Figure 1: Sample scene and materials
A scene should be convincing, and there’s nothing that can make a scene less convincing than improper use of materials. Often, just a few materials, such as those shown in Figure 1, can be all that’s needed to create a scene that would convince someone to use their imagination, look again, or invest just a few more minutes of their time. To do that, we need to manage our materials and maximize our control over their parameters. In this article I’ll introduce some of the more advanced features that can be utilized to manage materials in 3ds Max®. First, it’s important to note that materials can be manipulated outside the slate or compact editor using control nodes, scripts, animation, and more. This gives us complete control over materials to maximize our efficiency and create the most convincing scene we can.
The first topic I’ll discuss are control nodes. Control nodes can be especially efficient for managing a large amount of materials. For a standard material, to work with control nodes we need to expand the parameters not available to us by default. We do this using the material slate editor and right-clicking over our material node. To view all parameters, select “Show All” as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Viewing all parameter slots for a material
Once selected, drag a control node over and connect it to your preferred parameters. For the example shown in Figure 3, I chose to apply a Bezier Color Controller to various parameters in my material.
Figure 3: Bezier Color Controller connections
With this we can use keys and the time slider to animate the material, adjust multiple materials in a single shot, correct material problems from files we receive from third parties, and so much more.
Next we’ll explore scripts. Scripts can be used to populate editor slots. A good example is the free script utility “POPULATE VRAYMAT” provided by atelierbump at http://atelierbump.tk/freebies/. Scripts can also be used to animate and manipulate all parameters of a material. If I want to set my first material to a specific material color, I would do so by entering “meditMaterials.Diffuse = color 150 168 214” into the Listener. We can use the same concept to alter opacity, specular levels, self-illumination and virtually any other value available to us. The scripts entered into the Listener can then be dragged to a toolbar we create (see Autodesk help files to create a toolbar). Simply highlight the script, then click and drag it to your new toolbar as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Creating button with a script
An icon representing the script will automatically appear in the toolbar. To edit the icon and change it to text as shown in Figure 4, right-click over the button and choose the appropriate option. Now we can use the button to quickly generate our material with its custom settings without ever opening the slate manager. This becomes especially useful when I find myself constantly using the same simple material over and over (i.e., materials for ambient occlusion and wire frame renders).
I’d recommend not downloading the terabytes of materials available online. Instead, develop a library with the primary materials you need. Use the available plug-ins and managers available online to create an efficient and professionally organized library. Vizpark currently offers a beta preview of a material manager on its website at www.vizpark.com/shop/material-manager/. With a rating system, easy-to-use interface, and the ability to download and manage mats in a way I’ve not seen before, I’m excited for its official release. Pre-constructed libraries with high-definition materials can be purchased online as well. Siger Studio provides an extremely well-organized library with top-quality materials at www.sigershop.eu for Corona and Vray render engines. If you’re in the AEC industry, take advantage of the pre-constructed architectural materials that come with 3ds Max—great for mechanical applications, civil sites, and architectural renderings in general.
Often one number, or a single parameter, can change a material completely. From glass to metal and from metal to water, for example. Knowing what values to manipulate gives users a better understanding of how materials interact with their scenes as well as more power to use them in different ways. It also reduces the requirement to store unnecessary materials, ultimately making it easier to manage a more professional, efficient library. The example in Figure 5 demonstrates how changing minor values with VRAY materials can easily convert one material to another.
Figure 5: VRAY materials chart
To download the chart visit http://www.pro-cad.net/vraychart.pdf. I recommend that you create your own guides as you learn to adjust specific values for your needs.
Use the power of materials inside Max. They can be used to make objects appear animated, deformed, shattered, and more. For example, by applying a noise map to the bump slot and swirl map to the opacity slot on a material, I was able to control the physical appearance of the sphere shown in Figure 6. Using the time slider and keys, I adjusted the values at different frames to make the sphere appear as though it is animated. We could apply the same concept to animate an earthquake, show clouds floating across a scene, water rippling, and much more.
Figure 6: Animating with material parameters
Become a Material Master
The ability to apply materials quickly without knowing much about them makes Max a very fun program to begin with. As we progress and want to push our technical limits, though, it’s important to step back and dig deep into the fundamentals. I’d suggest beginning with mastering the primary materials such as Standard, Composite, and Multi/Sub-Object materials, then move on to others such as Shellac and Raytrace. As you dig deeper, learn about shaders such as Blinn, Metal, Anisotropic, and Strauss, which are used to control specular highlights, create matte surfaces, and more. Ultimately, having the best understanding we can about materials saves time, helps us to avoid errors, and helps to create the most convincing scene we can.