the open file. Then, you can continue to set the new folder.

To set the project folder, click the Application button, click Manage , then click Set Project Folder.
Find the folder where you copied your material for this class, then select the Red Rocket folder in that tree as indicated in the instructions. Keeping a controlled subfolder structure will allow you to move the project from one computer to another with minimal trouble.

Project Exercise 1: Creating planes and adding materials 

This exercise starts on page 53.

  1. Start with a new file.
  2. First, select the Perspective viewport. (The text gets around to this in a few lines. You are better off doing it first.)
    You are instructed to create a box with the Keyboard Entry rollout. Using this method gives you a precisely created object, but be aware that the values you use for each parameter would orient the object differently if you had chosen a different viewport for your construction.
    In this step, create a box whose Length=22, Width=0.01, and Height=12. Leave the axis parameters at 0 (create at scene origin), and click Create.
  3. Switch to the Modify panel. Name the first box (Side View) as instructed by typing that name in the field that shows the object's default name.
  4. Select the Top viewport, and switch back to the Create panel. Create a second box in the Top Viewport with the parameters given: Length=22, Width=12, Height=0.01.
    This one will be long and wide, but will lie flat on the floor of the scene. This is the default creation location for the Top viewport. Name the box Top View.
  5. Select the Front viewport. Create a third box as instructed, using the parameters Length=12, Width=12, and Height=0.01. Name the box Front View.
  6. Boxes for Red Rocket modelAlign the boxes as instructed. Their orientation should resemble the Perspective view shown on page 54. In my case, it is like a mirror image, so I will spin the view cube to match soon.
    Question 1: What is an easy way to move the Front View box exactly six units on the z axis?
    Turn on Smooth & Highlights in all viewports. (F3 is the toggle for this feature. Sort of.)
    This setting may not be available. If it is not, use the drop down for each viewport to go to Realistic or Shaded view. The viewport shown in my image is Realistic. Realistic is nice, but the shadows that objects cast may get in your way soon. You can always change it again.
    The text also instructs you to use the Zoom Extents All command on each viewport. (Press the letter Z.) This will automatically place the camera in each viewport at a distance that displays all scene objects simultaneously.

  7. Next, use standard Windows tools to find the three image files that will be assigned to the three boxes:
    • In XP, you would open Windows Explorer and navigate to the folder they are in. (You can get there by right-clicking My Computer or the Start Button and choosing Explore.)
    • In Vista or Windows 7, you could click the Windows Start button, and choose Computer, then drill down to the necessary folder.
  8. Make your explorer window smaller than full screen, so you can see 3DS Max behind it. Find each file (front, top, and side), then drag and drop each one on the matching object in a 3DS Max viewport. (Note that this technique does not use the Material Editor.)
  9. Repeat and adjust as needed to complete this part of the project and save incrementally.

Project Exercise 2: Creating the body 

This exercise starts on page 55. Before beginning it, the authors tell you to load a scene from the files for this chapter. I suspect this is because they have done some organizational work in that file that they have omitted from this year's version of this project.

  1. Using the file indicated in the text as a starting point, change the Front viewport to a Back viewport as instructed. (It is already a back viewport in the supplied file.)
    Note that the Front view box still shows the same "Front" picture on its back side. It's a box. They do that. Don't get confused by the lack of proper imagery.

    Create a capsule object as instructed, with a Radius of 3 and a Height of 21. The illustration on page 56 shows the capsule as it would appear in the Perspective viewport if it had been created without changing the front viewport to the back view.. This illustrates, once again, that the initial position and orientation of an object depend greatly on which viewport is used for its creation.
  2. Set the values for Sides and Height Segs as instructed in the chapter (8 and 6, respectively.) Turn off the Smooth option, and the capsule will look a little like a 1930s dirigible.
  3. Name the object Rocket Body. Press enter after you have typed this, or the next command will not work. While the capsule is still selected, press Alt-x to make the capsule transparent. (If it has a gray tone now, don't worry as long as you can see through it.) Turn on Edged Faces in each viewport by selecting each one and adjusting its features, or by selecting them and pressing F4. (F4 is a toggle. If you have already turned on Edged Faces, F4 will turn it off.)
  4. Use the move tool to line up the Rocket Body with the reference images, as indicated at the top of page 57. Two errors in this step: The authors refer to the Left view as the "Side" view. This it what it is called in Maya. (3DS Max has separate Left and Right views, but Maya does not.) Also, the authors have set the Back view back to a Front view without mentioning it.
  5. Convert the capsule to an editable poly as instructed.
    Question 2: What is at least one other way to convert an object into an Editable Poly object?
  6. Enter vertex subobject mode by any of the methods previously described. (The vertices will turn blue, to indicate that they are selectable.) Select the vertex at the front tip of the capsule/rocket model. This is harder than it looks. Check in all viewports to make sure you selected the right vertex and only the right vertex.. Use your mouse wheel to zoom in and out, pan if needed, and use Zoom Extents Selected as needed.

    You may be inspired at this point to orbit the model, or to switch a viewport to a back view to check things out. Again, do not be terrified by the fact that the rear of the Front View plate also shows the front reference picture of the rocket toy. This is simply what happens when you map one image onto a box: it shows on all sides.
  7. Graphite soft selection buttonIn this step, you can use the Graphite panel or the Modify Panel, and open the Soft Selection settings rollout. Set the Falloff to 6. What's a falloff? In this case, it's a measure of how much of the surrounding area is affected by a change you make on a vertex.
  8. Click the Scale tool. (It no longer seems to matter which version of the scale tool you use. More on this later.)
    The authors are not helpful when they tell you to adjust the scale in the Back viewport. Nor do they ever address the issue of each reference box being wrong when viewed from the reverse side.
    Use the Top viewport instead. Adjust the x and y handles of the gizmo independently until your rocket looks like the figure 3.12 on page 60. You can also just make out what the text is trying to tell you on page 59: You can drag the yellow bar that connects two axes to scale them together.
  9. If you have followed my instructions above, step 9 is unnecessary. If you are having trouble, try adjusting further in this step.
  10. A ring of vertices with soft selectionStep 10 leaves much to be desired. Read it first, then come back here.
    Look at the image on page 62 to get an overview of the shape you want for the rocket. Ignore the wheel nacelles, the handlebars, and the fins.

    Zoom out a bit in the Top viewport, then continue using the scale tool, with the same Soft Selection falloff, or none.
    You can adjust individual vertices along the length of the rocket body object, trying to make it match the contour of the reference image and the model shown on page 62. This is the hard way.

    Alternatively, you can marquee select all the vertices in a ring, turn the soft selection on or off as needed, and scale uniformly to get the right girth for each part of the model. In the image on the right, the red vertices have been selected. When they are scaled, nearby vertices will be affected as well. The amount of effect is communicated to us by color. Remember the mnemonic for a spectrum? ROYGBIV. In this case we only seem to go from Red to Blue. Leave the soft selection turned on when you want a more gradual falloff to the next vertex. Turn it off when you don't want it.

    After you have adjusted vertices in the Top viewport, change to the Left viewport and adjust vertices there. (Don't worry about the right side of the rocket, because we will delete that and mirror the left side shortly.)
  11. Go to Polygon mode, and use an area selection (marquee selection) to select the polygons that form the tail of the rocket body, as indicated on page 60. Press the Delete key to cut them from the model.
  12. Save incrementally.

Project Exercise 3: Smoothing the body 

This exercise starts on page 61. It uses NURMS to smooth the rocket body by seemingly adding more polygons to the model which are used to automatically smooth out harsh angles. (NURMS is "defined" in the text as Non-Uniform Rational Mesh Smooth.)

  1. Select the rocket body, if it is not selected. On the Graphite ribbon, find the Edit tab, then click the icon for Use NURMS. (You could also go to the Modify panel, find and open the Subdivision Surface rollout, near the bottom of the rollout list, and turn on Use NURMS Subdivision.) The text remarks that the model has not actually changed: NURMS is an illusion that shows a smoother model, while leaving the actual polygon count the same. The actual polygons remain editable as they were.
    Once you have seen NURMS in place, click the button again to turn it off.
  2. Switch to Polygon mode (if you are not in it). In the Top viewport, use an area selection to select the polygons on the right side of the model. (In this view, your right and the model's right should be the same side.) You will find that you do not need to marquee select the middle of the rocket body to do this. When you have selected the indicated polygons, delete them. (Use the delete key or the quad menu.)
  3. Select the editable poly object in the Modifier list. (I find that pressing the numbers to switch modes is not mnemonic, and worse, it often does not work.) Open the drop down for the Modifier list. Click the Symmetry modifier. In the parameters, set Mirror Axis to X, and uncheck Flip.
    Question 3: What is the purpose of making a reference clone of the left side of the rocket body? (It is in the text.)
  4. Find the Show End Result icon under the modifier stack display (shown on page 62). Click it to continue seeing the mirrored image of the rocket body.
  5. Save incrementally. You may want to tweak the shape of the body object more at this point, moving and scaling vertices and polygons. Just like computer gaming, incremental saves let you travel in time. So should the undo button, but I have found in these exercises that undo sometimes has unpredictable results. ("It is not logical, but it is often so." - Spock, Amok Time.)

Project Exercise 4: Adding detail to the body 

This exercise starts on page 62.

  1. The text explains that you will use a new tool on the Graphite ribbon to add loops of edges to the model.
    First, the text tells you to switch to object mode (select the Editable Poly object in the modifier list), although it also says that this tool will work in any subobject mode. Okay.

    Next, on the Graphite ribbon, find the Edit tab, and click the Swift Loop icon. (You will click it again to turn it off later.) The text explains that you hover the mouse over the model, preview where the tool will add a loop of segments, and click when the preview is in the right place.
    The illustration on page 63 should have been larger. It shows four loops that the authors want you to add to the model, two that go around its girth (latitudinal lines), and two that go along its length (longitudinal lines). Look carefully at the picture with your magnifier to see where you need to place these new lines. Then orbit, hover, and click to place them on the model.
    Once you have done this, turn off the Swift Loop tool.
  2. The Swift Loop tool is useful, but apparently not perfect. The authors warn us that it did not connect the new longitudinal loops to the vertex on the nose of the model.
    1. Switch to vertex subobject mode.
    2. Make sure Use Soft Selection is turned off.
    3. Refer to the illustration at the top of page 64, and select the two vertices shown in red. One is on the nose of the model, and the other is at the end of a prematurely terminated loop that runs along the top of the model.
  3. On the Graphite ribbon, find the Loops tab, and click the Connect tool. This should extend the loop through the nose vertex. (A line segment is added to the model.)
  4. Find the end of the other longitudinal loop that ended too soon. Repeat steps 2 and 3 to connect it to the nose vertex.
  5. Save incrementally.

Project Exercise 5: Creating the wheel well 

This exercise starts on page 64.

If everything worked so far, continue with the file you saved in step 5 above. If you had a disaster, load the file Rocket_01.max from the supplied project files. If you do so, this would be a good time to do a Save As, saving it locally and renaming the file as your own.

Now, let's begin the exercise:

  1. Follow the first instruction on page 65 by selecting the rocket Body object.
    Switch to polygon subobject mode, and select the three polygons indicated in the middle of page 65.
  2. Click the Extrude Settings button (Graphite ribbon, Polygons tab, drop down for Extrude), and don't be alarmed by what immediately happens. The program is just repeating whatever settings were used last, as applied to the current selection set. Change the settings to Group and 0.8 then click OK. (Note: that number has a decimal point. Watch out for decimal points and negative signs in this project and other projects.)
  3. Rocket wheel well extrusionThe text says to select all the polygons that were created in the last step. There are eight of them: one in front, one in back, three along the top, and three along the bottom. The three visible in the Top view are shown on the right. (The three you selected in the first step were not created in step 2, were they? Don't select those.)
    Wiggle the viewports as needed to select only these eight polygons.
    Use the Move and Rotate tools to adjust the new structure so that it lines up with the reference image wheel wells.
    In the image on the right, I have adjusted it in the Top viewport. It is useful in any operation of this type to adjust the subobject in several views. As you were warned in another chapter, do not rely on the Perspective viewport in making these adjustments. Always confirm the position of an adjusted object or subobject by viewing it in orthographic viewports.

  4. Switch to Vertex subobject mode. The text is a bit unclear again. Select the four vertices that form the lower, outer edge of the wheel well. In the image below, I have indicated the vertices with a red ellipse. In this image, I have already moved them out and down, as indicated in the text. The wheel well is now wider at the bottom than at the top, like the fourth image on page 66.
    Wheel well extrusion from the side
  5. Steps 5 through 7 are not very helpful. NURMS is an illusion, but it gives an idea what the final illusion will look like.
  6. What you need to do at this point is to sculpt the wheel well so it looks more like the image below. I adjusted the inner and outer vertices on the wheel well. Adjust yours as well.
  7. Move vertices as necessary, then save incrementally.

    Wheel well after shaping
  8. Select polygon subobject mode. Select only the polygons on the bottom of the wheel well, as shown on page 67.
  9. On the Graphite ribbon, find the Polygons tab, and open the Bevel settings. Set the Outline value to -0.1 and the Height value to 0.0. (This will create a thicker edge for the wheel well.)
    Click the Plus sign icon (Apply and Continue). Change the Outline value to 0.0, and change Height to -0.7. (Note the negative sign and the decimal point.) This will push the polygons toward the top of the model, creating a recess in the wheel well. The text notes that the recess does not go all the way to the top of the well. This is fine for two reasons. As the text notes, no one is expected to look up inside the wheel well. Also, the wheel that will go inside the cavity will not have a problem if it is larger than the cavity. Objects can pass through each other as needed. (Until we do something to prevent that.)
  10. In step 10, the authors want you to make sure that the polygons you moved do not poke through the original polygons of the wheel well. In the images on page 68, the odd black line in each image is the edge of a Beveled polygon poking through an original polygon.
    Examine the wheel well to make sure the extruded polygons are not poking through the shell of the wheel well. If they are, move vertices as necessary to correct the problem.
  11. Turn on NURMS. Rotate a viewport as needed to see the effect, and do a Quick Render, called Production Render in version 2010 and later (teapot button). Note, in the image below, my work on the left wheel well was copied to the right wheel well automatically, as yours should have been.
    NURMS gives a smooth curved surface
    Question 4: How was the right wheel well created?
  12. Turn off NURMS, and Save, but be careful NOT to overwrite one of the supplied scene files.

Project Exercise 6: Creating the control panel 

This exercise starts on page 69.

  1. If you are continuing from the last save (you should be), turn off NURMS again. Use the Swift Loop tool to make a new edge as shown in the first image on page 70.
  2. Use the Swift Loop tool to make another new edge as shown in the second image on page 70.
    The text refers you to the last usage of the Swift Loop tool, and tells you that the same problem was created in step 2 that was created in Exercise 4 above. Review the procedure to use the Connect tool. Use it to connect the nose vertex of the model to the vertex at the end of the line created in step 2.
  3. Use the Top viewport as instructed. Move vertices as shown in the image on page 71 to create a polygon shape close to that of the toy's control panel.
  4. Go to Polygon subobject mode and select the polygons that stand for the control panel.
  5. On the Graphite ribbon, find the Polygons tab, and open the Extrude Settings caddy. Use the settings in the text: Group and 1.0. Click the Check Mark icon (OK).
    Read the description of the problem that this action creates.
  6. Select and Delete the three new polygons as described on page 72.
  7. Switch to vertex mode and carefully move vertices in the Top viewport to solve the problem.
  8. Continue adjusting vertices to model the control panel. Use all viewports to get the best fit you can.
  9. Turn on NURMS again. Do a Quick Render, and see where you need to adjust the model further.
  10. Make final adjustments for this stage and save incrementally. Show me this model version before continuing.

The next exercise starts on page 76. Note that the author uses a reference image on that page that has not been supplied to us: the underside of the vehicle. It is possible to continue this model by looking at the image in the book, but we need to move ahead to other topics in the text. We will continue with some animation next time. We will return to the Red Rocket later.