The Modifier Editor

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of functions we need to become familiar with as beginners to 3ds Max®. Because the Modifier Editor and modifiers are essential to using 3ds Max, I thought it would be a good function to discuss.


I’d argue that the modifier stack is the most powerful component of 3ds Max. It is also very unique to the software. With it we can learn almost everything 3ds Max is capable of, simply by selecting our object and seeing the list of modifications we can make. The primary tool to make these modifications is called the Modifier Editor.  The editing box allows us to apply as many modifications to our object as we wish, and stack (or re-stack) the modifications in any order.  See Figure 1.

Figure 1: Modifier Editor

In the Modifier Editor, you’ll see I started with a plane at the bottom of the list. The modifications to our objects are listed in order from the bottom to the top. As we add modifications, they continue to stack on top of each other. Alternately, if we select any of our modifiers in the list, the next one we add will insert itself above it. We can also drag and drop the modifications in the stack as well as add the same type of modifications multiple times.

Each type of Modifier includes a set of parameters that we can adjust to obtain different results.  I’ll discuss some of them related to Figure 1. To create the object seen in Figure 1, I added 100 segments to the plane for the length and width.   Next, I added the Edit Poly modifier from the Modifier List. I did this out of habit really—it is useful to manually add or adjust an object with more intricate detail if needed by giving us all the functions of an editable poly. After that, I added the displace modifier, which is what generates the bumps (or displacement) you see in the object. It can’t generate the bumps on its own, though. It needs an image to get the height values (a depth map basically). See Figure 2 for a sample of images that can be used for displacement.  The whiter areas will control the mounds in displacement, whereas the dark areas are the crevices.

Figure 2: Displacement maps

In the parameters for the displacement modifier, I added strength and blur, and selected the image I used for my displacement. The strength controls how much the image affects the object.  I then added the Bend Modifier and adjusted the angle in the X-Axis. Last but not least, I added the TurboSmooth Modifier to smooth out some of the unwanted detail and noise. See Figure 3 for the steps in detail.

Figure 3: Modifier Editor example

Additional functions are available in the editor. For example, we can use the eye next to each item to turn them off.  The arrow next to each modifier generally contains more controls to adjust our objects in finer detail.  The icons below the editor give us more advanced controls that we learn as we dive deeper into the software.

Appears in these Categories