Our guide to 3ds Max
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to 3ds Max

First published date November 15 2013 Amended date November 15 2013

As one of the most sophisticated software packages ever created, Autodesk’s 3ds Max offers huge flexibility in terms of creating unique designs and undertaking complex modelling. Because of this innate versatility, a 3ds Max course is strongly recommended for anyone considering computer graphics as a career - or even a hobby.

In essence, 3ds Max allows people to model and animate almost any object imaginable, from mundane everyday items through to imaginary polyhedrons. At its simplest, it can be used to decorate geometric objects, and at its most complex, 3ds Max can create entire worlds of animated and inanimate objects, whose physics modelling and visual characteristics don’t necessarily resemble anything found in the real world…


Live life to the Max

Although it fully exploits the speed and flexibility of today’s powerful IT hardware, Autodesk 3ds Max has been with us for almost 25 years, originating in an age when computers were severely limited in what they could achieve. Created by a solitary programmer, this program was launched on Halloween 1990, providing users with unprecedented functionality like the ability to create elaborate three-dimensional shapes, and edit surface meshes.

Subsequent variants of this package bore different names, while its programming functionality expanded considerably. By 1995, interactive shaded and textured objects could be animated in real time and set to music, and 3ds Max was heavily used in the development of the legendary Warcraft computer game series. By the new millennium, other games like The Sims and Halo were being created using 3ds Max, while 2006 saw it deployed to visualise the designs for the One World Trade Center building in Manhattan, long before construction work began. In 2009, every film nominated in the Best Visual Effects category of the Oscars featured Autodesk animations, and 3ds Max was even used to identify potential design problems with the proposed $4.25 billion Alaskan Way Viaduct in America.


When would I use it?

Because 3ds Max is such a specialised and technical program, its uses are restricted to a few key industries. Film studios are among the biggest beneficiaries of its wide-ranging functionality, and blockbuster films that have utilised this software include Avatar, 2012, The Matrix Reloaded and the last two Harry Potter films.

As an optimised way of creating virtual environments and cartoon-like representations of the real world, 3ds Max is popular with video game manufacturers, and it has been responsible for the development of numerous 3D computer games. It is also popular with architects, since it can be used to create walk-throughs of a proposed site, or provide artworks for a possible engineering project.


3ds Max in action

Students on a 3ds Max course can expect to learn a great deal about a software package that appears fairly indecipherable at first glance. The program’s core skill is in 3D modelling and texturing, and courses will cover vector mapping and surface shading, before moving into specific areas like deformation and panning/zooming.

Courses will guide students through its lengthy array of menus, bars and control boxes. The sheer complexity of attempting to create a virtual world from a blank canvas inevitably requires a plethora of adjustment and functionality options, and an advanced 3ds Max course will methodically explain each of these in turn, until operating the software becomes almost intuitive.


Geek speak

The animation and 3D modelling industries are peppered with technical terminology that can seem bewildering to newcomers. These are a few of the phrases and terms that students might expect to encounter on a 3ds Max course:

·         NURBS. This acronym for non-uniform rational B-spline describes a single surface without any edges, such as the flowing shape of a rugby ball or a car body. They pose challenges to designers because of the way light and shade need to be depicted, and they also require a great deal of computer processing power.

·         Primitives. Users of 3ds Max can choose from a large variety of generic shapes, before adding their own characteristics to each one. These predefined shapes are called primitives, and they range from normal geometric shapes like boxes and cones through to complex designs such as springs, or cylinders with hemispherical caps.

·         Skinning. Animations of animals or people normally involve deformable skeletons, which are designed with recognisable joints and bone structures. Once the movement and flexibility of these skeletons has been specified, the visible layer is added, in a process called skinning. These skins have to react in accordance with the skeletons underneath, right down to the level of shadow created during movement.

·         Radiosity. This is a hugely complex software algorithm, which is used to determine how light should be dispersed in an animated image or scene, depending on where each source of illumination is situated. It acknowledges that light is reflected, refracted and absorbed differently by every material or surface it encounters.


By Neil Cumins


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