Improve your 3ds Max workflow

3ds Max has a wide variety of powerful tools to enable you to create pretty much whatever you want. We take a look at how you can improve your modeling workflow for better results

Improving your 3ds Max workflow – previous chapters:
Top 10 interface secrets

In the past – and even to this day – I've wondered if my modeling techniques follow good practices. This encourages me to study other people's techniques and to keep a close eye on the modeling videos from Autodesk and the other content providers post online.

I especially like Autodesk's Chris Murray content because he does a great job of making users aware of those tools that we might not know about. Today we're going to look at some foundational building blocks that you need to know to about but may not have come across. By following these tips you will become a quicker and better modeler!

This is a beautiful chair designed by Ora Ito and modeled in 3ds Max

This is a beautiful chair designed by Ora Ito and modeled in 3ds Max

Foundation 1: Auto Grid

Let's start off with an incredibly simple tool but a massively underused one. It's called the AutoGrid and when turned on it lets you model onto the sides of other objects rather than just to the main grid. When creating an object, at the top of the ‘Object Type' rollout there is a simple tick-box called AutoGrid. With this ticked you can create an object on any surface you want, and it's not just limited to faces that are aligned with the x, y and z axis.

The Autogrid saves you having to align your object after you've created it. Removing the align step is a huge time-saver

The Autogrid saves you having to align your object after you've created it. Removing the align step is a huge time-saver

Foundation 2: Object Isolation

The tool that I use way above any other when modeling is the Object Isolation tool. It is such a simple but wonderful tool. With your object(s) selected just hit Alt+Q and see the rest of your objects disappear. You can get them back easily thought by using the red light bulb icon underneath the timeline. This toggles the isolation selection. Use this tool to make sure you are focusing only on those objects which you care about.

Focus only on what you need to with this tool that you'll use over and over again now you know it exists

Focus only on what you need to with this tool that you'll use over and over again now you know it exists

Foundation 3: Object Visibility

To go alongside the Object Isolation tool, we also have the ability to make an object see-through. You might want to keep it visible in the viewport but be able to see through it. This can be done by right-clicking on the object, going to object properties and setting its display properties to ‘see-through'. You can also doing it with the shortcut Alt+X assuming the object properties are set to ‘By Object' and not ‘By Layer'.

Maybe you want a way of seeing through an object but don't want to hide it. This tool is a great half way house for achieving exactly that

Maybe you want a way of seeing through an object but don't want to hide it. This tool is a great half way house for achieving exactly that

Foundation 4: Placement tool

In 3ds Max 2015, Autodesk released a long overdue tool which allows you to move and place objects directly onto other objects. It's called the Select and Place tool and it's beautifully simple but will save us a lot of time. Its button is on the top toolbar next to move, rotate and scale. All you need to do is drag your object until it collides with another one and you'll see it attach itself to the object. By right-clicking on the toolbar button you can also reveal a set of properties for how the placement is carried out.

This new tool lets you select and place a tool all in one action. So if you spend lots of time placing objects on surfaces by aligning them and moving them then this is a tool for you

This new tool lets you select and place a tool all in one action. So if you spend lots of time placing objects on surfaces by aligning them and moving them then this is a tool for you

Foundation 5: Quad Chamfer

This tool has been a long time coming! 3ds Max users have been crying out for this for years. For quite a while there has been a plug-in called Quad Chamfer which you could purchase, but it's always good to have such a basic tool native to the software. I'm not sure what took them so long. The tool is contained within the standard chamfer modifier. You can then choose between a standard chamfer and the quad chamfer. The amount and tension of the chamfer should be able to give you any chamfer you desire.

I know many people feel this should have been introduced long ago but better late than never. Chamfer with quads, not just with tris!

I know many people feel this should have been introduced long ago but better late than never. Chamfer with quads, not just with tris!

Foundation 6: Copying modifiers

Let's face it, where would we be without modifiers! I love modifiers, mainly because it enables me to work non-destructively. One thing about modifiers that many people don't know is that you can copy them across objects. The easiest way is to just select/drag single or multiple modifiers from the modifier panel into the viewport. You can also use Ctrl/Shift if you want to create instances or copies.

Copying and pasting modifiers is as simple as dragging and dropping

Copying and pasting modifiers is as simple as dragging and dropping

Foundation 7: Re-perform a quad menu operation

I don't know how often you use the quad menu but it sure is frustrating if you have to use the same tool over and over again, each time navigating your mouse to the part of the quad menu where it's located and clicking again. Rather than doing this, it is possible to repeat the last action by clicking on the heading of the quad menu that contains the last action you performed. The tool in blue text shows the last operation that you made.

Save time moving your mouse when re-performing the same quad menu action. It's as simple as selecting the quad title for the particular tool you used last

Save time moving your mouse when re-performing the same quad menu action. It's as simple as selecting the quad title for the particular tool you used last

Foundation 8: Selection Sets

I've never really been a fan of groups. I find them a bit clunky and frustrating. What I prefer to use is Selection Sets. The tool can be found in the main menu bar and with a set of objects selected, just type in your selection name and hit return. You'll see it added to the drop-down box. What is also quite helpful is that this also works on sub-selections of polygons, faces and edges.

Selection Sets lets you specify exact selections to make it quicker to get back to

Selection Sets lets you specify exact selections to make it quicker to get back to

Foundation 9: Zooming

In a scene you might have a really big object that you want to keep visible in the viewport but you don't want it to be included when you zoom extents using the Z key. This is easily done by right-clicking the object and selecting Object Properties followed by Ignore Extents.

Large objects can be annoying when you're zooming extents. To ignore them simply tick the Ignore Extents check-box in the
Object properties

Foundation 10: Don't be afraid of scripts

Scripts can really be your best friend during any phase of your project, including modeling. There are some fantastic developers out there, many of whom provide their apps for absolutely free. Scripts and plug-ins are lines of code which have been written in MAXScript which can then be executed to perform special or repetitive tasks. Simply go to the MAXScript menu, and choose Run Script. Navigate to the script you've either written yourself or downloaded.

A site like <a href="http://www.scriptspot.com/" target="_blank">Scriptspot</a> has hundreds of scripts which automate many tasks which many people currently do manually. Have a browse of their library and see what you could make use of

A site like Scriptspot has hundreds of scripts which automate many tasks which many people currently do manually. Have a browse of their library and see what you could make use of

Pro tip: Be an explorer

3ds Max is a vast program and there are many features that I don't know about and you probably don't know about either. One of the ways to find out about these is to go exploring and discover new buttons, tools and interfaces.

The help section needs to be your friend. I find the 3ds Max Help easy to get around and very well laid out

The help section needs to be your friend. I find the 3ds Max Help easy to get around and very well laid out

Improving your 3ds Max workflow – previous chapters:
Top 10 interface secrets

Related links

Check out Paul Hatton's personal site
Are you a 3ds Max user, or looking to start? You could try our collection of 3ds Max eBooks or purchase our books, 3ds Max Projects and Photoshop for 3D Artists