Basic Modelling Techniques in 3ds Max
Here I will show you some of the basic concepts that many students of Max might overlook because they are focused on modelling characters right off the bat. While this is fine, it also makes for a frustrating experience when someone new to Max wishes to unleash their creativity.
Therefore this is my main focus here, to help you understand some of the basic things you should have under your belt concerning using this programme in order to free the artist within you!
What we are going to start with is learning how to use our Primitives to enable us to quickly get modelling. This is a powerful way to not only create or model quickly, but it can also be a great way of getting some ideas down in 3D space. Remember the point here is to unleash your creativity!
The first thing that we must have in our minds is what we are going to model. However, sometimes just letting yourself go is a great way to explore your own creativity. But for this project I am going to begin thinking that we are going to try and model some kind of reactor. This is where I will start, but if we end up somewhere else, it'll be okay because if our creativity begins leading us down a different path it is best to follow it. Of course, if you are being paid to model something specific then veering off that path will not end well for you. But with this exercise - which is exactly what this is going to be: an exercise - we will not have those constraints.
1. Open Max, and under the Create tab change the Standard Primitives drop down to Extended Primitives, and then create a Chamfer Cylinder in the centre of the Perspective view. Remember that most of the Extended Primitives have 3 creation parameters that must be created: Radius, Height and Fillet. Here is what it should look with all three parameters created (Fig.01).
This is the only object we will create.Â Everything else we do from here on out will be copies of this object.Â We are also not going to convert it to an Editable Poly because, while it will give us control over the object at the sub-object level, we will lose the power to adjust and manipulate the Chamfer Cylinder primitive.Â This is important and much overlooked.Â
Just so we are all on the same page, select this cylinder, go to the Modify tab and make the following settings, shown in Fig.02.
2. Alright, now using the Move tool, hold down Shift with the LMB (left mouse button) and move the cylinder up on the Z axis a little, then release the mouse. In the window that opens ensure that Copy is the selected method and hit OK (Fig.03).
Note: from this point on, I am not going to describe in detail how to make these copies, I will assume that you now understand how to do it!
3. Now let's adjust this new cylinder's primitive properties, so go to the Modify tab, make these changes and then move the cylinder dow, like so (Fig.04).
4. Make another copy and move it up (Fig.05).
5. Copy it, switch to the Front View and then move it down and make these adjustments (Fig.06).
6. Now we are going to make a particular adjustment to our first cylinder.Â Select it and uncheck the Smooth box. What this does is tell Max not to smooth the object. By doing so we see that the sides of our cylinder now have a more pronounced visual impact. To be more accurate, it is turning off all smoothing groups. We'll get more into this later, but for now I just want you to understand what impact this option has on our geometry (Fig.07).
Big difference, huh!
Now it's time to learn something new that's really going to help you out.
7. With our unsmoothed cylinder still selected, use the Rotate tool, and while holding Shift (yes we are making a copy) rotate the cylinder 90 degrees (Fig.08).
Tip: turn on Angle Snap Toggle (Fig.09) so you can make this adjustment easier.
Now make the following adjustment (Fig.10).
Note: I just rotate the view not the object, at this point.
8. Go to the Hierarchy tab and click on Affect Pivot Only. Then hit Center to Object. By doing this you'll notice that the pivot point moves from the base of the cylinder to the middle. Note Max shows you that you are working on a pivot point by creating the blocky arrows around the pivot point (Fig.11).
9. Before we move on, I want you to do the same thing for our original cylinder (the unsmoothed one - you'll see why in a minute) (Fig.12).
Don't forget to turn Affect Pivot Only off!
10. Back to our smaller cylinder (the second unsmoothed one), select it and use the Align tool (Fig.13). Then select on the first cylinder to align the small one to the large one (Fig.14).
In the window that opens just make sure that the settings are as you see in Fig.14, and then hit OK.
So what happened here?Â Obviously, by using the Align tool, we made our smaller cylinder pop right to the centred pivot point of the larger one. The align tool is something that you should be using a lot - it is way too convenient to not have it in your arsenal!
By adjusting our pivots we have enabled ourselves to have some cool control over modelling manipulations. Let's take a look now at some more adjustments that are made easier because of what we just did.
11. First off, switch to your Top View, make sure we are in Wireframe mode (F3), and then rotate our cylinder -15 degrees, like in Fig.15.Â What we are doing is centring this cylinder to the face of the larger cylinder.
Stay with me now...
12. Go up to Tools > Array. This opens our Array window. First, press the Preview button so we can see in our viewport the results of what we will do. Then find the Z Rotate parameter and enter 30, then enter 6 for the amount of 1-dimensional copies and hit OK (Fig.16).
Bouncing back to the Perspective view, this is what we now have (Fig.17).
I really hope you can understand the power of what we just did!
I will get more into the Array tool at a later time; for now I recommend playing around with each setting to see what you can create.
Anyway, back to what we were doing...
13. This step, I'm going to let you figure out what I did - don't worry, it's nothing new, I just need to see if you are capable of figuring it out (Fig.18).
Are you still with me? Not too hard, right? Just copy one of the cylinders that would make for the easiest adjustment in order to get this new cylinder into the above position, and make the correct changes to the parameters.
14. Now I want you to make another copy, but I want you to move it up just a little, like so, but this time when the window pops up, find the Number of Copies option and enter 6 (Fig.19).
When you hit OK this is what you will have (Fig.20).
So what happened? When you make a copy by moving or rotating - or scaling for that matter - and you increase the number of copies, Max will take the percentage of the offset that you made and apply that same percentage to each additional copy.
It is a great thing to know!
Okay, before moving on, let's colour this thing a little bit. Feel free to come up with your own colour schemes. If you're not sure how to change the colours just change the colour in this swatch (Fig.21).
Keep in mind that we have not changed the colour of the material applied to these objects; in fact, we haven't applied any materials up to this point. The only thing we have changed is the base colour of the mesh (Fig.22).
Don't forget that you can go into Custom Colors and get real specific on your colour choices.
Alright, let me show you another way to make an array without using the array tool.
15. Make a copy of our biggest cylinder at the moment (the one in the very centre of the whole object) and lower the radius to 1. I moved it away from the object because we need to do more with it (Fig.23).
16. With this cylinder still selected, I want you to hold Ctrl and then select the dark grey cylinder in the above picture (the first unsmoothed cylinder). With them both selected, right-click > Hide Unselected (Fig.24).
17. Switch to the Top View and move the small cylinder here (Fig.25).
We are basically aligning this object to the face, like we did before.
18. Now turn on Affect Pivot Only (Hierarchy tab) and move the pivot of the smaller cylinder to the centre of the larger one by simply using the Move tool (Fig.26).
Turn off Affect Pivot Only!
19. Now we are going to use our Rotate tool while holding Shift to make copies. If I count the number of faces left to have cylinders placed on them I get 11, so I know that I am going to need 11 copies. First, turn off our Angle Snap toggle (you should know where this is by now), hold Shift, and then rotate the cylinder, like so. Note that we are trying to place the next copy centred to the next face (Fig.27).
When asked, enter 11 for the number of copies.
So here is where we stand now (Fig.28).
Not quite aligned as we'd hoped! What happens is that Max is so particular about the offset that anything not perfectly lined up will create this uneven distribution.
FYI: What we should have done is made sure that our very first cylinder was perfectly aligned to the world (X axis = 0, Y axis = 0, Z axis = 0), then when we aligned our cylinder's pivot point we could have just positioned it at 0,0,0 and it would have been perfect and our distribution would have been perfect.
Good to know, huh?
Don't worry, just select each cylinder and rotate it as needed to centre them to the faces - you should end up with this (Fig.29).
It shouldn't take more than 20 seconds to do this, you're just rotating.
Our rotations are made even easier because the pivot point of those cylinders is centred to the larger cylinder.
Here's what you should have when you go back to the Perspective view and then right-click > Unhide All (Fig.30).
If you need to make any tweaks to the placement of our new cylinders, do it now.
Once you have this done we are now going to fix our little distribution problem so that our lives will be even easier.
20. Select everything in the scene (Ctrl + A) and then go up to Group > Group. The name doesn't matter. Then, down at the bottom of the screen (with the Move tool selected), set each axis to zero (Fig.31).
If you go back to your Top View, you'll see that everything now is perfectly aligned to the centre of the world (Fig.32).
Fair enough? Let's move on.
At this point, you could call the reactor done, but just to show you a few more tricks, I'll keep going. Remember, even though we set out to do a reactor, I now have some other ideas of things we could try and see what kind of results we might come up with.
1. With our Group still selected, and back in the Perspective view, go up to Group > Open. By opening the group we can have access to all of the group members. Copy up the second cylinder we made so that you can achieve the following image (Fig.33)
When you're done, select on the Pink borders and Close the group.
2. Now add a Symmetry modifier to the group and set the Mirror Axis to Z. It should look like this (Fig.34).
Now let's make some more changes.
3. Open the Symmetry modifier to get to its sub-object mode and select on Mirror (Fig.35).
4. Now move the Mirror axis down until you get this (Fig.36).
When you're done, get out of sub-object mode by simply clicking on Mirror (which is yellow if you're in sub-object mode).
5. Add a second Symmetry modifier but this time set the Mirror Axis to Z but also check Flip. And then go into its sub-object mode and move the axis up until you get something like this (Fig.37).
I hope that you see the power of the Symmetry modifier.
6. Now add a Bend modifier to the whole object (remember to get out of sub-object mode first). And set the Angle to 180 (Fig.38).
7. Apply another Symmetry modifier: check Flip and move the mirror axis over until you get this (Fig.39).
8. Now I will rotate the whole group onto its side (turn Angle Snap Toggle back on) and make 3 more copies like we have done before (Fig.40).
I hope you get the picture here; by using just one primitive, look at what we have created! It is just getting to know your tools and what you can do with them.
I've taken this a little further to give you something to try out on your own. I haven't done anything you don't know how to do at this point I've just played with settings you already know about.
See if you can make this (Fig.41).