Intro to 3ds Max

3ds Max is meant to provide comprehensive tools for 3D modeling, design, creative, or analytical tasks. This includes AEC design and applications, movie effects, game development, animation, fashion, scientific research, and more. Some users dive in, stumbling through the software and grinding through for years to become Max’s “jack of all trades.” Others choose a more specific approach, mastering specific areas, focusing on individual aspects such as scripting, stellar effects, rendering, animation, and others. In short, 3ds Max is for everyone who has the desire to dive in and learn to create virtually anything they want in a 3D environment of their own.

Figure 1: Sci-fi bike

First Impressions

3ds Max can appear daunting, largely because it caters to so many users’ needs. For most of us, however, tasks are streamlined using specific sets of tools within the Max interface.  As you dive in and learn to use 3ds Max with tutorials, forums, and videos, each of them will refer to areas I’ve identified in Figure 2 and describe below.

Figure 2: Interface

Area 1 is referred to as the main toolbar.  Users have the option to show or hide this toolbar, but since it contains several buttons to access various dialog boxes and options in 3ds Max I recommend users leave it on.  Common tools within this toolbar include undo and redo, object selection and scaling options, and snap tools to aid in the selection by locations or points on an object or the screen. Also within this toolbar are the alignment tools, which allow moving one object to another based on the various options one chooses.  Finally, access to render and material tools are also located on this bar. 

Area 2 is referred to the command panel, where you’ll spend most of your time. This command panel is separated into six different categories: create, modify, hierarchy, motion, display, and utilities. Area 2 can be described as the most geographically important piece of real-estate on your screen.  Each panel contains its own tools, organized below each tab and in groups referred to as rollouts. Each rollout is expanded and contracted similar to the way directories can be explored in a Windows desktop environment. 

Area 3 is referred to as the time slider. The time slider is specific to animation and will allow users to jump to any timeframe in a scene. Here, users can set and modify keys. Keys are essential to animation, allowing animators to control much more than just the movement of an object’s position from one location to another. Keys can allow animators to control all aspects of transformation (position, rotation, and scale of objects), as well as give them options to control movements such as easing and actions such as thrusts or jumps so they look as realistic and believable as needed.

Area 4 is the quad menu, one of the more popular features in 3ds Max. When right-clicking over any object or within a viewport, the quad menu provides users with quick access to common tools related to the specific object selected.

Area 5 is the viewport. Max provides several options for users to adjust the layout and number of viewports, but by default max starts with four viewports in different angles.  On the top left of each viewport, users can control the angle at which they are viewing their object as well as how they wish to view it (shaded, wireframe, and so on).

Area 6 is the render window. This area is not specifically part of the interface does not open by default, but because everything we do in 3ds Max eventually ends up here, I wanted to point it out. The render window is used to review an image or animation in its final state.    

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