Improve your 3ds Max Workflow: Top 10 interface secrets
3ds Max is a vast and complicated piece of software. Here we take a look at the top 10 interface secrets to help speed up your workflow...
3ds Max is a vast piece of software. For beginners especially it can be a complicating and scary interface – there are dropdowns, panels, rollouts and menus all waiting to mix things up. The way 3ds Max functions can take a while to get used to, and it's often that those who have mastered the main interface aren't aware of a few little tricks still hiding away. And it's these gems that can help make life all the more easier when dealing with 3ds Max.
I'm not going to cover how a beginner gets around the software in this article, but rather I'm going to focus on those small gems that are tucked away that you might not yet know about. These will hopefully speed up your workflow and improve your efficiency!
The search feature
Earlier in 2014, 3ds Max introduced a wonderful shortcut key. It has revolutionized the way that I find features and commands. The key is ‘X' on the keyboard and it brings up a simple search box. All you have to do is start typing your command and it automatically brings up a filtered list based on what you are able to do with the object you have selected. I now don't need to know where anything is so I should imagine in the next few years I'll know my way around the interface less and less!
Even though monitors are getting bigger with every passing year, screen real estate and customizability is still very much at the top of people's agenda. 3ds Max has worked hard to make the interface customizable while still maintaining its core look and feel. One thing that I love is the ability to dock and float toolbars. Pretty much everything can float now! I will often put my command panel and other toolbars on my second screen giving me the most amount of viewport display on my other monitor.
Configure modifier sets
Scrolling down the object modifier list every time you want to add a UVW map modifier can be a laborious process. You don't have to do it every time! 3ds Max allows you to set up buttons for the common modifiers that you use. On the right-hand side of the Modify command panel there is a button called Configure Modifier Sets. If you press it and go to Configure Modifier Sets again it'll bring up a dialogue box which allows you to add and remove modifiers to different sets. Try setting up your favorite ones and see how it speeds up your workflow.
Moving rollouts in the command panel
Don't feel like you have to put up with the order that 3ds Max puts the rollouts in the command panel. For example, in Edit Poly mode you might never use the Soft Selection rollout, so why have it right at the top. Simply drag it and drop it further down the panel. It gives you a solid blue line so you can see where you're moving it to.
Numerical expression evaluator
When creating objects and making adjustments in the modify panel I would often find myself with the Windows calculator open enabling me to make calculations and then transferring the values across to 3ds Max. Little did I know that this was a big waste of time! 3ds Max has its own built in solution! With a field active, press Ctrl+N and you'll see a new dialogue box pop up. This enables you to insert your formula and directly copy the result back into the field.
Repeat last quad menu command
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.
For those scenes where you need to be careful of the polygon count, it is helpful to know the number of polygons that make up your scene, as well as the number of the particular object you have selected. This in general can be done using the shortcut 7 on the keyboard. It can then be customized by going to Customize Viewport and the Statistics tab. Then set it to Total + Selection. Finally, make sure that Show Statistics in Active View is selected.
When setting up cameras and your composition, safe frames are absolutely essential. They let you see in your viewport the exact aspect ratio that you have set in your render settings. This will give you the confidence to set your camera up in a way that ensures your render is an exact replica of your viewport. Toggle safe frames visibility using Shift+F.
Isolating objects is a brilliant feature that I use time and time again. It allows me to focus only on those bits of geometry that I really want to see at that point in time. It is also a great saver on your viewport performance. With your chosen objects selected simply hit Alt+Y and see the rest of your objects disappear!
Hold and Fetch
My final little gem which has been introduced fairly recently to 3ds Max is the Hold and Fetch tool. This tool enables you, by pressing Hold (Ctrl+H), to take a snapshot of your scene in time. The Fetch tool (Alt+Ctrl+F) then takes your scene back to that point in time. You might think: "Why not just use the save feature and go back to a previous version?" And you'd have a good point! But this does away with extra files. So when do I use it? Well, if I'm embarking on a task which is going to take me well beyond my number of undos then I'll set Hold just in case and then Fetch it back if all goes wrong.
Top tip 1: Exploring new releases
Every time you embark on a new version of 3ds Max make sure you head over to the Help section. There are always massively helpful articles and videos which explain new features and get you right up to speed with how to make the most of the revised software.