Not Your Typical Education and Training
3ds Max® gives us the technical ability to present anything we imagine, but it’s important to understand that our imaginations can trick us. To demonstrate this, someone once asked me if I closed my eyes could I describe how they looked as they stood in front of me. After a moment of looking at them, I was confident I could. When I closed my eyes, they asked a simple question: “What color are my eyes?” I couldn’t believe that as confident as I was, as sure of myself as I was that I could describe this person, I couldn’t answer that simple question. This concept bears enormous weight on every aspect of design, especially for those of us who use 3ds Max. We must work to support our confidence with a solid understanding of the foundations and details related to our work, which requires education and training. So for this article, I’ll present some non-traditional resources we can use to learn these principles while also presenting resources available to utilize 3ds Max to its fullest potential once we do.
Figure 1: AEC Visualization
Exciting advancements in visualization for architectural, engineering, construction, and BIM (building information modeling) have occurred in the last few years. Work is transitioning from merely marketing material to integration into heterogeneous models used in a holistic approach to help solve complicated, region-wide problems. These include everything from flood studies to solar research and viewpoint simulations. It’s essential to understand the critical elements that make up work related to the relevant industry to accommodate the future and provide the highest quality of content. A few steps we can take to accomplish this are:
Trade/technical schools. These schools are often far less expensive than universities, but offer a stepping stone into the industry, focusing on both drawing fundamentals and the technology used today.
Work for an architect. I can’t say enough about learning a craft from experienced professionals. All the books and videos in the world can’t replace the knowledge these men and woman gain through their work. If you have the opportunity to take advantage of it, I recommend it.
OpenCourseWare. Mostly this pertains to university materials and information made available to anyone who wants access.
EdX. Free courses available to users from universities including Harvard and MIT.
Concerning 3ds Max, the most relevant training I’ve found for a realistic approach generating world-class content comes from LearnVray.com. Available for a small fee and through a series of 40+ videos, the course walks users through photographic principles utilizing steps in 3ds Max and Vray for Framing, Light Balance, Materials, Renders, and Postproduction. In the end, the course offers 5SRW Certification to ensure students understand the principles of the process. Additionally, it offers a small friendly community led by passionate instructors where users can share, review, and comment on content.
Media and Entertainment
There’s a large number of subcategories that fall underneath media and entertainment, giving students several paths to choose. These include the following:
Creatures/Characters. Creating these requires an understanding of anatomy and body mechanics, from the skeleton to muscle and skin. Understanding how these relate impacts every step in the process, from the initial concept to the final composition and texture and rendering.
Figure 2: Character Design
Environments. Building worlds matching required and vastly different styles can be difficult. Environmental designers work with their teams to develop everything from individual assets like benches and plants to creating the mood and tone of their particular scenes.
Figure 3: Environmental Art
Product development. Designers in this industry work with companies to produce video and renderings for videos for marketing on television and the Internet.
Visual Effects. This category covers a wide range of activities related to effects for everything from environmental impacts from character movements to smoke, fire, and even effects for menu and interface design.
Figure 4: Effects
There are many more, but each path requires years for people to master, so the best advice I have is to select your favorite early and work hard toward your goal. A popular approach to learning principles related to these various categories is through online workshops presented by others who have worked in those industries for the last few decades. These include The Gnomon and CGSociety.
Additionally, a powerful method of learning related to these industries come from professionals who offer mentorship for monthly or yearly fees. Through these programs, they offer discord/team link connections with other professionals, direct email review, and even weekly or monthly calls. Watch for them as they don’t come around very often.
Finally, it’s important to know that 3ds Max is just a tool—think of it an artist’s brushes or pencils. There are vast differences between artists who have studied their craft and those who haven’t.