ways to work faster in 3ds max::..
from the author:
This article was written with 3ds max 3.x in mind. Due to software improvements,
bug fixes, user interface amendments and added features, some items listed below
may not apply to 3ds max after version 3.x...
a rule, you generally get out what you put in. But what if you've been putting
too much in when you didn't need to? By learning even a few tricks to lighten
the overall task, you will discover your productivity will increase and that stack
of 'to do' graphic requests won't seem as daunting after all...
to one with which you feel most comfortable, with the most frequently accessed
tools, modifiers, spacewarps etc at your fingertips so you don't have to go searching
for them in the future. Creating interfaces or panels designed for specific tasks,
such as box or NURBS modelling, effects etc.
seems easier when being able to use keyboard shortcuts; it's quicker to execute,
quicker for the computer to work out (less items to 'draw out' such as menus)
and gives your other hand a bit of exercise! With Max 3, additional shortcuts
have been assigned for the most commonly used features, and these can be customised
to your own requirements.
bring up any of the toolbars, simply press 2 (show / hide toolbars) or 3 (show
/ hide command panel). The menu bar, status line, prompt line and viewport navigation
buttons are hidden, but most of the features can be relocated on floater panels,
docked in the toolbar or assigned to a keyboard key configuration.
toggling features, Viewport redraw speeds can be improved. Shade Selected in the
Views menu views the currently selected object shaded no matter what Viewport
type is selected, Viewport Clipping allows the current Viewport to be interactively
clipped using a slider to remove unwanted objects in the background or foreground,
and hide / unhide objects that aren't currently required to be viewed (or use
a low poly stand-in object).
nifty little tool enables you quickly create hierarchies, modify an object's properties,
navigate to objects and their stack all in one window, without having to manually
select objects to do so (by double-clicking on the objects' modifer stack node
to navigate directly to it).
extremely quick way of centering a selected or unselected object in the active
viewport is to use the Interactive Pan keyboard shortcut. Simply place the pointer
over an item or area in the active viewport and press the I
key and the viewport will redraw, focusing on the area around the cursor and repositioning
it at the center of the viewport.
Zoom in Perspecitive View
feature doesn't exist in Perspective view (it is replaced by Field-of-Vision),
so you have to manually zoom into an area by selecting the zoom tool and panning
to the required location. Instead, change the viewport to a User view, Region
Zoom to the area that is required, then change the viewport type back to Perspective.
is very useful to have a mouse that features a wheel as the middle button. Simply
use the wheel for interactive zoom (or press CTRL, ALT & middle mouse button),
depress the wheel to pan (or Shift & middle mouse button) and hold CTRL also
to pan faster. Alt and middle mouse button gives interactive rotation.
holding down CTRL, Alt or Shift and right clicking in a Viewport, you can quickly
select a menu that is specialized to the area the pointer is over, or for the
selected item, such as Select Mode, Quick Render etc. Hold down CTRL, right-click
in the active viewport and selecting Customise Menu to insert additional options
eat up Max's memory, even when not being used. To avoid this, a bit of foresight
is required as they can't be loaded in once Max has loaded. Plugins can be placed
in categorised folders and loaded in specifically when starting Max, by entering
3dsmax -p <copy of plugin ini filename>. Therefore, numerous plugin combinations
can be created and loaded, with the command line arguments set up in shortcuts
in your Windows Start Menu.
a scene won't open, chances are it's due to a plugin not being loaded, an object
has become corrupted, or Max can't open the scene fast enough (ie off a slow network;
copy it to a local drive to open). Merge the scene an object at a time until the
corrupted object has been discovered, or x-ref in the objects / scene and then merge
from within the x-ref dialogue box. Merge environment settings if also required.
to have switched on as it makes life easier searching for that required scene
in Windows Explorer (Windows 2000 and Windows 98 suports file thumbnails) or any
other program which has the ability to view them regardless of filetype (such
as Max's Asset Manager). They are more effective if you save while in the viewport
that displays the most detail.
extremely useful utility, enabling you to drag and drop scenes, objects into the
current viewport, assign images straight to objects or materials, view scene and
image thumbnails, and perform filing operations such as moving (shift-drag file)
and copying (ctrl-drag file) files elsewhere on the computer. It can also be displayed
in a Viewport by right-clicking the Viewport name, selecting Views, Extended,
Objects & Duplicate Object Names
alerts you when an X-Ref'd object that is being loaded in has
the same name as an object that already exists in the scene. This alert prompts
you to either merge, skip, delete old or cancel the loading.
However, choosing skip will most likely crash Max. The main workaround is to either
merge and delete the offending object, or to cancel.
to the lack of space in the x-ref dialogue box, and the inability to scroll horizontally
to view the full path and filename, all files X-Ref'd in should
have a very short filename and path location to be able to view which files are
X-Ref'd in later on. Therefore, if at all possible, keep the directory structure
short and load in from mapped network drives.
speed up handling of X-Ref objects and scenes in the composite scene, turn off
Auto Update, otherwise Max constantly monitors the X-Ref'd file for changes, and,
across a network especially, this can dramatically slow down even the simplest
operations like transformation. This option should also be turned off in the X-Ref'd
files if additional objects and scenes are X-Ref'd into those scenes.
Objects & Internal References
references such as Particle Emitters, Path Deform, Physiqued objects, Skin and
instanced geometry particles won't work correctly if X-Ref'd into another scene,
due to the relationships set up in the source file not being passed to the composite
scene. The only way around this is to use X-Ref scenes as opposed to objects.
feature is ideal if a team of modellers and animators are working on a scene.
Each can individualy set up catagories, comments, keywords
etc that can then be searched for using the Max File Finder Utility, or by viewing
an objects properties in Windows Explorer. OLE support enables the Max filetype
to be included in database applications.
to determine what plugins (or wayward plugins) have been used directly or indirectly
in the current scene. This also allows you to enter summary information
(which is the same as comments in the File Properties dialogue) for the scene
and to view the current scene information, such as face count, material assigned
etc. This information can also be saved out as a text file for filing.
have a tendancy to forget to save, turn the Autosave feature on, especially if
you are going to be doing a lot of test rendering as this is the time that Max
is more prone to crash. Get used to regular saving even if Autosave if on, as
you will undoutedly turn it off at some point when working on a large file as
it will interrupt you and break your concentration too often!
a dense mesh, selecting specific faces, edges and vertices can be difficult. Work
within User or Perspective view to navigate your way around the object, and when
selecting, ensure that Ignore Backfacing is checked on to prevent sub-object faces,
vertices etc at the other side of the object being selected by accident.
say in the middle of a transform, you want to change snap settings, hold down
shift while holding the primary mouse button in the middle of the transform, and
click the secondary mouse button. The snap sub-menu will appear allowing you to
change snap settings on the fly (even if snap isn't enabled). Choose a setting,
and while still holding shift and the primary button, select the desired snap
setting with the secondary button.
Out a Spinner
quick and easy way to enter a zero value in any spinner is to right click it.
This is especially useful if Max is busy calculating the value that you have just
entered, or another spinner, and you want to convert it to zero. This
will upate immediately once Max has finished it's calculation for the current
save working out the sum of a spinner value and the amount you want to increase
it by, either in your head or by using a calculator, enter 'r' and the amount
to increase by (eg r50), completely replacing the text in the spinner, and the
spinner value will automatically update on pressing Enter.
allows you to modify the mesh without affecting the original, but also allows
you to amend the original (and therefore the cloned mesh) if something was omitted
from both. Handy when you want to see both end results if a major amendment was
performed to the cloned, but don't want to keep acivating / de-activating Show
End Result for each modifier when working with only the original if you have to
amend something further down the stack.
the Trajectories rollout in the Motion tab, you can quickly assign a path to the
selected object by clicking on the Convert From button. The keys are displayed
at intervals defined in the sample range. The trajectory of an object can also
be converted to a spline by clicking on the 'Convert To' button.
keys based on the transformation of any object that had been generated from parametric
controllers (such as path or noise controller) to editable transform keys by clicking
on the Collapse button in the Trajectories rollout. The motion may amend slightly
from the original, but increasing the number of Samples will result in a more
in the view pulldown menu, ghosting displays wireframe copies of an animated object
for a specified number of frames before or after (or both) the current frame.
This is used to analyse the objects motion (etc), with tighter ghosting indicating
slower motion and wider spaced ghosting indicating faster motion. Ghosting parameters
can be amended in the Viewport tab in the Preferences dialogue box.
the Key Info (Advanced) rollout in the Motion tab, you can quickly amend your
keyframes for the selected object if you want to even out the motion by clicking
on Normalize Time. For example, if you have an object that speeds up and slows
down too much.
this on for a quick way to jump to a frame with a key assigned. This enables the
time slider to jump to the next or previous keyframe (for any keyframed parameter)
for the current item by simply clicking on one of the Increment Arrows on the
time slider, or by clicking on Next Key in the Time Control Buttons panel.
keep track of key events in your animations, insert Time Tags at relevant keys
or at specific instances along the timeline when an important event occurs. These
act like those little yellow sticky pieces of paper that adorn your monitor, and
pop-up when the frame it's been assigned to is the current one. These also act as markers giving you the
ability to jump to a specific frame where a keyframe may not necessarily exist.
Capture Controller & Utility
for including a more natural feel to an animation as you record the motion of
an object or turn objects on or off etc on the fly. Easy to set up, supports virtually
any input device and it's controller can be assigned to almost any element within
an object, it is possible to hand-animate objects thoughout the entire animation,
from limb motion to blinking eyelids.
of modifying the Link Inheritance information for each individual item in the
Link Info rollout in the Heirarchy tab, select a number of objects and use the
Link Inheritance (Selected) Utility to perform the operation on all items at once.
can be used on sub-object selections and pivot points aswell as on the full object.
You can also animate with the Align tool to create keyframes by selecting another
frame, turning Animate on and aligning using a different setup or to another object
in the scene.
With Original Colours
for some reason, you want to revert your object's material settings to it's original
(or assigned) material colour setting, either use the UVW Remove utility on the
selected object, or drag a None material from the Get Material dialogue box in
the Materials Editor to the required object. This method also works with other
material types to quickly assign different materials (in their default states)
to items in the scene.
Shadows on 100% Self Illuminated Materials
can not normally be received by 100% self illumated materials. A (partial) way
round this is to create a Blend material with the 100% self illuminated material
in one slot and a less-illuminated copy in the second, and use a falloff material
with shadow/light as the falloff type as the mask. To darken the shadow, decrease
the illumination value of the 'darker' material.
possible, use materials over meshes. If your scene is highly complex, rendering
times will be noticably reduced by replacing meshes with mapped low poly objects.
It is worthwhile rendering off your high poly scene as an RLA file, extracting
the z-buffer image and using it as a bump map / material displacement for the
texture applied to the low poly object.
lights quickly by using the Place Highlight tool on a sphere in a shaded view,
that has a wire material assigned and covers the area to be lit in the
scene. This enables you to exactly position the lighting by viewing the effects
on other scene items. The lighting positions can then be manually tweaked for
improve the quality of a Shadow Map, simply increase the Shadow Map Size parameter.
However, this will sharpen the edges of the shadow too much to your liking, so
to rectify this, increase the Sample
Range spinner also. Generally, the
same operation should be performed on both spinners, eg by doubling the map size
from 512 to 1024, the Sample
Range should be doubled also, from
4 to 8.
Soft Raytraced Shadows
are several ways to produce this, but the most effective result is to link the
light to a dummy following a path of a flat helix with large beginning and small
ending radius that completes the motion in 1 frame. Unfortunately, render times
will be high as the feather effect is generated by scene motion blur, and this
needs to be as high as required to generate a nice feathering effect.
you've finally got everything looking right, but there's that one wayward element
that just doesn't seem to look quite right with the current lighting setup, create
a light that excludes everything apart from the one that is out of place and adjust
it's positioning / lighting / shadows etc to get it just right.
Light from a Scene
you ever need to remove lighting from one part of the scene, such as at corners
of a room or behind objects that aren't casting shadows properly, create a light
with a negative multiplier (but still using a high RGB or HSV value, such as white)
to remove the offending light (Spot or Directional lights are ideal for targeting
offending areas). To subtly remove lighting, use Omni lights with attenuation.
Lighting Using Sunlight
normally occurs if the Direct Light in the Sunlight system is too close to the
objects in the scene. Select the Direct Light and amend it's
orbital scale in the Motion tab so that it is at a greater distance (roughly about
3x the height of the tallest object) from the scene's objects.
is much easier to set up and position a perspective viewport than a camera, but
when a scene requires a camera viewport, set up the view in perspective, select
the camera to be matched and select Match Camera to View in the Views pulldown
menu. This feature can also be animated; check on Animate, pan to a different
frame, reposition the perspective viewport and redo Match Camera to View.
principle behind this is identical to generating soft shadows mentioned previously.
The camera's target is the focal point (and is not linked to the dummy), and the
path's outer radius can be increased or reduced to vary the amount of blurring
outside the focal point. Different spline shapes could be used, such as a circle,
helix or star, depending on preference. Again, rendering times will be greatly
Images For Print
Max cannot directly print a rendered image, but has the ability to output images
that most programs that support printing can read. However, out of the many filetypes
that Max can render to, the only image type that supports DPI amendments is the
EPS format (defaults to 72dpi).
can fail when rendering at high resolutions due to memory (not swap file space)
limitations. The main reason for failing is due to the swap file becoming fragmented,
and Image Motion Blur requiring a solid block of memory to work. Chances are it
will work on one frame but not the next, and the only way around this is to add
more memory or to render the scene in batches, restarting Max each time.
you find that rendering times for your total scene are astronomical, try breaking
it up into layers and compositing later on. In general, even the time taken to
perform such a task would be considerably lower than the time it would take to
render the entire scene in one pass with everything included.
Video Post Effects Amendments
of re-rendering a scene each time you amend the value of a filter in Video Post,
render out the scene with no filters or effects to an RLA file, with all channels
included. Reset Video Post, add an Add Image Input Event and apply the filters
to the image as per normal. Re-rendering will be faster, and you can perform the
operation to an animation by creating an IFL file of RLA's and loading that in
you cancel a render, Max may report that it cannot begin another render due to
lack of memory. This is because Max will not free the memory allocated to the
cancelled render until it is either restarted or another frame has completed rendering.
The only way around this without restarting Max is to render a small frame with
very low detail, allowing Max to complete the frame and therefore freeing up the
Level Of Detail Utility allows you to automatically replace
hi-poly objects with low-poly objects depending on their size in the rendered
image. At least two copies of the same object is required to switch to;
one method is using the low-poly object created by box-modelling
before applying Meshsmooth. Move and align the objects to the same co-ordinates
and group them. Select the LOD Utility, Create New Set and select the grouped
objects. The Utility will analyse the group and list the objects in order of the
amount of faces in each object, setting near and far limits for each one. These
settings should be okay as they stand, but you may want to manually tweak the
limits (either in number of pixels of percentage of screen - taken across the
diagonal) if the resulting render displays a low poly object instead of a high
one. By default, the object with the lowest poly count will only be displayed
in the scene (this can be amended for any object to be displayed) which makes
viewports redraw faster. However, if you decide to clone the LOD'd group, you
will need to set up LOD again for the new group. Additionally, when the output
render size is amended from, say 640x480 to 320x240, LOD will update and more
than likely use a lower poly object due to the image size. This Utility is ideal
for the arbituary space battle scene with hundreds of ships flying around in the
distance. They can all be clones of one group, all with LOD to keep poly counts
down, and should a few ships fly from the distance to the foreground, Max will
update the displayed meshes accordingly.
Up Rendering Times
your scene is highly complexed with several objects in the background (that can't
be switched to low poly versions), you can speed up rendering times by tweaking
the elements that make up your scene for optimal results, but without sacrificing
any quality in the final render. Overall, shadow mapped shadows render much faster
than raytraced ones, but fail on transparent objects (with the resulting shadow
appearing as if the object was opaque), so amend the shadow type and/or decrease
the shadow map size when the object is not in the foreground. Use small texture
maps and also try to avoid procudural textures wherever possible as they are slower
to generate than bitmaps. Camera clipping can help reduce rendering times by ignoring
geometry further away in the background, and is relatively straightforward to
set up. If, later on, you realise that in certain instances important distance
geometry has been occluded, the clipping values can be animated so in that instance
the far clipping plane is further back than before, and can then be animated back
to occlude geometry as before. Additionally, if at all possible, replace geometry
such as foliage, with planar mapped bitmaps.
remember which of the scenes you've created has that excellent material setting
/ bone structure / particle system setup? Well no more. This handy little utility
will enable you to stop searching though you hard drive(s) for that elusive element
that you've been after for God-knows-how-long. A bit like Windows' file finder
program, this utility will browse though all folders (if desired) and Max files
for files with the extension you enter. You enter any keyword search and select
the correct property for which the keyword is associated with, be it a material,
object name, author, plugin loaded, summary information and so on. The resulting
search will list the file(s) that can then be double clicked to get the summary
information about the file. This utility also works as a standalone program (maxfind.exe
in Max's root folder). This information can also be displayed by viewing a Max
file's properties in Windows Explorer.
to keyboard shortcuts, Strokes are generally designed to be used by users of Max
with graphic tablets or pens. Like keyboard shortcuts, virtually any operation
that Max performs, be it applying a modifier, restricting
to a specific direction, or opening up a dialogue box, can be performed without
even clicking on a button. Strokes are a feature that allows you to draw on the
screen while pressing the third button on your pointing device to perform an operation.
For example, you may have set up a Stroke to limit a transformation to the Y axis.
By holding down the third button on your mouse / pen and drawing the shape required
to perform this operation (something relating to the operation in question - a
'Y' for example in this case), the specific tool or operation will be selected;
even selecting an object and performing the operation if the stoke drawn encircles
the object. Strokes can enabled in Customize, Preferences, Preferences dialog,
Viewport, Mouse Control group, Stroke, and can be defined by holding CTRL and
drawing the stroke using the third button. If you don't have a three-button mouse,
you can still access some strokes by using the Strokes utility.
published: 3D World magazine,
Issue 1, July 2000.
Draper, July 2000. Reproduction without permission prohibited.