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..::plasma plane::..

Note from the author: This article was written with Discreet's Plasma in mind. However, as the modelling toolkit is very similar to 3ds max's, this tutorial could be completed using 3ds max v4 onwards. Additionally, the resulting plasma file is not provided here due to intellectual rights.

Discreet’s Plasma is a fully functional piece of kit streamlined, optimised and designed for the web developer and comes fully equipped with two renderers (raster and vector), a Shockwave exporter, hard body dynamics and more kit than you can shake a very large stick at. But we’re not going to be using hardly any of them, as this tutorial is all about getting to know that ever elusive “Z” axis. If you’re a web developer, or just getting into multimedia, you may find that working in 3D is a daunting prospect; it need not be. Most websites have some element of 3D incorporated into them, but the majority is just simple geometric shapes extruded and animated in Flash. Whilst most web developers aren’t all that skilled in the third dimension, it is a progression that most will have to undertake at some point, so there’s no time like the present to get started. Tally ho, toot toot, peep peep, spiffing what??

Enlarge Screenshot The plane’s geometry is quite simple. To start, we will begin with a simple geometric shape that we can re-work and edit to our liking to achieve the end result. Open Plasma and press W to get to the full Quad Viewport view. Create a cylinder in the front Viewport with a radius of 100, a Height of -500, 6 height segments and 8 sides.
Enlarge Screenshot Name the cylinder “Plane”. Right-click the cylinder and convert to Editable Poly. In vertex sub-object mode and in the top or left Viewports move the vertices so that they resemble that in the screenshot. This is just a basic guide as to where our plane’s features will be.
Enlarge Screenshot Select Edge sub-object mode and selecting the edges at the end of the cylinder. Chamfer these slightly. Select Polygon sub-object and select the end poly. Extrude this ever so slightly by selecting Local Normal as the Extrusion Type and simply clicking on the extrude spinner. Amend the Outline spinner to bring in the sides of the new polygon.
Enlarge Screenshot Repeat this process a few more times until the end of the cylinder has a rim and a flat central piece. Extrude again and outline inwards to create the boundary of the nose cone. Extrude out a few times, outlining to create the curve of the cone and collapse the final extrusion to a point.
Enlarge Screenshot With the nose cone done for now, we shall concentrate on adding detail to other areas of the plane. Select the rear two polygons on the top of the cylinder and extrude them. Select vertex sub-object and target weld the inner vertices to the middle ones to create an angled windscreen as shown in the screenshot.
Enlarge Screenshot A little more complex this time, but still the same procedure. Create the initial part of the front leg of the plane by selecting a couple of polygons close to the underside of the cylinder. Extrude and target weld the vertices of the rear of the leg to create a diagonal. Extrude another polygon before we create the “foot”
Enlarge Screenshot Create the foot in a similar manner. With the base polygon selected, extrude and outline polygons until you have the basic shape. Then taper in the rear of the polygons by selecting the rear vertices of the foot and scaling them along the x-axis.
Enlarge Screenshot Next we will create more extrusions at the rear of the plane to allow us to create additional detail. Select the rear polygons of the plane and extrude four times by the same amount by entering an amount in the extrude spinner’s text entry field (about 70 per extrusion should suffice)
Enlarge Screenshot In the top Viewport, select one side of the plane and delete the polygons. This will allow us to work on just one side for the moment as the opposite side can be easily recreated later on when we need it.
Enlarge Screenshot Create the edges of the cockpit window by target welding the vertices to create a diagonal line from the base of the cockpit to the top of the plane. Continue this towards the rear of the plane and move the underside of the plane up as illustrated. Select the edges around the cockpit and chamfer them to create a slight ledge
Enlarge Screenshot In the left Viewport, divide the edges of the side’s rear top three polygons to create a diagonal up to the top right of the plane. Create edges using these generate vertices to create new polygons. Extrude the polygons slightly and target weld the vertices at the base of the extrusions to create a diagonal ledge at the top.
Enlarge Screenshot Select the top rear three polygons behind the cockpit, extrude up slightly and bring out the vertices to create a slight lip. Perform this another three times to create a rounded cylindrical shape, tapered at the front end to generate the shape of the rear engine intake.
Enlarge Screenshot Bring in the top polys and extrude twice. Target weld the middle vertices as illustrated to create a diagonal toward the rear of the plane. To remove any harsh lines of the rear engine intake, select the edges of the tapered engine and chamfer them slightly.
Enlarge Screenshot Target weld the fin’s rear vertices so they form a point, as shown. Divide the edges of the rear fin, create new edged using the newly created vertices. Extrude slightly and drag out these new polygons. Amend the vertices of the new polygons to something resembling a small wing.
Enlarge Screenshot Select the front polygon of the engine intake, extrude slightly by clicking on the extrude spinner, and outline to create a rim. Extrude slightly again and drag the resulting polygon inwards slightly. Chamfer the harsh edges if required. Ensure the vertices line up down the middle of the plane to create a nice seam for welding the two halves together later on, and delete the inner side polygon of the intake so the inside edge is open.
Enlarge Screenshot Delete any rear polygons of the plane as shown as they need to be recreated to form a point later on. Sculpt the rear of the plane so it is more tapered to a point by tweaking the odd vertex position or two or moving and scaling polys or edges. Additionally, drag the bottom vertices of the nose cone down slightly to make the front of the plane more bulky.
Enlarge Screenshot Select the polygons at the rear of the plane and extrude them. With them still selected, outline them to create two chamfered sections; one smaller section toward the front of the plane and the other larger one at the rear. On the underside, again ensure the vertices line up along the seam and delete the unwanted polygon to create a continuous open side.
Enlarge Screenshot In vertex sub-object mode, shit move vertices along the rear of the rear engine to create new vertices along the seam. Using these new vertices, create new polygons, working in an anti-clockwise manner to ensure the polygons aren’t flipped. Clone the plane, mirror it and attach it to the original. Select the vertices along the middle of the plane and weld. Create vertices and polys as before for the bottom rear of the plane.
Enlarge Screenshot Using these new polys at the bottom rear of the plane, extrude slightly and outline to create an inset. Extrude again and taper the extrusion slightly. Perform this operation another two or three times, and collapse the final extrusions to a point.
Enlarge Screenshot As with the front of the rear engine, chamfer the outer edges, extrude and outline the rear polygons slightly (being careful not to create an overlap of polygons when performing the outline) and extrude slightly. Drag this final extrusion back inside the engine to create the outlet.
Enlarge Screenshot Delete the other side of the plane as before. Select one of the front polygons as illustrated and extrude out. Target weld the vertices to create an extruded triangle. Perform this again and finally extrude the polygon outwards so it runs slightly parallel with the plane’s hull. Chamfer, extrude and outline as before to create an inset polygon for the exhaust. To prevent polygon distortion, create new edges alongside the base of the exhaust as shown.
Enlarge Screenshot Divide edges to create the rough shape of the wing on the side of the hull and create edges using these vertices to generate polygons. Extrude and move these polygons out from the plane’s hull. Perform another two times, then target weld and move vertices until the desired shape is achieved. Chamfer the pointed edge of the wing.
Enlarge Screenshot Weld the vertices of the rear of the wing as shown so they form a pointed edge. Select the edges where the wing meets the plane’s hull and chamfer them slightly to remove the harsh join. Add more curvature to the front of the wing if desired by chamfering at the same time as the wing/hull join chamfer. Add additional edges in the wing as required to remove polygon distortion.
Enlarge Screenshot To add the support strut, extrude a polygon on the underside of the wing slightly, outline and reposition it. Extrude this smaller polygon several times, rotating as you extrude so the end polygon is close to the front wheel support. Extrude slightly, delete the two adjoining polygons and target weld them together.
Enlarge Screenshot To create the wheel, select the underside polygon of the “foot”, extrude and inset. Amend the vertices so a rectangle is formed. Extrude this rectangle another four times. In the left Viewport, scale the vertices to form a semi-circular shape. Chamfer the edges of the “leg” to remove any sharp edges as shown.
Enlarge Screenshot To add a little more character to the plane, select the chamfered polygon on the wing and extrude it. Target weld the inner vertices to the wing to form a point to the end of the wing. Reposition the vertices in the top Viewport as necessary to achieve the desired look.
Enlarge Screenshot Next we will add the small machine guns mounted on the plane’s wing. Select two of the front polygons of the wing, and extrude and inset using By Polygon extrusion type. Re-shape the polygons to form squares and inset the resulting polygons back to create a recession. Extrude to form the gun’s barrel, then outline an extrusion and extrude back to form an inset.
Enlarge Screenshot Select the edges of the cockpit windows and slightly chamfer them. Select the resulting inset polygons and extrude them backwards slightly, ensuring that no polygons overlap.
Enlarge Screenshot With the majority of out plane almost complete, we can now re-attach the other side of the plane. Copy the plane object, mirror and attach it to the original. Weld the seam down the middle of the plane, ensuring that there are no overlapping polygons, two-sided polygons or holes in the mesh.
Enlarge Screenshot To add a little more detail, select the front polygons of the plane; the area around the nose cone, just before the exhaust pipe. Simply extrude these polygons using Local Normal Extrusion Type to create a slight outset of the nose cone.
Enlarge Screenshot A slight clean-up operation next. The chamfering around the cockpit windscreen beams had left up with stretched polygons. Add additional edges to remove the stretching on both sides of the plane and tidy up the polygons in the middle of the cockpit by dividing the centre edge, creating new horizontal ones and deleting the diagonal edges.
Enlarge Screenshot The wing comes to a point, as do the vertices running to the rear of the plane. To create one long ridge, select the vertex and chamfer it. Delete the resulting polygon and target weld the vertices together to form the ridge. Perform the same operation on the opposite side of the plane.
Enlarge Screenshot Create the rear wheel by chamfering the vertex to generate a polygon. Extrude this poly slightly, move and rotate it so it forms a slight angle. Continue extruding and outlining / scaling to form the shape of the wheel.
Enlarge Screenshot Create the tank’s stem the same way as the wheel, by chamfering a vertex and extruding. Create the main barrel separately by either creating polygons separately and welding, or create a separate cylinder, chamfer the ends to curve them, attach and weld the cylinder to the stem.
Enlarge Screenshot Create materials for each element of the plane; the hull and wings, windows, engine intake, propeller nose, tyres (etc). Select these individual elements in polygon sub-object mode and assign the materials to the selected polygons. Open the render dialogue and change the renderer to Flash Renderer. Change the style from the Global Settings menu to your own tastes and render off the scene.
Enlarge Screenshot We can also export this model to Shockwave by selecting Publish Shockwave from the File menu. In the Export Options box, amend the compression settings as desired (not much compression would be required due to the model having a low poly count). Enter a filename and export the model. Check on View after Export if required to see the model in a Shockwave window.


Although this tutorial is designed for Plasma, users of 3ds max 4 and above should have no trouble reproducing it’s steps. Unfortunately, unless you also own Plasma, you will not be able to perform the Shockwave export or Flash rendering steps at the end of this tutorial.

If you feel like it is going to take you longer than two hours to follow this tutorial, split it up into chunks. The demo version of Plasma is time limited to 2 hours per day, so use the time wisely! You don’t want to be half-way through a process when your time runs out!

Be warned that if you want to bring the resulting model into 3ds max at a later date, you will have to model the plane in max itself. 3ds max does not support the Plasma file type, yet Plasma will import a 3ds max file.

As Plasma is designed for the web developer, it’s user interface is tailored for these needs. Existing 3ds max users will notice a similarity, yet will wonder where some items have gone! Think Photoshop or Dreamweaver user interface and all will be well.

For the Flash render, add extra detail to the scene by creating some basic Special Effect. Tracer fire can be easily created using a simple particle system, with the speed cranked up and with a small surface area. Link this to the Plane’s gun turrets and as the plane is animated around the scene, the particles will be emitted. However, particles are not supported by the Shockwave exporter.

Smoke trails can be created using simple tapered cylinders or cones with a noise modifer added to randomise the positions of the vertices. Again, if this modifier is animated, the Shockwave exporter will not support the animation. Check the manual for more information about Shockwave export limitations.

Initially published: Computer Arts Special magazine, Issue 37, September 2002.

Copyright Pete Draper, September 2002. Reproduction without permission prohibited.