3D Studio Max, version 5  - Quick Tutorial Outline
Sam Buss
Winter 2000, revised Spring 2001 and Winter 2004.

This is a quick, informal outline of some features of 3D Studio Max 5. To use these notes, you will need to try out the suggested activities and possibly use the online help as well. The goal is get a basic familiarity with its features and capabilities, as representative of 3D modeling programs in general.  This tutorial only addresses basic modeling abilities, not animation.

For Math155B, I have written several short assignments below that require you to learn and use some of the basic features of 3D Studio. Mostly these assignments will consist of going through the tutorial notes, understanding everything in the tutorial outline, exploring further features as suggested in this outline and answering the questions included in this outline. Some sections are labeled as "optional" and may be skipped, especially on a first reading.

Purchasing documentation for 3D Studio is probably unnecessary. These notes, and the online help, will probably be enough, since you are probably quite computer-literate and able to figure out features by trial and error. In addition, there is documentation in the PC lab, chained to a desk at the front of the room. (Unfortunately this documentation is for an older version of 3D Studio Max).  As you read through the notes, do not just follow the instructions exactly as written, but instead experiment with features and buttons and try to learn how things work on your own.

I expect you will take 2-3 hours to work through these notes, after which you should have a good idea of many of the basic modeling features of 3D Studio Max.   Particularly relevant to the course work is the ability to create splines. 


PART I: Getting started.

Use a PC in APM B337 (also known as APM 349).  Look for 3d Studio Max under "3ds max 5" from the Start Menu. 

Navigating the tool bars and menus.

After you start 3D Studio, you will see the following windows and groupings of menu and panels.

Note carefully the layout of axes in 3D Studio: it is different from what you expect. In particular, the perspective view window has the x-axis pointing right, the y-axis pointing away and the z-axis pointing up! Note that this is different from the two standard ways to lay out the axes, it is still a right-hand coordinate system.

By the way, you may be happy to find out that 3D Studio Max supports a huge number of UnDo commands!  There is an UnDo button on the IB, and it is also available under Edit on the MB, and as Control-Z.

When you want to restart from scratch, choose Reset under the File menu on the MB.

First constructions.

We start by building a simple 3D shape and moving it around.

  1. Choose the Create tab from the top row of the right panel RB. Under that choose Geometry from the second row of the RB, then choose Standard Primitives from the pulldown menu. Pick a sphere as the type of primtive object.
  2. Click and drag in the top view window to create the sphere. Note how the radius changes as you drag the mouse. Release the mouse button at the desired radius.
  3. Trying creating another primitive object, such as a cylinder. You now have to set both the radius and the height of the cylinder. The radius is affected as before, the height is set by further moving the mouse up and down and then clicking once the desired height is achieved.
    How is the orientation of the cylinder affected by which window you start in?  Try this out and see!
  4. Select the sphere (to select an object, you click on it -- often you need to first click the Select Object button on the IB).  Then choose the Modify tab from the second row of the RB.  Scan down the right panel contents (use the hand to push the panel contents up if necessary) until you find the Parameters section and then unselect the Smooth option. Try adjusting the number of segments.  Try setting the number of segments down fairly low, and then enabling the Smooth shading again.  What do you see?  (It should look familiar from your OpenGL programming).  You might wish to try the same for a torus too.
  5. Experiment with the rest of the Standard Primitives. Some of these, such as the cone and tube have three values that need to be set with mouse control (as compared to the one value for a sphere, or the two values for a cylinder).
    Each time you create a new object, 3D Studio chooses a new color for the object and default material properties. These properties can be changed of course.
  6. (Optional) For people who need more precise sizing and positioning than is obtainable with the mouse, there is Keyboard section in the RB under the Standard Primitives which allows you to set the dimensions of objects by keyboard entry.


There are various tools available for positioning (translating), rotating and scaling objects.

  1. Select one object from your 3D scene to be moved.  Do this by pressing the Select and Move button from the IB and then clicking with the left mouse button to choose an object to be moved.
  2. Experiment with moving your object in several of the view windows.  You will see that you can either (a) move an object along a single axis direction, or (b) move an object in a plane.  To move along a single axis, do a mouse down-click on the axis and drag to move it.  To move in a plane down-click on the square connecting the two axes and then drag the mouse to move the object in the plane.  You can do this with different planes in each of the three orthographic view windows.  In the perspective view window, you can choose any of the three axes, or any of the three xy- or xz- or yz-planes.
  3. Choose the Select and Rotate control from the IB. Repeat the corresponding experiments for rotating an object, similarly to what you did for translating objects in the previous step.
    Rotations typically occur around a distinguished point (not always the center!) of the selected object. This can be changed in a couple ways. The default is that rotations are around the Pivot Point Center --- this is controlled by a pull-down icon menu in the IB (click and hold the button to activate the pull-down menu.)  The pivot point is often at the bottom of a geometric object.
    Another useful option is the Selection Center (available on the same pull-down icon menu), which causes rotation around the center of the currently selected object(s).
  4. Choose the Select and Uniform Scale control from the IB. Try scaling an object. What kinds of options can you discover for scaling objects?  (The controls work similarly to the controls for translations.)
  5. You can select multiple objects at once by either using the Rectangular Selection button from the IB (a dotted border around a square is the icon), or by using Control-Left clicks with the mouse. This allows you to move, rotate or scale multiple objects at once. Try it out! Especially fun: try selecting two objects and rotating them, first with Pivot Point Center and then with Selection Center.  What happens when you rotate multiple objects around their pivot points?


Now we discuss how to control your view in the four view windows. Changing a view (unlike the transformations discussed above) does not change the position of objects, it just changes the camera position, i.e., the viewer's position and orientation. The views are controlled by the array of icon buttons in the lower right-hand corners of the screen (on the BB).

  1. Select a window, by clicking in it (see the outline of the window highlighted when it is selected). Choose the Pan button (with the hand icon in the BB). Click and drag in the window to pan left/right and up/down.
  2. Use the Zoom button (magnifying glass icon) to zoom in or out from a window. Dragging the mouse up and down controls the zoom.
  3. Try using the Zoom All windows icon (magnifying glass in front of four squares), to zoom all four windows simultaneously.
  4. Zoom Extents allows you to center an object in the window and allows you to zoom towards or away from the object. It is a little confusing (at least to me!) to use this. The Zoom Extents icon button is a pop-up icon list: selecting the icon with the little white box turns on Zoom Extents. If an object is already selected, then the view point is shifted so that the object is centered.
  5. The next icon button to the right is Zoom Extents All which combines the functionalities of Zoom All and Zoom Extents.
  6. Figure out how to rotate your view point in the perspective window. Start by choosing the Arc Rotate button from the BB. You should be able to rotate around the scene, as well as to change your view azimuth (i.e., the angle above the ground x-y plane from which you are viewing the scene).
  7. The Min/Max Toggle button toggles the currently selected window between full screen view and the initial four window view.
  8. (Optional) More view options are available. Try right-clicking on the label in the upper left-hand corner of a view for more options. Also check out the MB item Views and then Viewport Configuration....

Cloning, Mirroring, Array Transforming

Cloning means forming an exact copy of an object. Mirroring is similar, but makes a mirror image copy. Array transforming makes multiple copies translated or rotated at regular intervals.

  1. To clone, use the shift key while Move-ing an object, or by selecting Clone from the Edit menu in MB. You will get a dialog box asking whether you are making a copy, an instance or a reference of the object. Choose copy usually, the other two set up mechanisms for changes to one object to affect other copies of the same object.
  2. The dialog box allows you to specify the number of copies that will be made. What do you think will happen if you choose a number greater than one??  Try it and see if your are right.
  3. (Optional.) Try selecting multiple objects and then cloning them simultaneously.
  4. (Optional.)  Can you figure out how use the features of the last two items to quickly create and rectangularly positioned N by M array of identical items.
  5. (Optional.) To mirror an object, choose the Mirror button from the IB and the click on the object to be mirrored. A dialog box will ask for the mirror axis, and information similar to the cloning dialog box.

Aligning (Optional topic)

Aligning means lining up vertices or points or normals, etc., of one object with a vertex or point or normal, etc., of another object. To start aligning two objects, first select one object, then choose the Align button from the IB, then choose a second a second object. A dialog box will appear with options on what points to align and on what axes to align them.

Another way to get precise movements is to first click the Move or Rotate or Uniform Scale icon button to select it, and then right click the same button. You get a dialog box that allows you set the exact parameters for the transformation.

The use of Snapping will line up vertices on a grid. The SnapToggle button on the IB can be used to turn on snapping and select the snap mode. (Try 2D snapping which snaps two coordinates of points which lie on the active construction plane or 3D snapping which snaps all three coordinates of points.) In addition to snapping to x,y,z grid points, you can arrange to snap to vertices or pivot points or many other options.
I have not yet understood all the features of snapping, so if you investigate this further, please explain it to me.



PART II: Splines, NURBS, etc

Splines, lines and other shapes

We now try out methods of generating 2-dimensional paths, including polygonal shapes, spline curves, n-gons, and other paths.

  1. We start with making a path consisting of straight lines.  Choose the Create tab on the RB.  Just below, pick the Shapes icon, then the Splines option from the pull-down menu.  Below that, choose Line under Object Type.  Go to one of the orthographic view windows, and give quick mouse clicks (with the left button) to place vertices that are connected by straightline segments.  Use the the right click button after the last vertex has been selected.
    If you accidentally clicked and dragged when you picked a vertex, then something else happens --- see item 3 below about creating Bézier curves.
  2. In addition to lines, there are a number of other paths that can be created: try out Circle, Arc, Text, Ngon, Star, and Helix.  Look down the RB for how to set and adjust parameters for these paths.
  3. Now go back to creating lines.  But now, when you place a vertex, click down and hold the mouse button down, and drag with the mouse.  This creates a Bezier curve vertex --- the direction and distance of dragging controls the derivative of the Bezier curve at that vertex (and we know how to get control points from the derivative, under the assumptions of continuous first-derivatives, i.e. C1-continuity).
  4. To see the control points of the Bezier curves, do the following: Create and select a Bezier curve. Then choose the Modify (RB) tab.  We need to make the interpolated points of the spline visible: there are two ways to do this: Either (1) double click on the word Line so it is highlighted in yellow, or (2) click the button showing four dots just below the title Selection in the RB.
  5. Once you have done the previous step, click on an interpolated vertex.  You will see the vertex and, as green boxes, the adjacent control points.  Select Select and Move off the IB, and then the vertex or its control points may be moved by clicking and dragging to the desired position.   You will find that it is possible to move either the interpolated point or the adjacent control points, and either along a single axis, or in a plane. 
        Experiment with this. What is the effect of changing the direction of the control point vector (the vector from the vertex to the adjacent control point)?   What is the effect of changing the length of the control point vector, by moving the control point further from the vertex?
  6. You may right click on a vertex and get more options for modifying a vertex, such as changing it from a corner to Bezier vertex and vice-versa. Try out the Bezier Corner type to make non-C1-continuous curves.  The rest of the shapes under splines (such as Circle, Arc, Text and Helix) may also be edited as Bezier curves.
  7. One more thing to try: when editing a spline,  choose the middle button that shows a curve segment just below word Selection in the RB.   Select a segment on the curve by clicking on it and try moving it.   Also, try rotating it.

Extruding, Lathes, Lofts

Extruding means to sweep out a surface perpindicularly from a curve.

  1. Select a spline or other path in an orthographic view.   It is best to use a simple shape -- a Donut is a good choice.  Then click on the Modify button in the top row of the RB.
  2. Under the words Modifier List in the RB, you will find a pull-down menu list: from this select Extrude.   Type in the extrusion distance below in the RB
  3. Note what happens if you select or de-select the Cap Start and Cap End options.
  4. (This is particularly useful if you de-select the Cap Start and Cap End options.)  You will probably want to improve the viewing of the extruded curve, by selecting the object, right clicking, choosing Properties from the pop-up menu, and then turning off Backface Culling.

Lathes provide a tool for forming a surface of rotation around a central axis.

  1. Draw a curved spline going generally up and down, in the front view window.  Under the Modifier List pull-down menu (RB) select Lathe.
  2. Try changing the axis of rotation between Min, Center and Max.   (on the RB).
  3. For a non-standard axis of rotation, click the plus sign ("+") in front of the word Lathe in the RB.  You will then see the center for the axis of rotation and can move it as desired.

Lofts provide a method of moving a "shape" along a "path".

  1. Make, in an orthographic window, a largish star and a similar size spline curve.   These shapes will be paths.
  2. Also make a small star and a small rectangle.  These will be your shapes.
  3. Select one of the paths (from step 1). Choose Create (RB), then Geometry, then Compound Object, from the pull-down menu, then Loft.  Then click Get Shape, and select one of the shapes from step 2.  Observe the results.
  4. Using Get Shape and Get Path and then an appropriate curve, you can change between different paths and shapes easily.
  5. It is possible to transition smoothly between different shapes.  Try this by selecting one shape, then using the Path Parameters to set a shape at other points along the path.  For instance, in addition to the first shape at the beginning of the path, set another shape 100% of the distance along the path (i.e., at the end).
  6. It is possible to edit the shape and path even after they have been used in a loft and have the changes affect the lofted surface.

Spline curves and NURBS curves

We first investigate B-spline curves.  3D Studio calls control points, "control vertices", abbreviated CV.  It has two basic kinds of splines: ones which use control vertices (control points) as usual, and ones which interpolate specified points.

  1. Choose Create (RP), then Shapes, then NURBS Curve in the pull-down menu.
  2. Then click on CV Curve to start forming curves specified with control vertices.
  3. Click with the left mouse button to place control points.  Notice how the path is formed.  Click with the right mouse button when the curve is finished.  Note the curve interpolates (usually only) its endpoints.
  4. If you place the final endpoint close enough to the first endpoint, you have the option of making the curve be closed (i.e., a loop).
  5. Now form a Point Curve.  Note how the points are interpolated.   Also: look closely and you will see that the property of local control is lost, however, the choice of interpolated points does not make a large effect on the distant part of the curve.

Now we try editing a curve.  You will also have the chance to weight points, i.e., use rational B-splines.

  1. Draw a CV Curve as in steps 1-4 above and select it.
  2. Choose the Modify tab (RP).  Down below click the plus sign ("+") next to NURBS Curve and select Curve CV from the list that appears..
  3. Select one control point on the curve (make sure the activated Selection button is the one with a single red dot on it.)
  4. Change the weight of the point in the RP.  Observe how the change in weight affects the curve.  Do you understand what is happening?
  5. Now choose Insert, and try inserting a new point --- to do this trace along the NURBS curve and click to insert the point.  The point is inserted on the control polygon of the curve..  Note that it affects the shape of the curve. 
  6. Now choose Refine, and insert a new knot position along the curve.   Note how a new control point appears and the nearby control points are shifted.   This is using a knot insertion algorithm.  The curve is not supposed to change: only the position of  the control points changes.

NURBS Surfaces

We show how to create a NURBS surface by manually placing control points.

  1. Select Create (RP), then Geometry, then NURBS Surface under the pull-down menu.
  2. Select CV Surf to make a surface controlled by control points.   Click and drag with the mouse button in an orthographic view window to make a flat array of control points.
  3. Choose the Modify tab on the RB.  Select click the plus sign ("+") by NURBS Surface and select Surface CV. Select a single point from your flat on view.  Hit the space bar to lock in your selection (an icon on the BB indicates that that the selection is locked).  Use one of the other windows to move the selected point.  Hit the space bar to unlock your selection.
  4. Repeat step 3 for several control points and observe the surface that appears.  You may wish to set the properties of the surface so that the back-faces are not culled (under Properties) in the pop-up menu that appears when you right click on the surface.
  5. Look for the Selection buttons with red dots.  These allow you to select a row of vertices, a column of vertices, a row and column, or all of the vertices at once.  Try this out.

Optional:   There are many other more sophisticated ways to automatically form spline surfaces from a collection of spline curves.   For example, two NURBS curves can be blended to make a NURBS Surface.  Also check out the methods of 1-Rail Sweep, 2-Rail Sweep, U-Loft, UV-Loft if you want to investigate these.  Other options include lathing and extrusion, etc.  U-Loft joins together multiple cross-sectional curves (in the direction of the  u axis only) into a single surface.  UV-Loft uses cross-sectional curves in both the u and v directions (they should intersect appropriately).  1-Rail Sweep is similar to U-Loft but uses also a  boundary cross-sectional curve in the v direction.  2-Rail Sweep uses cross-sectional curves on both boundaries in the v direction.   The online help shows pictorial examples of these.