Advanced Techniques

Advanced topics can vary among 3ds Max® users. The list of topics to cover is virtually endless, and most of us barely scratch the surface of what 3ds Max can do. So, I tossed 20 topics I thought some users might consider advanced into a hat and pulled out five randomly to discuss here.  The topics include:

  • Manipulating Textures using the Slate Editor and Nodes
  • Advanced Data Manipulation and the Particle View
  • Particle Systems
  • Substance Painter with 3ds Max
  • Using Maps for Alternate Scenarios

Texture Manipulation Through the Slate Editor

The art of building materials slowly dies as users rely on software with preconstructed libraries and templates (Keyshot is a prime example). While that is efficient, manipulating materials is often essential to address particular challenges and create custom content.  For example, if a material in a rendering needs color correction and we lack the source file that created it, we can drop a correction node between the bitmap and diffuse connectors in the Material Slate Editor and modify it as necessary.  See Figure 1 for another example. 

Figure 1

The bricks in the scene originated from the grayscale image displayed in Figure 2. 

Figure 2

To alter the color, we just apply an RGB Tint node between the connectors and alter the values.  With this concept, we can apply an infinite number of node combinations to manipulate textures however we want. Tip: To add a map right-click in the Material Slate Editor and navigate through the maps section.

Advanced Data Manipulation with the Particle View

Using ADM (Advanced Data Manipulation) with the Particle View, we create the musical notes floating around the room displayed in Figure 3.

Figure 3

The default key to open the Particle View is 6. To create and distribute the symbols, navigate through the top menus and select the MagicDust preset as displayed in Figure 4.

Figure 4

The preset is more robust than we need, but it accomplishes our task quickly. Selecting the preset places the Advanced Data Manipulators in the Event Display. Next, change the Display values to geometry, then the Shape value to Notes (also shown in Figure 4).  After that, increase the size of the notes while altering the birth rate to reduce cluster and overlap.   Tip: The particle system is animated. To see changes, set your current view to ActiveShade and slide the time slider at the bottom of your screen to view the animation.   Finally, to make the notes static apply a Mesher Compound Object.  From there we can convert the object to an editable poly and use as needed.

Particle Systems

Figure 5

Figure 5 displays snow from an animation using the Snow Particle System with a custom snowflake. To add a Particle System, select the Geometry Tab drop-down and choose Particle Systems.  There you find the Snow particle system. Select it and add it to your scene.  Navigate to the modify panel to alter the values.  Select Flakes for the particles and under the Render category select Facing, which converts the particles to planes so we can apply a material to it.  Locate a black and white snowflake (the background white, and snowflake black) and apply it to both the diffuse and opacity map slots in a material.  Under the opacity map options, invert the output, which makes the background transparent. Under the diffuse map, uncheck “Use Real-World Scale” and set the Tile U and V to 1.  That’s it! Now you have snow using your custom snowflake graphic.

Substance Painter with 3ds Max

Substance Painter is advanced texturing software we use in conjunction with 3ds Max.  We can apply brushes, masks, filters, layers, blends, templates, alphas and more while working either in 2D or 3D. We can link to 3ds Max with plug-ins provided by the developers or export textures and wait a moment for 3ds Max to update.  Additionally, Substance Painter provides a unique and powerful ability to create Smart Materials, which are a collection of multiple layers and settings that make up a single material.  See Figure 6 for an example of a Smart Material applied to an object.

Figure 6

If you wonder how the pros are applying rust, carbon fiber, or edge damage to their scenes while pumping out asset after asset quickly, this is the software they are using.  It is an extremely efficient workflow and, with practice, it becomes easy to navigate, make changes, and view updates in 3ds Max to provide the best product possible.  Tip: To be most efficient, work with split or dual screens as shown in Figure 7. 

Figure 7

In additon, substance materials give us a powerful ability to build in custom values that we can modify in 3ds Max (refer to Figure 7-A). The image demonstrates several substance materials while showing that we can adjust the aging of the metal based on intensity. 

Figure 7-A

Scenarios with Maps

Maps are a powerful way to present alternatives in a non-destructive way.  Refer to the winter scene displayed in Figure 8 (used previously to demonstrate the snow particle system). 

Figure 8

Both use the same assets with the same diffuse map displayed in Figure 9. 

Figure 9

The primary difference between the two is the lights in the windows.  To add lights, I add an emissive map similar to Figure 10 to the Self-Illumination slot.

Figure 10

Swapping out the emissive map, I can now use the same scene for both day and night without relying on two different files.

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