CAP 201a - Computer Animation I

Supplemental Lesson



This lesson discusses tips about the program that are not covered in the text or not all in one place. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Basic techniques
  2. Adjusting your view
  3. What have I done?
  4. A better sphere
  5. A plant stem
  6. Scatter distribution

There is a very helpful series of ten videos on YouTube by Mike Pickton called 100 Tips to an Easier 3DS Max Life. I spent several hours going through them, and recommend that you do the same when you have time. Since you never have a lot of time, I want to discuss some of Mr. Pickton's advice that I think will help you learn and use 3DS Max faster and better.

How do I do x in 3DS Max?

In his first video, Mr. Pickton recommends searching the Help system in 3DS Max when you don't know how to do something. This does not always work in our lab, since the files are not always installed. What else can you search? I like to start with Google. Lots of students like to start with YouTube. Those are really the same thing now, so I would recommend a Google general search, then YouTube specifically. What's the down side? You may not find a useful answer unless you know what tool or technique to search for. Try it anyway, since searching is a skill you need to polish for the rest of your life.

The rest of Mr. Pickton's first video discusses several keyboard commands that are covered in our texts, and a couple of ideas that are not.

Adjusting your view

Mr. Pickton runs through several ways to affect your current view of objects and subobjects.

  • Alt-W - We should know about using Alt-W to toggle maximizing the current viewport.
  • Change view - I don't think we have had a text mention that you can change the view in the currently selected viewport by just pressing the first letter of a view name. This is handy if you have the viewport maximized, and you want to switch views.
    Press T for Top, B for Bottom, F for Front, L for Left, P for Perspective.
    You can't switch to a Right or Back view with a hot key, but they are still selectable by clicking the name of the view and choosing the one you want.
  • Z - Sometimes you want to change the focus of your view to the currently selected object. Press the letter Z, and all the viewports change to display the currently selected object or subobject, centered in each viewport. This is quite handy when you have just opened a supplied file, selected an object with Select from Scene (Select by Name), and you have no idea where the darn thing is.
    Pedantic bit: technically, this centers the view on the pivot point of the object, which is often in the center of the object's plane of creation. What's that? Imagine making a cube. You make one face first, then extrude 90 degrees away from it to make it three dimensional. Your pivot point, by default, is in the center of the first face. You have to move the pivot point if you want it centered in the object.
    • X - Mr. Pickton does not mention this key at this time, but I think it is important. X is right beside Z, so you may press it my mistake. I have seen many students press this key without meaning to do so. What does it do? It toggles the visible property of gizmos on the screen. You may ask at this time, why would I want a gizmo to become invisible? Sometimes a gizmo may be blocking your view, I suppose. I have yet to find a use for it, but it is a key you should know, because you will need to be able to undo its function when is it pressed by accident.
  • Hide and Unhide Subobjects - I have seen students become perplexed by parts of an object suddenly not appearing on the screen. Mr. Pickton points out that there are Hide and Unhide buttons on the Edit Geometry rollout of an Editable Poly object. He does not mention that they can only be used on Vertices, Polygons, and Elements of an Editable Poly object.He does point out that these buttons must be used to hide and unhide these subobjects, and that the quad menu commands to hide and unhide only work on objects, not subobjects. What's the point? We are used to using the quad menu to unhide all objects in a scene. We need to be aware that this will not work if hiding took place at a subobject level.
  • Shift-Z or Ctrl-Z? - We are used to the Ctrl-Z being an undo command, but we may want to know that it only affects object changes in 3DS Max, as opposed to changes to view. To undo one or more viewport changes, press Shift-Z instead.

Mr. Pickton titles his second video What have I done?! He discusses several things that inspire us to stop work and learn new ways to scream at the computer.

What have I done?!

  • I have selected an object and want to select a different object. I can't select it. WHY?
    In this case, he turned on Selection Lock by pressing the space bar. The books usually don't warn you about that until much later. Look for the padlock icon turning yellow to indicate this feature is turned on.
    (He lists a second reason that I have yet to see happen by accident in the classroom. A better second thing to check for this problem is subobjects. I have seen many modelers unable to select an object because they were still in one of the subobject modes on another object. Try it, you'll see it stops you in your tracks.)
  • My gizmo disappeared! WHY?
    The usual problem is that you pressed the X key, which toggles gizmo appearance.
  • I pressed ctrl-C to copy an object, but it didn't work!
    Yes, that won't work. This is Autodesk, not Microsoft. Ctrl-C creates a new camera, and it sets the current viewport to that camera's view.. Shift-drag copies an object. (So does Ctrl-V, but you probably won't remember that.)
  • The controls disappeared! What did I press?
    Expert mode is engaged by pressing Ctrl-X (that blasted X key again), so look for the "button" in the lower right corner to Cancel Expert Mode. By the way, an expert, in this case, is someone who wants to use keyboard shortcuts instead of helpfully labeled buttons.

The third video in this series is called Making Selections. It covers a great deal more than that, discussing how to repair modeling errors like badly placed vertices, manipulating edges, and recalculating polygons. We should consider each of these topics, but it makes more sense to do some modeling before we worry about how to fix a bad model. Let's move ahead to the sixth video.

The sixth video is called Creating Objects. Mr, Pickton points out a classic problem with spheres: their polygons taper to points at each pole of the sphere. We will see this as a problem when we make textures for spheres. His solution is quite elegant. He makes a sphere from box. (This starts about a minute and a half into the video.)

A Sphere and a Spherified Cube

  1. First, make a sphere with radius 25, to compare with the object you will make next.
  2. Follow Mr. Pickton's recipe. He makes a box with 10 segments on each axis.
  3. He sets the dimensions all the same, making the box a cube. (Each side is 50.)
  4. He adds a Spherify modifier. (I was worried here, but hang on.)
  5. It is not perfect yet, so he adds a Smooth modifier.

He displays the resultant object, showing us the arrangement of quadrilateral polygons on its surface, which will take a texture much more readily. Prove this to yourself: add a standard material to both objects.

  1. Open the Material Editor
  2. Select an open slot.
  3. Select the Diffuse Map button.
  4. Under Standard maps, select Checkerboard.
  5. Turn on visibility and apply the map to one of your objects.
  6. Change the tiling parameters. 10 by 10 should be right.
  7. Apply the same material to the other object. Discuss this in class.

A Plant Stem

An interesting use of splines follows, starting at about 3:40. He walks through a short exercise making a wine glass (or a martini glass) with a line and a lathe. If you have not done this, you should do it before the one I want you to do that starts at 7:56. This exercise is about compound objects, which sounds scarier than it is.

  1. Begin with Mr. Pickton in the Front viewport. He makes a straight line at about an angle of 60 degrees from horizontal. He puts only two vertices in the line, one at each end. Click once for each vertex, then right click to stop drawing.
  2. He changes to vertex subobject mode and marquee selects both vertices. Right click to get the quad menu, and choose Bezier Corner.
  3. Drag the Bezier controls to get a more organic look, like the stem of a plant.
  4. Add a small circle to the floor of the scene. Select the line again.
  5. Create a Compound object. This will be a Lathe object. A lathe object takes two arguments: a path and a shape. The line (already selected) is the path. Click the Get Shape button and select the circle.Lathe from line and circle
  6. Find the Interpolation rollout and increase the Steps value. Mr. Pickton uses 10 at the start of his lesson, but you may want a different number, since he changes to 30 as he goes on.
  7. Mr. Pickton selects the Deformations rollout at 11:09. I could not do this at first, but after I deselected the object then selected it again, the rollout appeared. (Magic?) On that rollout, click the Scale button, which will open a graphic editor on your screen. Adjust your scale curve, and add some new corner points to change the overall shape of the lathe object.Lathe with scale adjusted
  8. Follow Mr. Pickton's suggestion to adjust the original line's vertices, which are still accessible.

Scatter Distribution 

Mr. Pickton creates a disk that will be used to receive a distribution of instances of the object plant object he made. Do this, but watch out for a few danger points.

  1. First, save incrementally.
  2. Create an area to receive the stems. I found it worked well to go with Mr. Pickton's original idea: I made a circle, then applied a garment maker modifier.
  3. Move the pivot point of the stem, reset the Xform of the object, and change it to an editable poly as instructed.
  4. With the stem selected carry out the rest of the steps, but take care. If you click the wrong distribution scheme, the whole thing goes crazy. You have been warned.