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Sci-fi ships in 3ds Max - Part 1 of 3

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Date Added: 8th March 2017
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Join the talented Victoria Passariello as she creates this sci-fi cargo ship, from a simple block-out to an optimized model ready for texturing...


In this first part of this tutorial I'm going to show you how I made a sci-fi spaceship based on a concept by Markus Lovadina. I've been working on ship models for about one year now, so I'm going to share my techniques to approaching different pieces of a model. I'm going to share how I made the panels and cut-lines, basically only using edge loops and edge extrusions. I will also show you the way I make final chamfers on the borders of the models to give them a more detailed finish. Finally, I will show how I optimize the mesh once the model is done. I hope that my tricks and methods will be helpful for all of you, and worthy to be used in your own models.

Step 01: Evaluate the concept

Before starting any modeling, we need to see the concept in detail and evaluate every object and piece we see on it. It will be very helpful if we make a breakdown of the whole object and divide it into different sections. Each one of these sections will be a single mesh in the future 3D model. It is possible that each section has sub-objects, but the important thing now is to have a clear vision of the main shapes we will work on. In the image you can see how I interpret the concept and how I separate the different pieces.

Concept art by Markus Lovadina

Make an evaluation of the concept and decide how you will divide the model

Step 02: Base model

I've provided you with the base mesh for this model (here) so you can start with it and continue with the rest of the steps. The object is in half, so you should apply a Symmetry modifier to work with it. As you can see, it is a very rough and simple model, created by making simple boxes, adding edge loops and bevels, and scaling polygons to make the base shapes as close to the concept as possible. Of course, all of the proportions I'm suggesting here may change in the future, but if we start with the right proportions before starting to add any detail, it's a better beginning. Notice that I also make each object based on the separations I previously made in the concept.

Make the base model as simple as possible without much detail on it

Step 03: Edit geometry and constraints

I'm going to talk about this particular option right now because I use it a lot and I'm going to mention it a few times in this tutorial. It's a very useful feature that most of the time is forgotten.

In any sub-selection mode of an editable poly, under the Edit Geometry rollout you will find the Constraints option. This option allows you to move, rotate or scale any sub-object selection (vertex, edge, polygon), restricting the transformation to the selected constraints (edge, face, normal). For example, if you want to move a vertex or edge that belongs to a leaning polygon, you can select Edge Constraint to restrict the transformations to the edge boundaries. See the image for a simple example.

Use Constraints to move, rotate or scale sub-objects by restricting the transformation to edges, faces or normals

Step 04: Modeling the front section of the ship

We can see in the concept that the big pieces of the ship have very smooth edges, so this is the first thing I make. I select the front edges and apply a small chamfer of 2 segments. I do the same with the edges in the bottom. For the edges on the top, I make a bigger chamfer of 3 segments because I see in the concept that the top edges of the ship are smoother than the ones on the bottom (04a). After making all the chamfers I collapse some unnecessary vertices and connect some others as shown (04b). Always remember to check all the edge loops after applying a chamfer or extrude, and collapse or connect any vertex where needed. Don't forget to check the back of the object using the exact same process as before.

04a. Making chamfers to give the smooth look we see in the concept
04b. Collapse and connect vertices when needed

Step 05: Creating cut-lines and panels

Let's move on with the front panels. I make some loops to get the lines I need, then I move some vertices to make the desired shape of the panels. Once I have the shape I want, I select the corresponding edges and make a small chamfer (time here to go and clean some vertices). After that, I select the resulting polygons and make a bevel inwards (05a). Finally, to separate these new panels from the rest of the object, I select one of the front loops and applied an extrude. I clean some vertices again (05b).

To make the cut-lines, I basically always make loops here and there when needed, and move the vertices to get the desired shapes. In this process of moving vertices around you may want to use some Constraints to get a better result. So, once I have the desired shapes, I select the corresponding edges and make an extrude. The final step is to always have a look all around the loops to see if there are any unwanted vertices to collapse and delete. Don't be worried about the polygon count, as we will delete all the unnecessary edges later on anyway (05c).

Knowing that, we can say that the formula to make cut-lines and panels is: make loops, move vertices to get the desired shapes, select edges and extrude, then clean extra vertices. Keep in mind that in some cases, when the lines you want to extrude don't have any corners, you won't need to clean the vertices (05d).

05a. Making the front panels
05b. Separate the front panel from the rest of the object by making an edge extrusion

05c. Four steps to make cut lines and panels:
loops, move vertices, extrude, and clean
05d. Sometimes, when the lines don't
have any corners, it's not necessary to clean vertices

Step 06: Making the detail pass

This is what I call the detail pass on a model. Here I make chamfers all around the edges of panels, surfaces and other pieces once all the initial modeling is done. This way, when the model is put into a scene, the light will bounce in a nice way and will give a better-looking result. See a small example of how the chamfers can make a big difference in a model (06a). Of course, making these chamfers will considerably raise your poly-count, so it is important that you always keep in mind your poly budget and be smart about where to use them or where not to - usually in the big and main pieces of the model, the ones that will be more visible.

So, how to make these chamfers? Simple, just select the complete loop of edges (around panels or any piece you want to make them) and apply a small Chamfer. You may need to also check for extra vertices to collapse and delete (06b, 06c, 06d).

06a. Making chamfers on the edges of a model can make a great difference

06b. Making chamfers on the panels of the model to obtain a nice result when the light hits

06c. Making chamfers on the panels of the model to obtain a nice result when the light hits

06d. Making chamfers on the panels of the model to obtain a nice result when the light hits

continued on next page >

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