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Mastering 3D Studio MAX R3

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Special thanks to the book team: Cheryl Applewood and Mariann Barsolo at Sybex, patient and patient. Did I mention patient? Bernadette Mural, Gary Davis, Clare McDonough, Melissa Atchley, Michele Matossian, and of course my co-authors Alexander, Alex, and Cat.

To the behind-the-scenes folks, inspirers, and facilitators: JC, Mike Bendele, Bill Marimon, Nate Selikoff, Jared Dufour, Dan Ramirez, Jim Selikoff, Curtis Sponsler, Joan Davies, Swami, Bob Hichborn, my college professors Downing Barnitz and James Rogers Ph.D., Gary Rackliff, Robert Olrich (Chagrin Falls High School geometry teacher, the only math class I ever liked), Steve Cameron Ph.D., and David Robinson. Especially my mom, Barbara.

To the Discreet Training Crew, it is a distinct honor to be counted among you: Diane Duffey, Kim O’Neal, Alexander Esppeschit Bicalho, Ted Boardman, Hawkin Chan, Gary Davis, Kevin Gilson, Kim Lee, Pia Maffei, Clare F.B. McDonough, Alex Monteiro, Jim Robb, Steven Schain, Amer Yassine, Steve Zurakowski.

Special thanks to Creative Television Communications for Royal Caribbean Inter-national—Voyager of the Seas, whose team created the “Magic City” image used on the cover. The image was created using 3D Studio MAX R3 with modeling and animation by Chris Murray, Mike Bendele, and Kris Vale.

To foot-warmers Matisse, Monet, and MP; to heart-warmer Alicia, my one true love.

—Chris Murray

For sharing with me their understanding of art, animation, cinematography, and computer graphics, I would like to thank Alex Lindsay, Ben de Leeuw, Ken Robertson, Jeff Abouaf, Jon Zax, Celia Pearce, Bert Monroy, Marc Abraham, and Michele Matossian.

For pure inspiration, I thank Caroline Casey (Making the Gods Work For You) and Tim Robbins (The Cradle Will Rock).

I thank everyone who worked on this book: Chris Murray, Alex Monteiro, Alexander Bicalho, Gary Davis, Pete Gaughan, Scott Onstott, and Mariann Barsolo.

I would also like to offer a very personal and heartfelt thanks to Jerek Carnelian, Becky Taber, and Leslie Walper—the people who made it possible for me to pursue my goals in this field.

—Cat Woods

I would like to thank Borislav Petrov, Larry Minton, Ravi Karra, Simon Feltman, and Luis Estrada for all their time and patience answering my questions about scripting. I’d also like to thank Cheryl, Mariann, Pete, and Scott for helping me understand what I had written. Also thanks to my family, girlfriend, and friends for their support. A special thanks to Chris, who allowed me to be in this project and believed that I could do it.

—Alexander Bicalho

I would like to thank Chris Murray and Alexander Bicalho for their friendship and support. In addition, I thank the Sybex Team for giving me the opportunity to be part of this book and for creating a very enjoyable and helpful atmosphere. To all my family and friends, thank you for your encouragement throughout this process. Most importantly I would like to thank my wife Dawn for her never-ending love, support and patience. Thank you for always believing in me.

—Alex Monteiro


This book was especially designed for people who have played around with 3D Studio MAX, perhaps learned parts of the program in detail, but are missing some of the basics and want to take themselves to the next level in their progress towards true mastery. The book can also be used by beginners, as it reviews the basic tools and concepts of MAX before moving onto more advanced material. Beginners should give themselves a little extra time to play around with the tools and get the feel of the program as they work through the book.

This is not an exhaustive book on MAX. (I defy anyone to write a truly exhaustive book on a program of this depth. Besides being a set of at least a dozen encyclopedias, it would be obsolete within an hour when the next plug-in was written.) You’re not going to read this book in a matter of weeks and suddenly have “mastered 3D Studio MAX,” ready to create a demo reel that will get you a job at Pixar. This book is designed to raise the base level of understanding of developing MAX users. It provides a solid foundation in the essential concepts of 3D computer graphics and the many related fields, explores some of the more complex subjects in detail to stretch you into unfamiliar territory, and introduces a variety of other topics to offer an overview of the myriad pathways available in the world of 3D Studio MAX.

Becoming a good animator in 3D computer graphics means learning the traditional principles of drawing and painting, the principles of modeling in three dimensions, and the principles of motion and animation. It means learning the givens of computer graphics as well as the rich language of film. It means learning lighting, sound design, camera work, editing, and special effects. It means learning to storyboard an idea and direct it to completion. That’s a lot of learning curves to broach at once. As anyone in these fields can tell you, any one of these areas takes years, if not decades, to master. You’re not going to learn them all overnight, and they’re not all going to be covered in full detail in a single book.

If you are serious about wanting to master 3D Studio MAX, you have a lot of further study ahead of you. You can start by accepting that the goal of achieving mastery as a CG animator means a long-term commitment, one that may take many years and still be refined for the rest of your life. You need patience—with yourself and with the process of reaching for the next level—in order to continue your progress. You will hit thresholds of frustration where you don’t understand what’s wrong and feel completely stuck. And then you will get past them. Never forget that you are learning a program that has a community of 100,000 users, many of whom are willing to share their knowledge and help solve problems. The only thing that can entirely stop your progress is giving up.

TIP The 3D Studio MAX Web board is a wonderful resource for users. Go to http://support.ktx.com/~max.

While you are learning, give yourself time to just play with the program, explore it, let things blow up on you, and learn from the experience. There is no linear way to learn MAX, since everything affects everything else and there are at least half a dozen ways to do most things. Have fun with it. If it stops being fun, take a break from it.

Learning MAX is an endeavor that will involve both sides of your brain to capacity. Be sure to feed each. Balance your technical education with studies in drawing, sculpture, film, creative writing, and classic animation. Also, to be blunt, know Photoshop. If there is one computer graphics program to learn very well in addition to MAX, it’s Photoshop. Every other computer graphics program uses the standards established by Photoshop.

Be sure, while educating the lobes of your brain, to take care of the rest of your body as well. Nothing you create in CG is worth being debilitated by severe eyestrain, tendonitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Get an ergonomic setup that works for you. Drink lots of water. Take breaks to stretch, change the focus of your eyes, and yes, even have a life.

Finally (and I really should have said this first), remember that the purpose of creating CG images is to convey a message to an audience. So have something to say. The cultural imagination has already been saturated with animation and other art that is devoid of meaningful content. Blowing up a jetfighter is not a story. Blowing up a jetfighter while Luke refuses to give into hate, thus freeing his father from enslavement to hatred—now that is a story.

—Cat Woods


Title Authors

CG101 Terrence Masson

Visualization: The Second Computer Revolution Richard Mark Friedhoff and William Benzon

Photoshop Channel Chops David Biedny, Bert Monroy, and Nathan Moody

Photoshop, Illustrator, Painter Side by Side Wendy Crumpler

Bert Monroy: Photorealistic Techniques in Photoshop and Illustrator Bert Monroy

Principles of Color Design: Designing with Electronic Color Wucius Wong

Principles of Color Faber Birren

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston

The Art of the Storyboard John Hart

Cartoon Animation Preston Blair

Animating Facial Features and Expressions Bill Fleming

Digital Cinematography Ben de Leeuw

Industrial Light and Magic: Into the Digital Realm Mark Cotta Vaz and Patricia Rose Duignan

Hardware and Software Considerations

This book will be a great resource to any MAX animation studio. Of course, to get the most out of this book, it is recommended that you have a system you can use to experiment with files contained on the CD.

3D Studio MAX does not come with this book, so you will need the following to do the exercises:

  A current copy of 3D Studio MAX Release 3.0 or greater
  Pentium-class machine (or similar, PII or PIII preferred)
  Windows 98/NT (NT preferred) operating system
  1280×1024, 24-bit display (preferred; 1024× 768 will work)
  CD-ROM drive
  4GB hard drive space (recommended)

For up-to-date system requirements, please refer to the manuals included with your software.

Meeting these requirements will allow you to maximize the data contained on the CD. Additionally, programs like Discreet paint* and effect*, though not explicitly covered in this book, will enhance your capabilities with MAX and provide greater options when using the program. These programs are not required to use 3D Studio MAX or this book and CD.

Missing Maps?

If you ever get a message that says “Missing Map Files” when you open up a .max file, the problem is that MAX doesn’t know where to look for your bitmap files. You will need to add a new bitmap path to the files from this book’s CD.

Determine where the files are. If you followed the instructions on the CD, the chapter files installed themselves in C:\Mast_3DStudioMAX. You can also access the files by chapter on the CD, or drag them into the \Maps folder in your MAX directory.

In MAX, go to Customize Ø Configure Paths and click the Bitmaps tab. Click the Add button and browse through your drives and folders to add a new bitmap path to the folder with the new bitmaps.

Now reopen your .max file, and this time the program will automatically find the bitmaps used in the scene.

What’s Covered in this Book

Part I: MAX R3 Basics

The introductory chapters are the foundation for the rest of the book. We as a team tried to portray the chapters as a clean and easy way to understand the fundamentals that the reader will need to rely on throughout the book.

This part introduces you to the vital basics you need to know to get to know and use 3D Studio MAX R3 effectively.

Chapter 1 provides a brief overview of the terms, descriptive concepts, and methods behind creating 3D graphics. This chapter will give you a starting point if you have never used a 3D program before, introducing you to vertices, faces, edges, and other items that make up 3D.

Chapter 2 describes the basic concepts of creating, manipulating, animating, and rendering objects in 3D space and time.

Chapter 3 will familiarize you with the 3D Studio MAX R3 interface and explain how to negotiate it—where to locate the modeling tools, modify objects, navigate scenes, apply textures and render, adjust animation, and customize the interface—everything you’ll need to move on to the rest of the book.

Part II: Modeling

The Modeling section will take you through the basics, as well as some more intricate features of modeling in 3D Studio MAX.

You’ll start by getting an overview in Chapter 4, where you begin with the actual process of creating objects for use in MAX. This chapter will provide you with a guide to frequently used objects, modifiers, sub-object tools, and their functions.

Chapter 5 takes modeling a step further to bring you closer to the main organic modeling options in MAX: patch modeling, NURBS modeling, and subdivision surface modeling. You will explore the different methods and use MAX Surface Tools to create a model. This chapter will describe the different tools and approaches available to each type of model and give you important pointers for successful modeling.

Part III: Animation

Although animation can be very complex, we take the mystery out of it for you by breaking it down in Chapter 6 and exploring it in more detail in Chapter 7.

Chapter 6 introduces you to basic animation principles and gives you the knowledge to apply them. You’ll also gain insight for creating a wide variety of animations using simple animation methods, as well as some mechanics of the important animation controllers.

Chapter 7 blazes on to give you more powerful animating knowledge. You will become familiar with concepts essential to developing your ability to analyze a motion and translate it into mouse clicks in MAX. You’ll hone the Track View, dummy objects, and simple hierarchies. You’ll also get a glimpse of forward and inverse kinematics, MAX Bones, and Character Studio.

Part IV: Materials and Lighting

Before you can render anything, you need to ensure that your materials are realistic-looking and that you have created applicable lighting to your scene.

Chapter 8 gives you examples and guidance in creating common material types through mastering the Material Editor, understanding material types, and how to recognize and apply maps.

Chapter 9 brings you useful ways to shade surfaces with the more specialized types of materials, including Raytrace, Matte/Shadow, and five Compound material types.

Chapter 10 unearths the use of color and lighting and their implications in the final render of your MAX scene. You will learn how to use the various settings for each type of light in MAX, as well as different approaches to setting up the lights of your scene.

Part V: Rendering and Compositing

When all the modeling and animating is done, and you have applied your materials and adjusted your lighting dozens of times, you’re ready (or maybe you’re not) to render your scene and then take it to post-production.

Chapter 11 takes you to the world or rendering, where you explore the Environment dialog window and learn how to create atmospheric effects like fog and combustion. You’ll learn about file resolution and output options, as well as more advanced concepts like anti-aliasing filters, supersampling, and motion blur. Once you have learned the power of rendering, you will apply all the skills you’ve learned so far in the book to a full project.

In Chapter 12, you will learn about compositing concepts and the post-production capabilities available within MAX. This includes applying post-process effects filters, editing, and compositing within the Video Post dialog window.

Part VI: Using MAXScript

Since MAX R2, we’ve had the chance to automate tasks in MAX without having to learn C++ and the art of the plug-in, just by using MAXScript. MAX R3 brought a whole new concept to MAXScript and expanded its functionality. Through exercises and practical examples, you will step through MAXScript and realize that, instead of being a monster, it’s a great tool and a time saver.

Chapter 13 introduces you to the basics and gives you a foundation for understanding the way MAXScript works.

In Chapter 14, you start writing some scripts. Here you will learn about MAXScript tools for manipulating scenes and working with objects.

Chapter 15 teaches you how to create a user interface to make your scripts easier to use and understand.

Chapter 16 will show you how MAXScript can be used to edit and adjust animation parameters. You will also use scripts to develop animation controllers, control rendering, and manipulate bitmap files.

Chapter 17 explores some advanced scripting, with scene management tools, Xrefs, and callbacks.

Chapter 18 introduces plug-in scripts and their seamless integration to the UI. You will learn to create scripts that extend familiar objects and parameters.


Appendix A is a reference list of the shortcut keys programmed into MAX. Appendix B provides you with some good advice on how to render your work to get professional, large-format prints.

What’s on the CD-ROM?

The CD-ROM for Mastering 3D Studio MAX R3has some helpful information that will compliment the knowledge you will gain from the text. It contains all the MAX and support files you will need to complete the exercises in the book, as well as the scripts for the MAXScript section of the book. There are places in the book where you will be directed to access files from the CD, including animations that play the final results of projects.

The CD also contains additional materials to enhance your work in MAX, as well as to inspire your creativity.

Here is what you will find on the CD:

  Color Schemes
  Color Section
  Digimation Plug-ins
  Marlin Studios
  Sample Movies
  Texture Kit Classic Ornament
  HTML Links
  QuickTime 4

Color Schemes

Here you’ll find software that gives you that creative burst of energy you need to design the best computer graphics, from Eni Oken and Gregg Patton of Can You Imagine Software, Inc.

Color Section

You can view examples from the color section either in TIFF or bitmap format. To use and view the files, go to the color_section folder, and then double-click the .bmp or .tif file of your choice.

Code and Book Files

If you plan to build any of the projects in the book, you can access all the files referred to in the chapters on the CD. You will find material libraries, MAX files, textures to complete MAX scenes, plus all the MAXScripts developed in Part VI—everything you need to make your copy of Mastering 3D Studio MAX completely interactive. To install the code, go to the BookFiles folder, and double-click bookfiles.exe. The files will unzip to C:\Mast_3DStudioMAX.

Digimation Plug-ins

You get a collection of animation software plug-ins from Digimation to help deepen your knowledge of 3D Studio MAX R3, including:

Amapi3D 4.1 3D modeling software from France that allows you to create models that have a “natural” look.

B3D Max This plug-in enables you to post your 3D Studio MAX projects on the Web.

Cycore Link to the Cult 3D Designer Web site, where you can pick up this animation software for free or view a useful presentation on computer animation.

Deep Paint 3D This software allows you to add a myriad of colors to your 3D Studio MAX projects.

Design 4 Magazine You get an e-copy of Design 4 magazine, which is developed just for the 3D Studio MAX user.

FreeTextures.com Link to FreeTextures.com, an interactive animation Web site for avid 3D Studio MAX fans.

Ultimate MAX/VIZ Internet Guide The Ultimate MAX/VIZ Internet Guide is a fantastic way to find Internet resources for 3D Studio MAX.

NeMo Player NT The Nemo Player plug-in lets you create sound files and interact with the files you create.

Rhino A 3D modeling program for Windows.

Marlin Studios

Textures from Tom Marlin of Marlin Studios will help you create realistic 3D Studio MAX designs.

Sample Movies

Here you’ll find a sampling of movies created in 3D Studio MAX. Watch an asteroid explode or a ghost shape shift before your very eyes and more. To view the movies, go to the Sample_Movies folder and double-click on the .avi file of your choice. Note: You must have QuickTime installed to view the .avi files.

Texture Kit Classic Ornament

Here you’ll find demos of useful textures from Eni Oken to enhance your 3D Studio MAX skills.

Scripts and HTML Links to Scripts

In addition to the script files on the CD, you also get links to the ever-expanding availability of scripts on the Web.

QuickTime 4

If you don’t already have QuickTime to view the animations, just go to the root directory of the CD-ROM, copy it over to your hard disk, and install.

The CD is designed to run on Windows 95, 98, 2000, and Windows NT Work-station 4.x. It uses the Sybex CLICKME interface as an easy way for you to install the programs you want from the CD. You can also access any of the files through the Windows Explorer. You may want to copy animation and project files to your hard disk to improve their performance. You will need QuickTime 4 to run the .avi files. All the MAX files on the CD can be used with 3D Studio MAX R3.

How to Reach the Authors

You can reach Chris Murray at chris@learn3Dstudiomax.com, or visit www.learn3D-studiomax.com.

You may contact Cat Woods at cat801@hotmail.com. Be sure to include the words “3D Studio MAX” in the subject line of your email, or she will not receive it.

Alexander Bicalho can be reached at www.origamy.com.br.

Alex Monteiro may be reached at studiox@mediaone.net or www.studio-x.com.

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