Importing DWGs to 3DSMax for Architectural Visualization

I have gotten several e-mails asking me for tips on how to import files from AutoCAD to 3Dstudio Max. So I decided to write a tutorial that will, hopefully, be of some help. I use AutoCAD 2006 and 3Dstudio Max 6. I'm sure that this information will be useful even for later versions of the software. Specially 3Dsmax which is on version 9.
With that said, let's begin. There are many methods to working in both AutoCAD and 3Dmax. The explanation I will write here describes the method I use personally and is also the process that has worked best for me. We start off with a plan view of our building. In this case it's an upper level of a Mexican mid-class home. The units used are meters.

As you can see, we have walls, windows, doors, notes, dimensions and so on. It is very important that we have layers for every object type. If you know from the beginning that you will be using your Cad drawing for future 3Dmax import, you should always think ahead. What I mean by "think ahead" is that you should always be preparing your drawing for easy 3D manipulation and editing. Although this might take more time, it will be worth it once you use the file for 3D. For example: If your project has 3ft, 6ft and 8ft walls, instead of just making one layer named "Walls", make one layer for each type of wall. That way, when your file is imported to 3DsMax you can extrude different walls at different heights. You can add layers by writing "la" in the command prompt and then adding new layers in the "layer properties manager" window that appears on screen. Make sure that each wall is drawn in the corresponding layer.

Remember that not all layers will be needed for 3D. In architectural drawings we usually have a lot of information like piping, electrical installations, structural elements, notes, callouts, specifications, etc.

For better understanding of the blueprint, we will turn off some layers. You can do this by typing "layoff" in the command prompt, then hit "enter" or right click on your mouse. Then simply click on the layer that you want turned off. Another way of turning off layers is by typing "la" in the command prompt, then hit "enter" or right click. After that you will get the "Layer Properties Manager" window. There you will search for the name of the layer that you want turned off, and when you find it, click on the light bulb that corresponds to your layer. That's it.

Now we can see only the lines we will need for 3D.

Another thing to keep in mind is to work with polylines. If your drawing has separate lines for each shape, 3DSMax will import your file as separate lines wich will require a tedious welding process. Let's take a brief moment to explain how to work with polylines. Here is a simple house shape that has no polylines.

[Click to download Dwg2Max_01.dwg]

As you can see, you need to click on every line in order to select and manipulate it. This means that there are no polylines in this drawing. If you were to import this file to 3DSMax, you would get empty space, no lines in the viewport. Or you would get independent lines which would need welding in max, which is very time consuming. Now look at this file.

[Click to download Dwg2Max_02.dwg]

Here we have the same house plan but done with polylines. Notice that it doesn't matter where you click, because you will always select the entire set of lines. This is how you need to have all of your lines in the drawing in order for Max to import them correctly.

If your file has only lines, you will need to "join" them so that you get polylines. Here's how you do that:
Open the file named [Click to download Dwg2Max_01.dwg]
Write "pe" in the command prompt. ("pe" means "Polyline Edit"). Then hit "enter". You will be asked to select a polyline. Pick any line you want and hit "enter" or right click on your mouse.
Since these are not polylines, the command prompt will tell you "Object selected is not a polyline . . Do you want to turn it into one?Y/N" Of course we want to make it a polyline so type "y" then hit "enter".
This will give you a menu of options: "Close/Join/Width/etc". As we want to make one big polyline out of the lines we have, type "J" for "join", then hit the "enter" key.
Then select all the remaining lines, one by one and you are done. One big polyline ready for import to 3D.

You don't need to have polylines within the layers that you won't be importing. So that should do it for AutoCAD.

Now let's go to Max.
We will need a new Max scene. The first step is to use the same units that we used in the AutoCAD drawing, which are meters. Go to the "Customize" menu, then pick "units setup". If your Cad file was done in feet or inches, then you will select those units in Max as well.

Our Max space is now ready for importing the floor plan. Click on the "File" menu, then select "Import". From the window that appears, go to "files of type" at the bottom and expand the sub-menu rollout so that you can find "AutoCAD Drawing (*.DWG, *.DXF)".
Browse for your file, select it and click "Open".

After selecting your file you will get the "AutoCAD Import Options" window. Here is where we tell Max how we want to import the file. Go to the Geometry sub-menu and activate "Combine Objects by Layer". This is why we used layers in AutoCAD, so that Max imports objects by layers too. Activate "weld" and "Auto smooth" as well.

Since we "joined" the lines in AutoCAD, the weld option should not even be necessary, but we use it anyway in case any minimum distances between any missed polylines will result in closed shapes.

Now let's go to the "Layers" tab. Here we select the layers that we will use. Simply turn off the ones you don't need by clicking in the checkmark just left of the layer name, kind of like what we did in AutoCAD.

Finally let's go to the "Spline Rendering" tab. Activate "Generate Mapping Coords." This helps us when applying the materials and textures later on. Click "OK".Now we have our plan in 3DSMax, ready to be modified.

Depending on the units used, you might or might not see your plan on screen.
In case you don't see your object, click on the "zoom extents" button which is on the lower right of your screen.

You can go to the "Tools" menu and select "Layer Manager". There you can turn off or on any layers you like, just like in AutoCAD. Note: The Layer Manager window only displays the layers that were selected while importing your file. If you wish you can import ALL of the layers from the DWG file and then just turn them off in Max's Layer Manager.

Next you can select splines, convert them to editable mesh objects and extrude, bevel or edit them as you would do any objects within 3DSMax.

That's about it for this tutorial. Let me know if you have any questions or comments. I really hope this was of some help.

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