Level Up with 3ds Max

Next Level: the most over-used term in the 3D world (IMO).  There is a reason for it, though.  If you think of it like we are characters in a video game, the term should inspire us.  To move on, we need to gain experience, work hard, practice, try, fail, try, and fail again until we finally reach our potential, the reward, the feeling of accomplishment. So let’s level up, and start by focusing on hard-surface scene construction concepts that allow us to reach the highest standard of quality.

Breaking it Down

The best way to understand anything is to break it down into smaller pieces. For this article, I’ll cover those parts mentioned in the model displayed in Figure 1. These include patterns, reflection, geometry, noise (visual noise in particular), and panels.

Figure 1: Topics of discussion


Patterns exist in everything. Think of them as building blocks. Applied appropriately, patterns reveal structure in a seemingly chaotic world. Without those building blocks, objects appear mundane or can even fall apart completely. 3ds Max® comes with powerful tools that allow us to apply patterns to our objects quickly.  One of these is ShapeMerge. The power behind ShapeMerge rests in how it gives us the ability to cut objects using simple or complex geometry. Additionally, we can combine ShapeMerge with modifiers such as Edit Poly and Face Extrude. The relationship can remain dynamic, allowing us to the adjust the shape and see the changes occur on our object simultaneously. See Figure 2 for an example.

Figure 2: ShapeMerge with Edit Poly and Face Extrude Modifier


Every object reflects and absorbs light. There is no exception.  This is a natural function of life, but as 3ds Max users, when our objects reflect our scenes inappropriately, it is difficult to miss.  A poor reflection can draw the attention of the viewer away from the intent of our design. Understanding this takes time, but sooner or later every single 3ds Max user begins to see reflections in a new light (pun intended).  For 3ds Max (and any modeling application) topology is fundamental to create proper reflections. The key is to ensure surfaces we use to construct our objects are flat, tangent, or curvilinear.  Out-of-place vertices in our surfaces stretch, pinch, and pull reflections to make them appear unrealistic. 


For hard-surface elements, we need to visualize its purpose by asking ourselves questions like “what is this intended to do” and “how can this appear to function properly” (note that I say “appear to function properly”).  As 3ds Max professionals, we don’t necessarily have to understand exactly how everything we create functions, but we still need to make it appear as though it can.  Doing this allows our viewers to connect to the object in a way they can understand.  When we determine the elements we want to include with our objects to accomplish this, then we construct it in the style that suits our needs.


Noise, or visual noise, is a way to make simple objects appear more interesting.  For hard-surface scene construction, it is typical for 3ds Max users to develop libraries they use for “kit-bashing.” Essentially kit-bashing is using a library of objects to construct a scene.  These objects can be scattered throughout our scene to generate exciting detail with minimal effort.  Using modifiers such as Bend and Symmetry, we can reuse the same elements and make them appear completely different, giving us an infinite number of possibilities for every object.  Kits like “Tech Kit Bash Elements 3D” from Turbosquid displayed in Figure 3 can be found in various locations online, though building our own library can be more rewarding.

Figure 3: Tech Kit Bash Elements 3D


The concept behind panels has less to do with the panel itself than it has to do with the believability of the object.  Our entire lives we witness objects assembled and disassembled, whether it starts with toys when we’re children or the construction of skyscrapers. We normalize this. We ignore the seams in structures, toys, electronics, mechanical devices, and more because they are part of them. An example of our natural reaction to elements like this might be someone with an eye patch.  Most of us don’t pay much attention to the average stranger on the street, but if someone were to appear with an eye patch that could be hard not to notice.  We approach hard-surface scene construction the same way.  By applying panels, seams, bevels, chamfers, and extrusions, we make our objects appear more life-like, relatable, and real.

Final Rendering and Presentation

Figure 4: Final rendering and presentation

The final step is to present our object in a way that is appealing to the viewers. You’ll hear artists refer to this as composition. In the end, all anyone is ever looking for is if our presentation is appealing (enough).  We develop our style of composition with time, but there are some things we can consider to help us improve. These are balance, proportions, unity, variety, harmony, emphasis, rhythm, and movement. 

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