3D Studio MAX 3 Computer Tutorial

HEGRA Architects

I have often seen works of art produced with MAX, and many of them show wild surrealistic scenes. For the experienced user of MAX, this is fine, but when teaching my students how to use this wonderful program, I prefer to start with a still life. What better subject than the computer that he or she is using to run the program. This tutorial utilizes many of MAX 3’s capabilities, and is aimed at the user that understands the basic workings of the program, and wants to put together a scene that brings these workings together. In my classes, this is the first project where I turn the student loose without step by step instructions. This tutorial assumes that you have some basic knowledge of the interface and in the use of MAX3. Don’t worry if you have to look up some things in the help menu or in the user guide, this is a learning tutorial.

3D Max Configuration

While your Computer system may look different than mine, the modeling process is basically the same, and the search for a solution is definitely the same. The computer project is made up of the Monitor, Computer case with operating CD reader, keyboard, and mouse.

First you need to set up your MAX 3 system. Start with Customize/Preferences/Main UI/ Viewport Background and select a color. Make sure it is easy on your eyes. I use one of the grays, or black- never white. Next, go to Grids/Grid Intensity, and set the grid intensity to approximately 100 then click on Apply Colors Now. You want the grid to be faint, so depending on your viewport background color, you may have to invert the grid. Go to Customize/Units Setup, and set your units to US Standard/ Feet with Fractional inches. (If you don’t use inches, select the measurement system you use) If your computer is not set to 4 Viewports, Right click on any window name, select Configure/Layout, and set to 4 Viewports with perspective in the lower right quadrant. While here set the Rendering Method Tab/ Rendering Options to 2 lights. Options and set grid to 90 / invert, this gives you a faint grid that allows you to work with the grid with out it getting in your way. If triangle faces always show, go to Customize/Preferences/Viewports/Display Drivers/ Configure/Implementation Specific Settings/ and turn off “Use Triangle Strips”.

While in the Viewports Tab, under Viewport Parameters, set Show Vertices as Dots to Large Dots, and click OK. Next, right click on your perspective window name, set to Smoothed + Highlights, then click on Edged Faces. Finally, save the empty file as maxstart. The next time you start MAX, this configuration will be your default. (Please understand that the way I went about setting the system is only a guide. As you become more proficient, you will customize the system to your likes.)

The Monitor

My monitor is made up of a curved section that houses the tube connected to a rectangular housing that surrounds the end of the tube and houses the color guns.

Start with a box object, and call it main monitor. Using the Keyboard-Input option, enter the size of the main monitor section in all three dimensions, and then press the Create key. Add a taper modifier. Apply the FFD 4x4x4 Modifier to the Main Monitor, select the Sub-Objects, and adjust the front of the Main Monitor to have an outward curve by pulling on Control Points. (If the Main Monitor, doesn’t curve easily, go back in the Modifier stack to BOX, and increase the Height and Length Segments) To make the raised surround around the front of the monitor, make a copy of the Main Monitor, and hide the original. (Use the Tools/ Display Floater). In the Top Viewport Create a rectangle spline shape. Using Modify/Edit spline/Sub-object/ adjust the rectangle till one side of the rectangle matches the front curvature of the monitor. Modify/Extrude the adjusted rectangle and subtract the extruded shape from the main monitor object using the Boolean command. The Booleans can be gotten by selecting the Main Monitor copy, and selecting “Compound Objects” in the drop down list under Create/Objects. Select Boolean from the buttons that appear after you have selected Compound Objects mentioned above click on Pick Operand B, and click on the extruded Rectangle. Pick Subtraction (A-B) to subtract the extruded Rectangle shape from the Main Monitor copy, and rename it Monitor Bezel. Scale the Bezel to be a little larger, and unhide the original Monitor. Boolean the Bezel to the Monitor with a Union Boolean, and rename them Monitor. Using a similar method, Boolean out the screen. Add a rear housing using another box, adjust its vertices, and Boolean that to the Monitor. Finally add a base and you are almost done. To give the screen realism, make a screen grab bitmap by pressing Shift/ Print Screen on the keyboard. Paste this in a program like PhotoShop, and save it as a TIF to use in making a material to be place on the monitor screen.

The Computer case

The Computer case is probably the easiest part to model. It is made up of a box, and modified using Booleans. The trick here is to create the vented texture on the case. For this computer, create a texture using MAX 3’s rendering capability. First, place a Rectangle in the front view, size doesn’t matter. By going to Modify, and dropping the stack selector, you can change the rectangle into an “Editable Mesh”. Give it a dark gray color. This gives you a surface on which to place more rectangles to act as vents, color the vent rectangles a lighter color. Next, go to Rendering/Environment from the toolbar pull down and turn the ambient to white. Render the Front Viewport, and save as a TIF called “vents”. Next click on “M” on the keyboard to call up the material editor. Select a new material slot and call it “venting”. Place the “vents” TIF in both the Diffuse map slot, and the Bump map slot. By increasing the “Bump” map value, you will give the appearance of depth to the material. (Try 300 or more). Place the material on the computer case. You may have to Modify/Edit mesh/ Detach faces in order to place the material on both the front and side of the computer case.

The Keyboard

There are many ways to create the keys for the keyboard. One can use Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator to draw the keys shapes. The shapes could have been created directly in Max, but you may often find it quicker this way. (I could have also done this with 2D AutoCAD or even have scanned a picture of the keyboard in PhotoShop, and used its “Path tools”). After drawing the keys in Corel Draw, I the outlines are exported as Adobe Illustrator 88 files. You will find this format to be most forgiving, but you can experiment to see if other AI formats work as well. In MAX, select File/Import, and chose the AI import filter. When the file comes in, made sure to give it the name “keys”. (Make sure you get in the habit of naming all objects as what they are. It can be a real hassle trying to remember what “box123” means when you have a scene containing a hundred objects). Extrude the “keys”, and add to an extruded base to complete the keyboard. If you choose, you can fill in the Corel Draw drawing with letters and numbers, and export that as a rasterized TIF to be used as a basis for a keyboard map.

The Mouse

Thank heaven for Mesh Smooth. After trying several extrusion methods, and Deform Fit, I suggest starting by Editing a box. Begin with a 1”x1”x ½” box, Modify/Edit Mesh/Extrude faces till you get an approximation of the mouse. Next adjust Vertices to more finely approximate the shape, then apply Mesh Smooth. After two iterations, you should have the mouse. Next, place a Torus for the roll button. Non-uniform scale another Torus in the “Y” direction, and do a Boolean subtraction from the mouse shape to create the depression around the button. To create a map with the Microsoft logo, first render the Top Viewport of the mouse, and use the resulting bitmap as a basis for my map. Again turn the ambient to white in the environment dialog box to minimize shadows. Take the rendered TIF to PhotoShop or any equal program, and place the button lines and logo on the map. Using this map as a new material, place it on your mouse. Using region fit under Modify/UVW, adjust the map to the mouse. Finish up with a mouse cord made by Compound/lofting a circle shape along a Bezier line path.

The Scene

Lighting a scene can be complex, but if you start with simple lighting, it can be made easier. Start out with three lights. Place a target Spotlight (often known by photographers as a “Key” light) on the left, an Omni “fill” light on the right, and an Omni “back” light behind the scene to help give 3D depth. Add a Camera to the scene, right click on the Perspective Viewport, and press the “C” key on the keyboard. Render the scene and take a look. Adjust the three lights by modifying the “V” value in the HSV color system. Be cautious about adding more lights because they will quickly slow down render speed. A nice trick to adjust contrast is to make a clone of one of the lights, exclude all objects you don’t want involved with that light, and make the Multiplier a negative number. This will make an object darker.

The Animation or Presentation

I like to see the student animate the CD drive opening and closing. One student even had the screen explode. A 500-frame animation makes a good starting point. If you wish to animate a camera move, as well as animate the CD, be careful not to have too many things happen at once. Start off with the camera moving closer. After you close in, stop - then open the CD ROM drive. If you like, you can start off with a 4-second lead in and add finish credits. Try fading some text from black to white. Keep the text simple with a lot of empty space on the screen. An AVI or QuickTime MOV gives good results. If you have access to a device such as a Perception by DPS, you can get professional Video results. If you want a high resolution print from your inkjet, try rendering at 2250x1688 for a 150 dpi 15x11 print. You can calculate this 10.9 Mg. file by using PhotoShop’s Image/Image size calculator.

Total time for the entire scene took approximately 2-½ hours.