Modelling and a Little More

Hi there,

This tutorial will be the first one in line, so watch out they're coming. This one will cover basics of modeling, and a couple of things on the side. I will try to cover the things that you can not find in books. It's like they left them out on purpose.

Working Space

This section will be about your working place. You will find yourself spending hours in front of a computer. So it's very important to make yourself comfortable. First thing is the position of a working area in the room. It's influenced by a window position and sides of the World (North). By default, a working room should be facing North, because Sun is never shining from that side, and you will always have diffuse (most pleasant) light in room. The most uncomfortable are working rooms facing South. In that case the Sun is directly shining into the room for most of the day.

Where can you position computer in a room that is North side oriented? Every side wall is ok. Wall parallel to the window is not good, because monitor screen will take full reflection from the window.

The worst possible position for working room. This room is directly sun lit and you'll be able to see the reflection of the room in the monitor throughout the day. Good positions for monitor are East (monitor will be lit only by the late afternoon sun) and monitor turned back to the Sun, but than you should put some window covers, because you will look directly into the Sun. In either case you should consider curtains.

Now, do not forget how many hours you will spend working trough the whole night. In this case you do not have to think about room orientation. :)

When you find the right position in the room, it's time to make yourself comfortable. Image on the left shows the right sitting position and the appropriate measurements between furniture elements.

You will find the best sitting position by measuring yourself. Every human is unique. So you will have to find your perfect position. After many hours of work you will know for sure if this is the right position for you.

And monitor should always be just below your eyes. Never above you eyesight.


In this section we'll talk about computer and it's input devices. Nowadays you can find very wide range of computers. So pick the right one that will cover your needs and your budged.

Do not by the best PC you can find. We have the experience in working on powerful machines and also on those slow performance, using the same software. Using slow performance machines will make you find many alternative ways to achieve your goal. You will dig deeper and find things you newer knew existed. You will master your PC. You will know more. And you will know better. So when you change to high performance workstation everything will be easy. It's just like learning to drive on an older car, and then going on to drive some new model where everything is automatic.

If you are starting in 3d an AMD 1600+, 512Mb DDR, Geforce graphic card, and a 60Gb HDD will work fine in the beginning. You will have a low-cost-not-to-slow PC to explore and see whetaher you should be going for 3d or not.

Monitor You will find yourself looking at it for a long time so buy a quality one. The smallest size should be 17" (19"). But try to buy 20" or 21". You will see how useful extra space on the monitor can be.

Another very important part is the mouse. A "must have" is a 3 button mouse with scroll (and you will se later why). It should feel comfortable in your hand. If mouse is not comfortable you will feel pain in the hand and forearm muscles.

Other input devices that can be very useful, sometimes very necessary, are: digital board, scanner, digital camera, 3d scanner, etc.


Every 3d animation or still making process will start with modeling. This section will be oriented mainly on 3dStudioMax, but some parts can be used in general.
When modeling I use Editable Mesh or Editable Poly. These are great for starters. They allow you to easily figure out how the modeling works. And I have to mention modeling with Nurbs, but you will probable use it less. Nurbs are very useful in industrial design.
There are two main types of modeling with Editable Mesh or Poly. Box modeling and Poly-by-poly.

First let's get familiar with Box modeling. Imagine that you have a box of clay. Now push here, pull there and at the end you'll get your model. Simple :)

Fig 04

Fig 04

Start by creating a box. Yes, just a plain-old-simple box

Fig 05

Fig 05

Add segments to the box

Fig 06

Fig 06

Now convert a box to Editable Mesh or Poly, and the modeling starts

Fig 07

Fig 07

Most of the time you'll spend in Sub-objects mode, adjusting vertexes, edges, faces

Now let me explain Poly-by-poly type of modeling. In the beginning you will have one (or more) polys and by cloning parts of this poly the mesh will start grooving, and you will get your model.

Fig 08

Fig 08

On the image above you see two faces that form a polygon. Face is a triangle, and Poly has 4 corners (it does not have to be a square)

Fig 09

Fig 09

Start this type of modeling by creating a plane (I think this is the fastest way to start poly-by-poly modeling). Convert this plane to Editable Mesh or Poly

Fig 10

Fig 10

From here on, everything will happen in Sub-objects mode. This is a part where you clone part of one poly and get new poly. On the image above an edge was selected and by pressing shift and moving that edge a new poly was born.

Fig 11

Fig 11

Another way to create a new poly is to clone a vertex. Now you have 2 edges (3 vertexes) and one vertex. Turn on Create button in Polygon Sub-object mode. Select one by one vertex in circular motion. New Poly has been created (see image below left)

Fig 13

Fig 13

This is what you can get in just a couple of minutes

You have seen basics of Box and Poly-by-poly modeling techniques. It's up to you to decide which ones to use. The best thing would be to use them both. I start with Box modeling and use Poly-by-poly in some parts. Poly is a bit difficult because you have to imagine in advance what the model should look like. In Box modeling you will always have some rought shape that needs to be a little bit remodeled to get the final thing.

Now lets move back a few steps. Before you start to model adjust (customize) software to make your work fast and comfortable. Here are a few things I like to adjust: In Customize-Preferences set the system unit scale- inch or centimeter, set the number of undo levels, show vertices as large dots or... You can also set the color of the viewports, grid, objects... but I like to leave that as default.

Every command (button) can have a shortkey. You can set up your own, but first get familiar with the software.

Do the research before you start modeling. Go to the library or try to find a bluepring on the Internet. Here is a useful link where many blueprints can be found:

Try to make a sketch on paper. Do a front, side and top view drawing. Make sure you drew every part to be the same size in side and top views. It is a good idea to have sketch lines that will help you draw a same size model in all three views. One of my reference drawings for a shark-like ship is shown on the left.

You can also use a camera to make reference pictures, but you will get slightly distorted images because of perspective.
Camera on the left shows the way perspecitve will affect object size and shape. What you need is camera that will take morthogonal picture, which will have no distortion.

Ok, these pictures are not the best for background viewport image use, but you can use them just as a reference. As you get more experienced this distortion will stop being a problem.

Use a camera to shoot an object from different angles, with different sun and shadow areas, close-ups and details.

What to do when reference images are done?

1. It's always good to have the pictures beside the monitor. Use a big piece of hard paper (A3 format) and put your reference drawing and pictures on it. If you are modeling a face it is not a bad idea to use a mirror.

2. You can use images as a background in viewports. (Views-Vieport Background). Be sure to remove grid to see image better. (Views-Grids-). I try not to use reference images like this. Max sometimes goes wild with those images and you will end up needing to adjust them every 10 minutes.

3. You can use those reference images as maps for materials that will later be applied to Planes. Put the image to Material Diffuse map slot, and turn on See map in Viewport. On the left is a perspective view with four planes with materials and blueprint images attached.

The software is adjusted, research is done, reference images are in viewports, now about viewports. As default there are 4 viewports and they are all the same size. Most of the work is done in Perspective view, so move the cursor over the cross in the center in between all four views, click and move to make Perspective view the biggest. Also use Min/Max Toggle to make one viewport the size of all 4. Or later use expert mode (Views-Expert Mode). You will see just a viewport over the whole screen (no buttons or toolbars-that's way it's called expert mode).

I like to see a Perspective view as a main one and I use the rest of viewports as help views. Most of the time I have Smooth + Highlights turned on as well as Edges Faces. Grid is mainly turned off but you never know when you are going to need it.
There will be a lot of rotating, coming close to, going away from model you are working on, so the faster you do those basic maneuvers the better. This is the way a 3 button + scroll mouse is a must have. In combination with Shift, Ctrl and Alt those mouse buttons are really useful.

1. Right mouse button- click on anything and you get a floating menu. Right click on objects to see their menu. Use a Ctrl+Alt (press and hold) and now click right button to get Rendering Tools floating menu. Use just Ctrl and right button and see what you get... always try to experiment.

As you are working, you will find the next three points very useful.

2. In any viewport use the scroll to zoom in and out. For really precise zoom press and hold Ctrl+Alt and use the scroll.

3. In any viewport click and hold the scroll to pan.

4. In any viewport press and hold Alt and the 3. button (scroll) to rotate the view around the object.

Here I will show you some basics concerning faces (3DT: the digital ones).

I have already said this, but it won't heart to repeat it. On the left is a single face. And on the right you can see two faces forming a polygon. Below you can see a polygon without visible diagonal edge. Your model should be made of these.

Below is a model made out of faces. On the right is a model made out of polygons (4 square elements). Apply a mesh smooth modifier to both and you will see how the surface on the left is not as good and smooth as the surface on the model in the image on the right.

This is the same polygon from above, but seen from behind. Faces and polygons can be seen only from one side. Side that you are going to see depend on the Normals orientation. Select this polygon or just a face and flip it's Normals and orientation of the face will change to opposeside. Above you can also see a mesh made of 16 polygons. 6 polygons have their normals flipped so that you can see them if you look at this mesh from behind.

The whole point of modeling with Editable Mesh or Poly is to make a model out of the least possible number of faces (vertexes or polygons), and then to apply a Mesh Smooth modifier for the final look.

And at the end try to find some time for something besides sitting and looking at the monitor all day and night.

Here are a few exercises that you can do. First, stretch and worm up. Next three images are legs, stomach and arms exercises. Do 3 sets of each with 10 to 15 repetitions. And do not forget to stretch at the end. Or you can just go outside and run or ride a bicycle. When you're done with the workout you will feel refreshed and ready for more work.

Feedback will be greatly appreciated.

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