Boost Your Skills in 3ds Max
21 amazing tips to help you speed up your workflows and create better art
learn top techniques for lighting your scene, architectural visualisation, improving your workflow and much more
3ds Max is a huge piece of software so it’s no surprise that it’s packed with little-known features that can really improve your workflow once you know about them. There are always multiple ways to achieve a given result, and the next few pages will help you to explore your options and discover techniques that are efficient for you. Seven top CG artists reveal some of their favourite tricks that will help you take your process to the next level. In addition to general tips and techniques we have two more detailed explorations of how to use 3ds Max for architectural visualisation. Creative studio Oxygen takes us through their lighting process, explaining how lighting is crucial for creating mood and emotion in an image and demonstrating how this can be achieved using real-world references.
Artist Mike Johnson, also working on a cityscape scene, shows us how he goes about dealing with perspective, working up his composition and modelling buildings.
01 QCLONE TRANSFORM TOOLBOX
There is a handy little tool that few users are aware of that is buried away in the Edit dropdown: the Transform Toolbox. This floating dialogue contains many useful features like the ability to ‘get’ and ‘set’ an objects dimensions, set and objects pivot, and rotate an object by a angle based on presets. But the most useful one – that can’t be achieved elsewhere in 3ds Max – is the Quick clone (Qclone) tool. It allows you to offset-clone an object exactly to the bounding box based on screen space. Very useful for quickly arraying meshes for various modelling workflows or arranging modular meshes without having to manually snap the pieces. Danny Mcgrath
02 SPLINE TOOLS MODELLING
The spline modelling tools in 3ds Max have always been a very powerful and flexible option. There are so many workflows to boost your modelling efficiency: Shape Booleans (much improved in 2019), Sweep modifier, fillet/chamfer verts, Lathe, Lofting, Bevel Profile, etc. The list is a long one. The real power is in the non-destructive aspect; a good example is using Sweeping or Lofting. By tweaking a few vertices of the base profile/path shapes, drastic changes can be easily applied to rather complex looking meshes. Danny Mcgrath
03 QUICK WORKING PIVOT
A great feature introduced in recent versions of 3ds Max is ‘Place Pivot Surface’. This can be quickly accessed from the right-click quad menu. This tools allows you to align the pivot dynamically in the viewport. It will respect and follow the surface normals. Left-click to set. You can also make use of the snapping options for greater control of placement. Note that this will automatically switch 3ds Max to the working pivot coordinate system. Danny Mcgrath
04 CUSTOM UI/HOTKEYS/ QUAD MENUS
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I can give is how imperative it is to customise your workflow by way of hotkeys/scripts/quad menus, for maximum efficiency. In recent months I have incorporated the fantastic Keyhydra plugin (onikanabo.com/keyhydra) into my workflow and it has changed how I work. It is a suite of tools that works very well together and is incorporated into 3ds Max in a way that really increases the effectiveness of its native toolset. Danny Mcgrath
05 MAXSTART FILE
This may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but many Max users don’t know that the maxstart.max file can be leveraged to great advantage. Basically it is the default scene that is loaded every time, including scene resets.
You can set up the perfect working environment to suit your workflow and dive right into creating without the time wasted on repetitive tasks at every boot.
For example, you can populate your material editor with custom materials. Set your renderer, your scene units, your viewport layout, etc. This can be changed and stored at any time by simple overwriting the maxstart.max file. The file is located in: Users/xxx/documents/ 3dsmax/scenes. Danny Mcgrath
06 CONSTRAINING A MESH TO A SPLINE
A technique that I use quite often especially for jewellery is to constrain a mesh to a spline using Animation>constraints>path Constraint and then using the Tools>snapshot. I can make as many copies of the mesh along the spline as I need. They can even be keyed in animation, so I can orient them the way I want. borislav Kechashki
07 CUSTOMISE THE MODELLING QUAD MENU
If you use a primitive, let’s say a cylinder, quite often, you can add it to the modelling quad menu, accessed with Ctrl+right mouse button, so you can create it faster. From Customise>customise User Interface>quads. Primitives are located in the Main UI group under the Object Primitives Category, from where you can directly drag and the drop the primitive you need in the quad menu you want it to be. borislav Kechashki
08 FASTER FLOW CONNECT
When adding new loops to the geometry using the Swift Loop tool, found in the modelling tab of the Ribbon, you can press and hold the Shift key so the newly added loop follows the overall form of the geometry beneath. It’s a bit faster version of the Flow Connect tool of the ribbon. borislav Kechashki
09 MIRROR PART OF A MESH WITHOUT DETACHING
If you want to mirror only a part of a mesh, you don’t have to detach it and then mirror and attach it again, but instead you can select the polygons you want to be mirrored and with the selection active add a Mirror modifier atop with
Copy selected and then position the mirrored polygons with Mirror Centre. borislav Kechashki
12 BETTER OBJECT ORIENTING
Something I find very helpful when there is a strangely oriented object in the scene that I want to properly orient to the world axis is the Normal Align tool, which can be found in the Align drop-down list. You need to have a properly oriented object in the scene that will serve as a reference, then select the object you want to reorient, choose the Normal Align tool, click a polygon on the first mesh and then click on a polygon on the reference mesh from which you want the first one to adopt the orientation. borislav Kechashki
13 USE THE POLYGON MODELLING RIBBON
While some of the same modelling tools can be found in the Edit Polygon command panel, the Polygon modelling Ribbon is a toolbar with powerful features and tools you can’t find anywhere else in the software.
It contains tools for fast topology modification, selection options, retopology and generative topology creation. John Malcolm
14 MAKE USE OF FREE PLUGINS
Learn to install and use free Maxscripts and plugins in your workflow. Most tutorials do not employ scripts or plugins in their process, and rightfully so for beginners. Once you have a good understanding of the default tools, explore the massive free resources of scripts and plugins supported by 3ds Max. John Malcolm
15 MAX CREATION GRAPH RESOURCES
Be sure to take advantage of the massive free Max Creation Graph resources available out there to help speed up your workflow and expand the default capabilities of the software. MCG tools are easily packaged and shared, and could offer increased functionality and more unique modifiers to your 3ds Max toolbox. John Malcolm
16 EXPERIMENT WITH MODIFIERS
Think outside the box. The modifier stack is a very parametric tool that can unlock new strategies. Sometimes there are alternative methods to create a shape that are not explored in the average tutorial. Experiment with modifiers and play around with tools to unlock potential and faster workflows. John Malcolm
17 THE MESHSMOOTH MODIFIER
The old Meshsmooth modifier is widely considered obsolete these days, but it can still come in handy for generating unique edge flow on a model. Change the subdivision method to Classic and it can simulate a Doo-sabin style re-meshing. This could be handy when modelling abstract shapes for 3D printing. John Malcolm
18 EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS
Remember that there are lots of ways to accomplish any given task, and it’s useful to explore them all. For example, you can use the 2D Pan Zoom tool for matte painting, which I recommend because it can help you with modelling geometry. You can significantly speed up your modelling using the Ribbon panel and its tools, such as Swift Loop, Similar, Dot Loop and Freeform. Peter Ermolaev
19 KEEP IT ORGANISED
Keep your scene well-organised so that it can be handed over to another artist smoothly and they won’t have to waste their time trying to understand where on the scene the specific objects are. It’s a good form to:
1. Name your objects, because you don’t want to have 100 objects on the scene with such names as Box001,box002 and so on.
2. Separate one-type objects to the various layers using Layer Explorer.
3. Combine small static objects into one mesh. Peter Ermolaev
20 SAVE SPACE AND TIME WITH PROXY RENDER
Use Proxy to render more geometry, otherwise your scene will take a lot of space on your hard drive and take a long time to open.
If you use V-ray rendering, keep in mind that V-ray proxy allows you to save the animation and to open Alembic. Peter Ermolaev
21 USE THE RAILCLONE PLUGIN
Railclone is a parametric modelling plugin for 3ds Max. It works by creating source objects such as windows, railings, kerbs or whatever you can imagine and arrays them on a spline or surface of your choosing. In my city skyline project I used Railclone to create the windows for certain buildings. I created a bunch of different stylised window frames, plugged them into the Railclone Array 2S generator, then chose the spline for them to be generated around, and lastly told Railclone how high I wanted the windows to be. Mike Johnson
The One Ring by luis Garcia
Kuker by Borislav kechashki
Roadwarrior 666 by danny mcgrath
Waterfall by Peter Ermolaev
Chromium Beat by John malcolm
Giant nomad by luis Garcia
Alien Marine by luis Garcia