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Tips & Tricks in 3ds Max for Beginners

The beauty of the design process is that there are many ways to achieve the same result. To be the most efficient in your workflows and give you the broadest range of creative possibilities, you have to find what works best for you.

Ondrej Potancok
Ondrej Potancok

3ds Max is an extremely powerful software for all creative types, whether working as product designers, TV commercial animators or archi visualisers. With thousands of features and capabilities hidden inside, it takes time and practice to master everything 3ds Max has to offer.

It can be easy enough to understand the basics relatively early on, and the possibilities of creativity are truly endless. The beauty of the design process is that there are many ways to achieve the same result. To be the most efficient in your workflows and give you the broadest range of creative possibilities, you have to find what works best for you.

Here are a few basic tips and tricks with 3ds Max to help sharpen and enhance your skills and workflows.

Geometry

It is essential to keep objects in the correct scale. Always model your objects in 1:1 dimensions and assign your object proper names.

It is much easier to find and identificate objects called “Wall” than objects called “Box534”.

Use layers and groups together and make your creative process much easier.


Scene Creation

Every time you start a new project in 3ds Max and you have the idea anchored, move around in 3ds Max and find the best angles and desired point of views.

Once you have all your cameras locked, you can start creating an environment. This way, you will create only the important objects that the camera really sees and you will not waste time with unnecessary modeling. you will not only save time, but also the scene will be lighter and faster to save.

Isolate, Isolate and Isolate

When modeling the scene or an object that compounds from many other smaller parts, isolate the individual objects (right click > Isolate) to focus on modeling or texturing just one individual part. This will get you more space to rotate around the object, things that were hidden by other parts can now be seen and your workflow becomes faster. Once you make this your habit, you will save lots of time.

Populate

If you are working on a big scale scene, the Populate feature in 3ds Max is here to help place people in the scene from the 3ds Max built-in library. It offers pre-animated standing or walking people with slight body differences for variation. The Populate feature also gives you the ability to create a spline path. This makes your pre-made people move along a specific path and for an extra bonus, they are already fully textured.

Realistic Objects

Stop for a second and look around you. There are plenty of different materials and surfaces. Grab some objects and see how they behave in different lighting conditions.

You would never find pure blacks or whites in nature, so avoid using the full black RGB value (0,0,0), and the pure white RGB value (255,255,255)

You will also rarely (if ever) find a physical object with sharp edges. Always use small chamfer values on 90-degree edges and angles. This will allow an object to behave more realistically under a light source.

Become a 3D Photographer

Rendering softwares like V-ray and Corona allow for endless tweaking of camera and environment settings. They try to save us from real-life photographic problems and constraints in order to create specific images. However by letting the render engine automatically set the camera and environment settings, you may unintentionally get a ‘CGI look’ result. This is probably not the desired outcome, If you are trying to replicate real-world photography. Your images will begin to take on a more photo-realistic quality if you play around with the settings yourself.


Mastering Rendering

When using a specific render engine (V-ray, Corona, Arnold, etc) always use materials only optimized and specifically made for this particular render engine.

By making this your habit, you will eliminate strange behaviours such as really long render times, light leaks, and improper material look etc.

Realistic Lighting

Always build your scenes based on real-life environments. Go out, grab your camera and take a photo in a similar environment as the one you are creating in 3ds Max. Take note of the camera parameters such as ISO, shutter speed and aperature. Apply these values in a physically based camera in 3ds max and then tweak the light.

If you use HDR maps for your lighting, you will not only get proper reflections in the scene, but also materials will behave much more convincing.

Output

It does not matter what, you should always save your render outputs as 32bit file format like .EXR or .TIFF. Never save your work as .JPG, this is a compressed format and it will restrict the amount of information possible in post-production.

32-bit on the other hand, is an uncompressed file and will give much better control over post-production options, lighting and exposure corrections.

Software

Ondrej Potancok

Ondrej is a fulltime artist with 5+ years of experience, based in Slovakia. He spends his free time with family on roadtrips all over the europe, or shredding tires on race tracks.