3D Studio Max - Quick Tutorial Outline
Sam Buss - Winter 2000, revised Spring 2001
This page is obsolete as it describes an
old version of 3D Studio Max. I have recently prepared a version of this
tutorial for Version 5 of 3D Studio Max. This can be accessed from
This is a quick, informal outline of some features of 3D Studio Max 2.5.
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 modelling programs in general.
For Math155B, I will write up several short assignments 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 labelled 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. To help me learn 3D Studio, I am also
using Teach Yourself 3D Studio Max 2 In 14 Days, by Kakert and Kalwick, which you
may borrow occasionally. 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 modelling features of 3D Studio Max.
Particullarly relevant to the course work is the ability to create splines.
Look for 3d Studio Max under Kinetix from the Start
Menu. Only about 10 or 11 computers have 3D Studio Max installed.
These are in the last two rows of the room -- also, the instructor's machine in the
back half of the room has it installed. You should check for the presence of 3d
Studio Max under the Start Menu before logging in, to make sure
the software is installed on that machine.
Navigating the tool bars and menus.
After you start 3D Studio, you will see the following windows and groupings of menu and
- Four view windows. These show the 3D space in which you are performing
modeling. Three of them are orthographic, showing orthogonal views from the top, front,
and left sides. The fourth is a perspective view. You will find that the perspective view
provides the best intuitive picture of the 3D scene, but that the orthographic views are
best for precise placement of objects.
- The top menu bar. We will refer to this as "MB".
It is the usual windows menu bar with pulldown menus.
- The top icon bar. A row of buttons with icons just below the menu bar.
Hold the mouse briefly over a button to see its name. We will refer to this as
- The right panel. This panel has interfaces for modeling objects. Note
that the tabs at the top select different sub-panels. We will refer to the as "RB".
- The bottom icon bar. More icans are found at the bottom. For instance,
in the righthand bottom corner are buttons for zooming, rotating and translating your
viewpoint of the scene. This is referred to as BB.
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. Warning:
the axes in the different orthographic views are named differently in the different views.
That is, each view has its own x,y,z 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.
We start by building a simple 3D shape and moving it around.
- Choose the Create tab from the right panel RB. Under
that choose Geometry, then choose Standard Primitives
from the pulldown menu. Pick a sphere as the type of primtive object.
- 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 botton at the desired radius.
- From the IB (icon bar) choose the Move icon (arrows in
four directions). Click on the object to select it and move it in the top view window, and
then the other windows. Drag up and down to change the position of the object.
- 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 at the desired height.
How is the orientation of the cylinder affected by which window you start in?
Try moving the cylinder around your scene.
- Select the sphere (to select an object, you click on it -- sometimes you need to first
click the Select button on the IB). Then choose
the Modify tab from the RB. Scan down the right panel
contents (use the hand to push the panel contents up) until you find the Parameters
section and then choose the Not smooth option. Try adjusting the
number of segments. You might wish to try the same for a torus too.
- 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.
- (Optional) For people who do not like to use the mouse or need more precise 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
- Select one object from your 3D scene.
- Choose the Move button from the IB. Experiment with
how the X, Y, Z and XY constraint buttons on the IB
effect the Move functionality. Note the little origins and red
axis representations that appear in each orthographic view window, and how they correspond
to the allowed movements. Note that the axes X, Y and Z
are represent different directions in each window!!!
- Choose the 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. It is important to note the different naming
conventions for the three orthographic views.
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. The pivot point is often at the bottom of a
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
- Choose the Scale control from the IB. Try scaling an
object. What kinds of options can you discover for scaling objects?
- You can select multiple objects at once by either using the Rectangular
Selection button from the IB (a dotted 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
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 mostly controlled by the array of icon buttons in the lower righthand corners of the
screen (on the BB).
- 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). Click and drag in
the window to pan left/right and up/down.
- Use the Zoom button (magnifying glass icon) to zoom in or out from a
window. Dragging the mouse up and down controls the zoom.
- Try using the Zoom All windows icon (magnifying glass in front of four
squares), to zoom all four windows simultaneousle.
- 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 botton is a pop-up icon list: selecting
the icon with the little white box turns on Zoom Extents. If an object is
already selected or is selected afterwards, then the view point is shifted so that the
object is centered. Dragging the mouse in the window then zooms towards or away from the
- The next icon button to the right is Zoom Extents All which combines
the functionalities of Zoom All and Zoom Extents.
- 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).
- The Maximize Window button toggles the currently selected window
between full screen view and the initial four window view.
- (Optional) More view options are available. Try right-clicking on the label in the upper
lefthand corner of a view for more options. Also check out the MB item Views
and then Viewport Configuration....
Cloning, Mirroring, Array Transforming (Optional topic)
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
- 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.)
- 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.
- (Optional) Investigate array transforming on your own if you wish. Use the Array
icon button on the IB to get started.
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 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
The use of Snapping will line up vertices on a grid. The SnapToggle
button on the BB 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 and/or the class.
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.
- 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 pulldown 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
If you accidentally clicked and dragged when you picked a vertex, then something else
happens --- see item 3 below about creating Bézier curves.
- 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.
- 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).
- To see the control points of the Bezier curves, do the following: Create and select a
Bezier curve. Then choose the Modify (RB) tab and then Edit
Spline. Click on a vertex in the spline. You will see the vertex and,
as green boxes, the adjacent control points. Select Move off the IB,
and then the vertex or its control points may be moved by clicking and dragging
to the desired position. 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?
- 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-G1-continuous curves. The rest of the shapes under
splines (such as Circle, Arc, Text and Helix)
may also be editted as Bezier curves.
- One more thing to try: when editting a spline, choose Subobject: Segment
on the LB. Select a segment on the curve and try moving it.
Also, try rotating it.
Extruding, Lathes, Lofts
Extruding means to sweep out a surface perpindicularly from a curve.
- Select a spline or other path in an orthographic view.
- Choose Modify from the RP. Then select Extrude.
Type in the extrusion distance in the RP. Note the options
to leave the ends capped or uncapped.
- If the extrusion is uncapped, you will probably want to improve the viewing of it, 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.
- Draw a curved spline going generally up and down, in the front view window. Choose
the Modify tab (RP) and then Lathe.
- Try changing the axis of rotation between Min, Center and Max.
(on the RB).
- For a non-standard axis of rotation, select the SubObject button (RP),
and then move the visible yellow axis line in the view window.
Lofts provide a method of moving a "shape" along a "path".
- Make, in an orthographic window, a largish star and a similar size spline curve.
These shapes will be paths.
- Also make a small star and a small rectangle. These will be your shapes.
- Select on of the paths (from step 1). Choose Create (RP), then
Geometry, then Loft Object, then Loft. Then
click Get Shape, and select one of the shapes from step 2. Observe
- Using Get Shape and Get Path and then an appropriate
curve, you can change between different paths and shapes easily.
- 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
- 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 whic
interpolate specified points.
- Choose Create (RP), then Shapes, then NURBS
- Then click on CV Curve to start forming curves specified with control
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 editting a curve. You will also have the chance to weight points,
i.e., use rational B-splines.
- Draw a CV Curve as in steps 1-4 above.
- Choose the Modify tab (RP). Down below click SubObject
and select Curve CV from the pulldown list next to it.
- Select one control point on the curve (make sure the activated Selection button
is the one with a single red dot on it.)
- Change the weight of the point in the RP. Observe how the change
in weight affects the curve. Do you understand what is happening?
- Now choose Insert, and try inserting a new point. Note that it
affects the shape of the curve.
- Now choose Refine, and insert a new knot position along the curve.
Note how a new control point appears and the close by 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.
First, we show how to create a NURBS surface by manually placing control points.
- Select Create (RP), then Geometry, then NURBS
- Select CV Surf to make a surface controlled by control points.
Click and drag with the mouse botton in an orthographic view window to make a flat array
of control points.
- Choose the Modify tab on the RB. Select SubObject:
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.
- 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 backfaces are not culled (under Properties)
in the pop menu that appears when you right click on the surface.
- Look for the Selection bottons 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.
Second, we look at how to form a Nurbs surface from two spline curves.
- Make a single B-spline curve, say going more-or-less in the direction of the y-axis.
- Choose Modify, then (at the very bottom of the RP)
look under Create Curves. Add a second B-spline curve, also
more-or-less parallel to the y-axis.
- Choose SubObject, then Curve.
- Select one curve at a time (the two curves are now subcurves of a single B-spline
curve.) Move them independently so that they are roughly parallel and separated from
each other. We will place a surface between them.
- Under Modifer Stack, click Edit Stack, then Convert
to NURBS Surface. We now have a Nurbs surface that consists of two separate
- Down under Create Surfaces, select Ruled.
- Choose first one of the curves and the other. You should get a surface stretching
from one curve to the other.
There are many other more sophisicated ways to autmatically form spline surfaces from a
collection of spline curves. 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
crossectional curves (in the direction of the u axis only) into a
single surface. UV-Loft uses crossectional 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
crossectional curve in the v direction. 2-Rail Sweep
uses crossectional curves on both boundaries in the v direction.
The online help shows pictorial examples of these.