Improve your 3ds Max workflow: An introduction to Particle Flow
3D visualiser, Paul Hatton, takes a closer look at 3ds Max's Particle Flow – a powerful event-driven particle system that lets you create some incredible things...
Improving your 3ds Max workflow – previous chapters:
Top 10 interface secrets
Better modeling workflow
Handling massive scenes
3ds Max animation tools
Organic placement using MassFx
Particle Flow is getting better and better with every release of 3ds Max. It is clearly an aspect of the software that the development team over at Autodesk want to keep improving, ensuring that its customer base is happy with it. Particle View is the interface which enables you to combine individual operators that dictate the properties of each particle. This could include the speed, direction and rotation but is not limited to those. In this article we're going to learn how to force particles to take on the shape of a word and transition between three different words.
Create your text objects
We are going to create particles which transition between three different words. Start therefore by creating one word and making sure all its properties are as you want. Then copy it twice and change the content of the second and third words. With that complete, select all three words and apply an extrude modifier. This will enable you particles to fill the text to the set depth. Finally, select all three words, right-click and select Object Properties. Make sure they're set to not be Renderable.
Set up your particles
With your text all set up, open the PFlow interface by using shortcut key 6. Start by creating an mParticles Flow by dragging and dropping this item into the node-based viewport. Click on the Birth Grid operator and set its Size to something like 50. This defines the size of the grid which produces your particles. Then head over to the Shape operator and set its shape size to around 30. This defines the size of each individual particle. Finally go to the mp World operator and click Access Driver Parameters. Tell it not to Apply Gravity or Ground Collision Plane.
Further setting up the particles
To continue the particle set up, delete the Spin operator and add in a Random Walk and mP Switch operator just above the mP World operator. Do this by dragging and dropping them into the stack. Only let go of the mouse button when you're happy of their new position, although they can be moved at any time. Make sure the mP Switch has both Position and Speed checked.
Only move on when ready
Now that we've set up all of our particles we want to make sure that this event is not exited until a certain point. We do this by adding an Age Test operator underneath the mp World operator. This is a test operator which continuously checks to see if its state is true. Select it and set the variation to around 30.
Tell particles to find first word
We now need to send the particles off to find the first word. We do that by adding a Find Target event and attaching it to the Age Test. First drag and drop the event into the viewport and use the node based system to attach it. With its operator selection, set the first drop down to Control By Time and set the variation to 30. Check Use docking speed and set speed to 0. Also, set its display to Geometry. Finally make the Target Mesh Objects and add your first word object to it.
Make the particles lock to the first word
Now that our particles have found the first word, we need to lock the particles to take on its shape. We do this by adding a Lock/Bond event and attaching it to the Find target event. Add the first word to the Lock On Objects and make sure Lock To Surface and Snap To Surface are checked. Check Offset Limit and set it to 50. Check Speed Limit and set it to 100. Finally, make the force 10. Lots of settings!
A simple age test
We now need to add another Age Test so that the particles delay before locking onto the next word. Do this by adding an Age Test event to the Lock/Bond operator just below mp World. Set it to be Event age and set its test value to 100 and variation to 30. Finally, set the Lock/Bond display to geometry. Feel free to view your result now as you should see your particles separate and form the first word.
Copying your operators
Now it's a process of copying various operators and events so that the particles transition between the three words. Start by copying the mp Switch and mp World operators from the mParticles Flow to the Find target event. Drop them above the Display. Copy the same operators over to the Lock/Bond event as well in the same position.
Adding in more words
Let's add more words now. Do this by copying both the Find Target and Lock/Bond events twice.
Change the Find Target and Lock/Bond objects of the second set to the second word. Then change the Find Target and Lock/Bond objects of the third set to the third word. With that complete, connect the first Lock/Bond to the second Find Target. Then connect the second Find Target to the second Lock/Bond and do the same to the third items. Just right-click on a node if you want to right align the connection. You should now have particles transitioning between three words!
Hopefully this has given you a good introduction to some of the things that are possible with PFlow. It is such a powerful tool that I would recommend you getting your head around. For this particular example you could keep copying your Find Target and Lock/Bond events if you wanted to introduce more words. You could also adjust how long the particles delay before moving on to the next word. The beauty of the node based editor is that it clearly outlines how the particles flow through time, making it easy to make the necessary adjustments.
The possibilities are endless
Let me assure you that PFlow will not limit your imagination. It is so powerful and versatile and is also being improved with every release of 3ds Max. Get used to it because it is sure to be around for a while!