The Digital Artist

It could be argued the greatest advances in the 21st century may be with computers. Generations are now born that have never known life without a computer.  It’s said we’ve entered the start of a new era.  As history has proved, it is art that lasts through the ages and today’s art is more digital than ever.

3ds Max® users could be described as some of the most elite artists of this century using perhaps the most sophisticated computer software an artist can use. They are the da Vincis, the van Goghs, the Rembrandts. They are the sculptors, the painters, the architects, and engineers of this era and their work will last much longer than they themselves will.

But with art some might say it’s important to always remember the fundamentals. So this article covers some of those fundamental elements we use while we all try to make our mark on history.  Some of those elements include lines, shapes, spaces, and colors.


We'll begin with lines. They control viewpoints and edges. They can shade (as in a cross hatch) or can be a shadow.  The line itself can create a shape or change it and because of that it's important to remember we  aren't confined to solids or shapes in 3ds Max®, but we can use the power of simple lines to completely change or generate very complex or interesting scenes.  Take the rendered box in Figure 1 for example. The first box, with white lines, can be described as lines that identify the contour of a simple cubed object with straight, sharp edges. The second box would have to be described differently though the lines are in the same exact locations as shown with the first object. The quality of the line is considerably different, which alters the overall form of the object itself. For the third example the same box was fractured using quick-slice in 3ds Max, the resulting lines (or edges) were extracted and thickened, then finally smoothed to create a much more interesting object.

Figure 1


Shapes are simply a result of connecting the ends of lines to form a closed contour. An interesting side note is that 3ds Max defies traditional art because shapes in 3ds Max can be three-dimensional. With the ability to create two- or three-dimensional shapes we can create interesting objects in a very short amount of time. Take the object in Figure 2, for example. By simply defining the contour from the axis at the center of a chess piece and using the lathe modifier, we are able to construct a queen chess piece in just a few seconds. It's interesting to also consider that even empty space defines a shape and that shapes in general define every three-dimensional object in the universe. By understanding them, we can construct, or deconstruct, very complex scenes. See Figure 3 for an example of a few basic shapes used with 3ds Max tools such as bend, twist, array, and extrude to create such objects. 

Figure 2

Figure 3


Space can be described in different ways such as overlapping or separation, between, around or above and below an object, or distance above and below a specific plane. Space can also have a variety of effects on one’s scene such as objects shrinking or having less detail as they appear further from a viewer, cool-temperature colors as objects fade into the distance, and darker colors and better contrast as they are closer. The illusion of space is what 3ds Max is entirely constructed on, using very complex formulas to create 2D shapes on screen that represent 3D objects in space. It's all a bit confusing considering 2D space can be described as an illusion representing 3D space, but in Figure 4 you'll find an example of using such space, a V-Ray camera, and 3ds Max to create an effect that makes some objects appear further from the object in focus.

Figure 4


In a typical color wheel you'll find colors that mix red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.  Colors can be dark (shaded, with black), or light (tinted, with white). They can be cool, warm, or neutral. Mountains of data have been produced about colors—those that complement or contrast one another, or how to construct proper themes I won't be discussing much. I would, however, like to recommend assigning favorite colors and colors themes to a custom toolbar using the macro recorder.

First, create a custom toolbar and button. Next, record a macro. To record a macro, simply select the MAXScript menu and choose Macro Recorder. Next, select an object and alter the color to your preference.  When completed, select MAXScript again, and click on Macro Recorder once more. This will disable it.  Then open the MAXScript Listener and highlight the portion of the macro that changed your object’s color. It should look similar to "$.wirecolor = color 64 104 164".  Simply drag and drop the highlighted text onto the toolbar button you had created.  Save the toolbar so that any time you want to change the color of an object to your specific preference, simply select your object then press that button.  

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