Professional Presentation for Designers
With reality barriers cracked (virtual, mixed, and augmented), we need to focus on creating content that not only appears real, but also appeals to our audience. We accomplish this by understanding some universal and fundamental concepts that apply to all aspects of presentation with 3ds Max®, whether it is for architectural and engineering scenes, media and entertainment, technical demonstrations, or products and displays. These fundamentals, anchored in animation, composition, and content, are vital to producing content that doesn’t just mimic reality, but also inspires our viewers. For this particular article, I will begin our focus on concepts relating to animation including time, keys, motion, and blocking.
Scenes in movies and commercials are two to five minutes long and this is not an accident. This number has decreased over the last several decades as our ability to absorb information has increased and our attention spans have grown shorter. Fifty years ago a typical scene might have lasted half an hour. Now if we attempt to stretch a single scene in our presentation to that length, audiences get bored and the message we intended to share gets lost.
Also, if we study today’s commercials and movies, we find that the two- to five-minute scenes contain several actions and often changes in camera angles and locations. This is also intentional and has to do with maintaining the attention of the viewer and our ability to process information. It takes only 13 milliseconds for our brains to process an image, so if five seconds pass while we stare at a single image, our brain has been processing the same image for 5,000 milliseconds. That might not seem significant, but consider that in that same amount of time we could potentially process 384 more images.
Having discovered this over the years, animators, producers, moviemakers, and others have found that most people do not mind staring at a particular image for roughly three to five seconds. Longer than that, they get bored. We need to think of this as a tempo, like the beats in a song. While cases vary, generally every three to five seconds we need to adjust our camera, make a transition, add text, create dialogue, present a new scene, or anything that gives our audience the opportunity to process something new.
Finally, the overall length of our presentations always varies, which brings me to reference the number 1 in Figure 1, pointing to the Time Configuration icon. Here we control the length of our scenes in 3ds Max.
Figure 1: Basic controls
If you refer to the Track Bar and Time Slider in Figure 1, you should notice the numbers 0 to 100; this refers to the number of frames in our scene. Humans see smooth motion around 16 to 24 frames per second or better. Common for videos on YouTube is 25 frames per second. So if we want our animation or scene to appear smooth, and last the three to five minutes we want for our viewer to stay attentive and deliver our message, we need to do some multiplication: 25 frames per second times 180 seconds (three minutes) means we need 4,500 frames. To accomplish this, we use the Time Configuration button to adjust the End Time shown in Figure 2 to our desired number of frames (4,500) and then select the Re-scale Time button. This should adjust our Track Bar and now display 0 through 4,500 frames.
Figure 2: Time configuration
Note that number 2 in Figure 1 points to the Set Key button. Keys or Key Frames are essential to animations as they store parameters of objects in their current state. Using the Time Slider and Set Key button, we can animate our objects. For example, place an object in your scene on frame 1 then press the Set Key button. Now, shift the Time Slider to frame 10 and move the object. Press the Set Key button again. Now, if you slide your Time Slider between frames 1 and 10, you should see your object slide from the original location to the final one you selected.
Keys in 3ds Max provide additional control for motion, including the Tangent Types marked by the number 3 in Figure 1. These allow us to control the motion of objects including their acceleration, deceleration, easing, hesitation, stillness, and more with a Bezier-style controller (a graphical curve). Think of it as driving a car. As you push the gas, the car continues to speed up, when you press the brake, it slows down. We can use these Tangent Types to mimic that behavior. Alternately, we can eliminate motions such as acceleration and deceleration using the same tool (typically the case for architectural presentations where cameras pan through an interior or fly over an exterior without a change in speed).
Figure 3: Blocking
Getting caught up in details too early in a presentation or process often stifles production. We counter this using a method referred to as blocking. To do this, we modify our objects and keys so they appear how we want them at the beginning, middle, and end. This allows us to refine our animation before we get caught up in the details.
Composition refers to the placement, grouping, alignment, and spacing between objects in our scenes and is a concept that dates back to ancient times. Using the rules of composition means our content should be more comfortable for our viewer to see and process, making it more appealing. For example, in architecture and engineering, a few rules for composition that help us create better renderings include the following:
- The Rule of Thirds – Dividing our scene into three equal parts and placing an object we want to focus on directly in line with one of the division lines.
- The Golden Ratio – This one is difficult to explain, but exists everywhere in life. In simple terms, the ratio is approximately 1.618 to 1. Through history, life, biology, and art this ratio has created a natural balance that, for no apparent reason, seems to appeal to us. Additionally, when we begin to divide the golden ratio by the golden rectangle (1.618 to 1, or the length and width of the boundary of the golden ratio), we can theoretically continue to divide it like that forever. Not necessarily relevant, but an interesting fact that helps me to remember the concept.
- Center Composition – One of the more straightforward compositions to explain, this involves directing viewers’ attention down the center of the scene, usually with a hint of symmetry to the left and right sides.
Figure 4 displays examples of each of these compositions in the order previously described.
Figure 4: Compositions
Content and Conclusion
Last, but not least, is a tip about the content in our scenes. Many of us add logical components to our scenes just for them to appear natural. For example, bedrooms might have pillows, blankets, books, desks, desk lamps, chairs, and dressers. If we want to raise the bar, though, we must consider uses for objects we may not have considered before. A good example relates to renderings of exterior scenes at night. If you pay attention to movies, often when filming exteriors at night, the grass and streets are watered down before filming. This is because the reflections brighten the scene, highlighting details to create more interest. Without this particular component, scenes such as this appear dreary or washed out. See Figure 5 to compare and decide for yourself.
Figure 5: Content