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Thread: Max FAQ & Tips

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Max FAQ & Tips

    Hi, I wrote this with the hope it might be helpful, and save people posting and answering very similar threads over and over agian.

    Questions in red are the most frequent.

    I'll try and keep it up to date and if someone wants a frequently asked question added, I'll add it.

    Posted: 05/20/2003 09:19 PM
    Updated: 20/07/2004 23:22 PM

    Further Reading: Max online course FAQ By Z

    Thanks to:
    Paul Holm


    What is considered "low poly" and how can I find out how many polygons are in my scene/object?

    Generally, low poly models have less than 5000 polygons. Low polygon models are mainly used in games and anywhere real-time rendering is required. In Half-Life for example, the maximum suggested amount of polygons on the screen at once is 3000, so a Half-life model could be up to 1000 polygons if no more than 3 of the models are on the screen simultaneously.
    To find out how many polygons are in your scene, click the utilities tab (a small hammer at the top of the command panel) and click more... -> polygon counter.

    Why do I get a different poly count if I use an editable poly rather than an editable mesh?

    See below

    What is the difference between an editable poly and an editable mesh?

    The main difference between editable meshes and editable poly’s is that the editable mesh splits polygons into triangular faces and the editable poly maintains four sided faces. Also editable poly's can do more - for example, the can be subdivided without having to add the meshsmooth modifier. This is because editable polys are a more recent addition to max than editable meshes.
    Editable mesh's offer 5 Types of sub-object selection - Vertex, Edge, Face, Polygon and Element. Editable poly's also offer 5, but have Border (useful for selecting holes) instead of Face.
    If you’re new to max, I suggest using the editable poly when you learn; it won't take long for more differences to come apparent.

    Update: Note that, to get an accurate poly count for models intended to be used in games (face count), you must convert the model to an editable mesh before using the polgon counter. This is because the game engine will view the model in the same way, ie. with triangular faces. If you use the polygon counter with an editable poly, it'll count any sided poly, so the value will appear lower.

    I'm having trouble welding, when I use the weld button nothing happens, why?

    First check you have the threshold setting high enough, put it really high a see if anything happens (note that if it does, it may not be the outcome you wanted if you had more than 2 vertices selected). The threshold setting can be changed in the unlabeled box next to the “selected” button.
    You won't be able to weld an editable poly's vertices if there are two faces that will be stuck facing each other after the weld.

    Does it matter what size an object is in my scene?

    Yes and no. Size is relative - it only matters compared objects of different sizes. For example, if you're modelling a football, nothing else, it doesn't matter if it has a diameter of 1000 max units or 1 max unit. It will still look the same. However if there is a football player in the scene, the size of the ball compared to the player does matter - which should be pretty obvious!
    When working in max, unless modelling accuratly, don't worry about how many units big and object/scene is. It won't affect the file size or have any bearing during texturing.

    How do I model hair?

    Where is character Studio?

    Character Studio provides 3 plugins for max; Biped, Physique, and Crowd. These can be found within max, not in a separate application. For example, to create a biped, select systems on the create toolbar and click biped.
    For more information on Character Studio, click help -> Additional Help -> Character Studio Reference.

    How come when I scale an object or shape the parameters (length, width, radius etc) don’t reflect this change?

    You are performing a transform in World Space. Transforms (move, rotate, and scale) can be preformed in either Object Space or World Space. When working in World Space you are relating to the entire workspace. This means when you move an object you are placing it in a specific place in XYZ World Space. On the other hand, if you were to move a portion of the same object (eg. polys, vertices etc) you would be doing so in relation to the rest of the object, or in Object Space. The main difference where scaling is concerned is how the object’s construction history is affected. Scaling in Object Space updates the object’s construction history. Scaling in World Space does not. Since the construction history is not updated, odd results can occur when using these objects. For example, a small shape imported from Illustrator and scaled in World Space will act as though it’s size has not been adjusted, when an extrude modifier is applied. A child of a parent that has been scaled in World Space will skew when rotated.As a general rule it is advised NEVER to scale in World Space. Not only does scaling in World Space make construction unpredictable and inaccurate, those transforms are passed from parent to child causing more problems.

    Alternatives to World Space scaling include:
    -various modifiers ( Xform, FFDs, Stretch, Push, Edit Spline, and Edit Mesh)
    -selecting on the sub/object level before scaling (in the case of an editable spline or poly

    How do I import my poser model into 3dsmax?

    First export the model from Poser into a format compatible with Max, for example .3ds. The click file -> import in Max, make sure file type is set to 3D Studio Mesh (*.3DS,*.PRJ), find the exported file and click import. Select Merge objects with current scene and click OK.

    How do I rig a character?

    By reading the Max help! See the bones tutorials.

    How do I change the pivot point of an object?
    Select the object and click the hierarchy (next to modify) then “affect pivot only”. Whilst affect pivot only is on, the rotate and move tools can be used to alter the position of the objects pivot without moving the object.

    Read the manual, do the tutorials.

    Software companies include documentation in order to teach you how to use the expensive software you just purchased. It's not there just for ballast. Those of us who have taken the time to read it are not about to retype paragraphs that are readily available. Taking a moment or two to type in a few keywords into an index search doesn't seem too unreasonable. Curiously there seems to be a correlation between those who read the manual and those who actually know how to use the software. Funny how that works.


    My Gizmo has disappeared, how do I get it back?

    First make sure you have the move tool selected and not just the select tool. If this doesn’t help, there are two settings to check; press x - this is a hot key to show and hide the gizmo and Views -> Show Transform Gizmo should be checked.

    Edit by Paul Holm
    If your gizmo will not come back, or if you have completely screwed up your UI, or done something else you can't fix .... delete the 3dsmax.ini file from the Max directory and restart Max. This essentially rebuilds the general preferences and solves most UI problems.
    End of edit

    Edit by Paul Holm

    Finding the 3dsmax.ini file in Max 9
    Up until Max 9 the 3dsmax.ini was stored in the Max root directory. With Max 9 things have changed. To find the 3dsmax.ini file you will need to check the MaxData directory. Customize > System Paths > MaxData
    End of edit

    Edit by Paul Holm

    How do I remove the lines that go diagonally across the polygons?

    There are several solutions to this "problem".

    1. As this only affects Direct3D, you can switch to either OpenGL or Software for your 3D driver inside 3ds Max.
    2. If you want to continue to use Direct3D, go to your driver preferences and turn off "Display all triangle edges".
    3. Lastly, converting a primitive object into an editable polygon will automatically remove those hidden edges.

    End of edit

    When I pan or rotate my viewports, the objects turn into cubes, why?

    Max has a feature called adaptive degradation. It reduces lag when navigating viewports by displaying objects as boxes. To override adaptive degradation press o, to change the adaptive degradation settings click the Customize menu -> Viewport Configuration -> Viewport Configuration dialog -> Adaptive Degradation tab.

    Which is the best driver to use in max?

    The drivers available depend on the version of 3D Studio Max. The 3 main ones are:

    HEIDI - Software Z Buffer or custom. HEIDI is the most reliable driver but is also the slowest as it does not use any graphics hardware in the machine, all the "thinking" is done by the processor. When you first use max it is a good idea to use HEIDI, then switch to a faster driver when you’re sure everything is working properly.

    OpenGL - Generally the fastest driver and very stable. OpenGL utilizes your graphics card, accelerating graphical operations. Most 3D cards support OpenGL; all modern cards do for sure. OpenGL should be your first choice of driver as, for most max users, is by far faster than Direct3D or HEIDI. I've used OpenGL with 4 different graphics cards (Geforce 3, Geforce 4MX 440, Geforce 2MX and an ATI Radeon 9000) the only one I’ve had trouble with has been the Radeon.

    Direct3D - Direct3D uses DirectX, made by Microsoft and currently in version 9. This driver can do some very cool stuff, but as some huge drawbacks when used in Max. Most, if not all 3D cards support DirectX but if they are slow or don't, Direct3D can be slower than HEIDI. It is also the most unreliable driver, it can be the cause of most of Max's crashes, and, generally is much slower than OpenGL - all the graphics cards I’ve used in max have had problems with DirectX.

    To change the driver used in max click customize -> preferences... -> viewports -> choose driver.

    What is Maxetreme?
    The Maxextreme display driver are for Nvidia Quadro graphics cards and can give a large performance increase in Max.

    I can’t make my materials 2 sided! Why?

    This is generally DirectX’s fault, try switching to HEIDI or OpenGL, see “Which is the best driver to use in max?”

    How can I change the way my view rotates?

    In the bottom right of the default Max UI is the viewport navigation controls panel. On the bottom row, second from the left is the rotation type, click and hold on this and you are presented with 3 options;

    Arc Rotate – The grey icon, with this activated the view rotates around the centre point of the viewport. When you pan around this point moves.

    Arc Rotate Selected – The white icon, the view will rotate around the object that is selected.

    Arc Rotate Sub-Object – The yellow icon, if you are in, for example vertex sub-object mode, Max will find the centre of all the selected vertices and rotate around that.

    Note that the easiest way to use these functions is with alt + the middle mouse button; which ever is selected will be used.
    To undo a viewport operation, press shift + z.
    Last edited by Paul Holm; 02-02-2008 at 04:29 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    My Gizmo has disappeared, how do I get it back?

    First make sure you have the move tool selected and not just the select tool. If this doesn’t help, there are two settings to check; press x - this is a hot key to show and hide the gizmo and Views -> Show Transform Gizmo should be checked.

    Max runs extremely slowly even though I have a fast PC

    Do you have Norton Antivirus? It can cause problems with C-Dilla, causing max to run incredibly slowly, either disable Norton auto protect, or download this C-Dilla update; .

    If you don’t have Norton, try using HEIDI and see if the problem continues, if it doesn’t, see “Which is the best driver to use in max?”

    My max crashes when I try and render, how do I fix this?

    This question was very frequent when Max 5 came out, I've never seen a foolproof answer. But try:
    1) Updating your version of max.
    2) Uninstalling/reinstalling any rendering plugins you have.
    3) Reinstalling max

    Arg… a scene I’m working on won’t open!

    Nasty problem this, there is now way to fix a corrupt .max file. Although it is usually possible to recover some, if not all, of the scene by merging it into a new file. Also, if you haven’t had any other scenes open, there may be a working copy of the file saved in the max autoback directory located in the directory Max was installed in. Note that in some versions of Max (4 for example), the files are saved with the extension .mx and in others they are saved as .max (5 for example).

    I have snap on, but it won’t snap to grid points/vertices/whatever, why?

    By default, the snap tools in max are set to snap to grid points only. To change these settings right click one of the snap buttons.

    For more infomation read this snapping guide written by RobCard:

    How can I get 3D Studio Max 4 to work on Windows XP?

    The version of cdilla that comes with 3ds max 4 isn't compatible with XP. You'll probably get these errors:

    A license error has occurred. Please restart you system to initialize the license management system. If this problem continues, contact your system administrator or authorized dealer.

    Error [7.1.29].


    The software license failed to initialize.
    [Error 7]

    A box may pop up saying cdilla is not compatible with XP, if it does click details and follow the web link to download an update (just over a 1mb). The update can also be downloaded from here.


    Where can I get blueprints?
    Blueprint Super Site **** NEW **** - Car, aircraft & ship blueprints - Car, human, train, sci-fi, weapon & airplane blueprints - Anatomy reference - A large list of sites
    (Thanks Blah.)

    So now I have my blueprints how do I set them up?

    Here are two ways to use reference images in 3ds max; if the blueprint you have is one picture (with, for example, a front, back, top and side view) and you intend to apply it to planes, you will need to cut it into the separate parts using an image editor. I suggest selecting as close to the edges of the objects views as possible on all 4 sides and copying it (edit -> copy) and pasting it into a new image. The height of the top image should be the same as the width as the side view, the height of the side view should be the same as the height of the front and back views and the width of the front and back views should be the same as the width of the top view. An accuracy of at most 10 pixels out should be good enough. also provides tutorials for 3ds max and rhino for setting up blueprints using the planes method - . The tutorial is written for Max 4 but is relevant for most versions. It covers applying the blueprints to planes and how to make them workable with.

    Images can also be added to the viewport backgrounds, this method is best for general references, not accurate modeling. In max click views -> viewport background... . Select the viewport you want to apply the image two at the bottom left and click files... and locate your image. Turn Lock Zoom/Pan on if you want the image to move and zoom as the viewport does or off if you want the image to stay in a fixed position. This method can use a lot of RAM.

    For more information, see Max VTM 4

    My blueprints are too blurry to see properly

    Using DirectX is genrally the cause for blurry image planes, try switching to OpenGL and restart Max.

    My blueprints are too blocky to see properly

    You are (probably) either using HEIDI or OpenGL. Switch to OpenGL and go into the Driver config (Customize -> Preferences -> Viewports -> Configure Driver), check the two "Match Bitmap a Close as Possible" boxes and set the "background Texture Size" and "Download Texture Size" as high as you can. Restart Max.

    Where can I get a shockwave exporter for Max?


    Where can I download more video tutorials for max? - has a lot, including some on vehicle modeling. Most videos are free for download, or can be bought on DVD. - has some free videos, including some on using particles in max.

    Is there a learning/free version of Max?

    There is a cut down version of Max available for free from called Gmax. Although similar looking to Max, Gmax is very different. It is designed mainly for modeling for games, this means it has far fewer tools than Max and it can’t render.

    Will I be able to follow the Max VTMs if I only have GMAX?
    You should be able to follow most of the lessons, so far (VTM 5) Buzz hasn’t covered much that Max can do but GMAX can’t.

    Are the reference images used in Max VTM 4 available for download?

    Yes, in the download section:


    What’s UVW mapping, and how do I use it?

    See the “Introduction to materials and mapping” section in the tutorials that come with Max.

    How can I increase the number of slots in the material editor?

    To increase the number of slots, click options (in the material editor window) -> options…and then 6x4, this will display the maximum 24 slots. However, this may not be entirely necessary – if you remove a material from the material editor, it doesn’t disappear from the scene. You can reload materials applied to an object into the editor by clicking Material -> pick from object.

    How do I use HDRI in 3dsmax? It doesn't even mention it in the manual!
    Or take the plugin route

    That's cool, where I can I find out more and download light probes n stuff?

    How do I create a realistic glass or metal material?
    Have a look at the materials that come with Max, especially the crome material. Bear in mind that reflection maps may be a good way of getting nice reflections (ie. Not the black from the max world).
    With glass use a refractive index of around 1.3, higher and anything the other side of the glass will appear as if you’re looking into a fish tank, lower and it won’t look like there is any glass there.

    How do I make WIP renders look nice?/What’s the best Way to present a WIP model?
    When rendering WIP models, don’t use any reflective materials – they make it hard to see the surface of the object properly. The best way I’ve found is to use the default grey material and a skylight.
    To set up a sky light, go to lights in the create panel, then skylight. Create one anywhere in the scene then click Rendering -> Advanced lighting… and select light tracer from the drop down list. The default light tracer settings should do.

    If you want to show a wireframe version of your model on top of a shaded mesh select the object and click Edit -> Clone. Go into the material editor and create a new material, check the “wire” box under the rollout Shader Basic Parameters. If needs be, click the scale tool, then right click it to bring up the type-in box, scale the wire object up slightly.

    I have a skylight and I’m using light tracer, but the scene renders completely black, why?
    Sky lights work outside only, if you’ve created something like a sky box the light won’t get in (even if the light is placed inside the object).
    Last edited by Paul Holm; 11-06-2006 at 06:06 AM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    • Use autoback. 3D Studio Max, by default, automatically saves the open scene every 5 minutes to the autoback folder, in the Max install directory. The autoback settings can be changed in customize -> preferences… -> files. Personally I like to save up to 9 copies, one every 10 minutes.
    • Want to send a scene to a friend? It’s not possible just by sending them the .max file if you have used any external files in the scene like material maps. Click File -> Archive to have the whole scene, including external files, to a compressed .zip file (which is often smaller than the .max file itself).
    • If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel you can use it to zoom, pan and rotate (hold alt) viewports; It’s much faster than selecting the zoom pan and rotate tools every time you need them.
    • If you’re new to Max, don’t bother installing any plugins for it. It is best to learn how to use Max before installing even more tools to learn. Most plugins are designed to speed up various (and a lot of the time, complicated) operations in Max, and won’t help anyone new to Max.
    • Use the Max help and the tutorials that come with Max. The tutorials are better than most on the internet and the help contains information on every tool within Max and includes a glossary.
    • Pressing shift + z undoes previous viewport operations.
    • If you have an ATI Radeon graphics card and use OpenGL, there’s a good chance Max remains open (but hidden) when you exit it. It can be killed by ending the 3dsmax.exe process listed under the processes tab in task manager.
    • Need to attach and weld two complicated shapes together? Or two shapes that won’t fit together easily (ie. a sphere and a cube)? Select one of the objects and go create panel -> geometry -> compound object -> boolean -> union -> pick operand B and click the other object.
    • When you’re working in a scene and always want to render it from the same angle, or can’t be bother to relocate your perspective view every time you want to render, create a camera and position it. Then, before you render, just right click a viewport label -> views -> [camera] and render from that viewport.
    • Need to finely adjust the lighting in your scene? It’s possible to give lights negative values – this makes them give out darkness!
    • Here’s another blueprint setting up tutorial:

    The 3dsmax user manual comes with a great glossary, including images and many more terms (with more detailed explanations than here). This is a simplified version including terms you're likely to come across in this forum and some not mentioned in Max's glossary.

    .3ds - An old file format available for import and export. Universally compatible but may lead to loss of information on export.
    Adaptive Degradation - See FAQ above.
    Alpha Channel - The channel in bitmap files which determines the transparency.
    Boolean Operation - A boolean object is created using two objects, these can be added, subtracted, etc. from each other.
    Brazil - A 3rd party renderer.
    Chamfer - Used for example, on edges, to make them appear smoother ie. it splits one edge into two.
    .dfx - A file type used to import and export objects from applications such as AutoCAD.
    Editable Mesh - A triangulated mesh, used in "box modelling"
    Editable Poly - A non-triangulated mesh used in "box modelling" contains a more advanced toolset than editable mesh.
    Element - (subobject) A individual mesh obejct grouped together in one object.
    Faceted - A faceted material provides constant shading across a polygon. This shows each polygon as an individual on an object ie. unsmoothed.
    First Vertex - The first point created on a spline curve. Acts as an end point.
    Frame rate (fps) - The number of frames displaced per second. Standards include NTSC: 30fps, PAL: 25fps, Film 24fps.
    Fusing - Moves two points to the same location in space without welding them. Works fine with the surface modifier.
    GI/Global illumination - A lighting method.
    Gizmo - The Red, green and blue thing (for want of a better word) used to move, scale, rotate etc. an object in the viewport. Press x to hide and show it.
    HDRI - A technique which controls reflections on an object.
    Instance - A clone of an object. When the instance or original object is modified, its partner is also modified.
    Isoline display - Used with meshsmooth to simplify the display of an object in the viewport. it only shows the edges of the original, non smoothed, object.
    Lofting - A shape (spline) is used to create a path along which an object is created.
    Mapping Coordinates - Controls placement, scale and rotation of a map on an object.
    Material ID - Used with Multi/Sub-Object materials to determine which material to apply to where.
    Materials - The material applied to an object determines how it appear and reacts to light in the 3D environment.
    MAXScript - The scripting language used in Max.
    Mental Ray - a 3rd party renderer.
    Meshsmooth - Makes objects smoother by increasing poly count. Available in editable poly and as a modifier.
    NURBS - Non-Uniform Rational B-Spline - modelling technique.
    NURMS - Non-Uniform Rational MeshSmooth - a meshsmoothing technique.
    Object - Anything in a scene for example, primitive geometry, cameras, lights, etc.
    Operand - One of the objects used in a boolean operation.
    Origin - (0,0,0) along x,y,z.
    Othographic view - 2D views, ie top, side, front, etc.
    Particle System - A system that creates multiple, non editable, objects. Used to simulate rain, snow, etc.
    Perspective - A rotatable view, objects get smaller the further from the camera they are.
    Pivot Point - The point the gizmo centres around, controls where rotation takes place.
    Plug-in - A 3rd party addition to Max.
    Radiosity - A lighting technique.
    Scanline Renderer - Max's default renderer.
    Schematic View - Displays the scene in the form of a graph.
    Script - A sequence of instructions which automates a task. Written in MAXScript.
    Snap - Depending on settings, automatically moves, for example a vertex to a grid point.
    Spline - A shape created from a line.
    Skylight - Calculates light from the atmosphere (not directly from sun). Used with GI
    Smoothing Groups - Controls which polygons smooth with which. Removes Facted effect without increasing polycount.
    Sub-Object - Vertex, edge, polygon, face, element, etc.
    Topology - I suggest looking this one up yourself!
    Track View - Provides a visual representation of animation keys.
    UVW Coordinates - UVW corresponds to XYZ. Allows manual placement of mapping coordinates.
    Vertex - A point on an object that is manipulatable.
    Wireframe - Shows the edges from which the object is constructed.
    Xref - Externally referenced file.

    And a word from cutcopypaste...

    The internet is a great resource for ideas and information. Many people seem to have a misconception that the internet is a "permanent" fixture. It is far from it.

    Have you ever come across a tutorial or an article that you glanced through and said "I better bookmark this to come back to later because right now I don't have the time". (?)

    You proceed to bookmark it and then one day you come across the time to do the tutorial or read the article. You somehow manage to find the link in that sloppy mindless folder labelled "Max links".. you click that link.. and viola... 404 error.

    Ah.. now that's a shame. Now you're left searching the net once again to find a similar article or tutorial.

    The solution is pretty simple... Save the page you are on to your hard-drive. Using Internet Explorer click on >File>Save as>
    Create a folder and name it "Saved Tutorial UVmapping"... (or whatever the article pertains to).

    A standard html document will be saved to the folder as well as sub-folders containing any images.

    Yes, sure, this might mean you'll waste another gig of hard-drive space after a while of saving these site tutorials. But, what's a gig of space on a hard-drive compared to an hour of your time searching for a similar tutorial ?

    Also: In addition to saving Web sites as suggested above, you may want to save any and even "all" scripts and plug-ins that you stumble upon to a folder as well. A script/plug-in can be sold off or even given away to a company at any time by its creator and all instances of its having been "free" to download removed forever.
    Last edited by gaz; 06-05-2004 at 02:40 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Good info for those not accustomed to max gaz.

    (Why are there so many users with so many god damned problems ? I don't get it. So many years of using max with only minor event problems and in these online forums it's like the levy broke on max.)

    This is just another post which is going to get buried. (The moderators only like to place sticky notes pertaining to strange things.)

    Time for me to ask what people want to see in Max 6.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Very Usefull.

    Please God make this a sticky

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Thanks so much for this very useful information!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Magnolia, Texas
    Originally posted by cutcopypaste

    (Why are there so many users with so many god damned problems ? I don't get it. So many years of using max with only minor event problems and in these online forums it's like the levy broke on max.)
    Sometimes unlicensed copies of 3dsmax will cause some of the problems posted in this forum.
    Just a theory.
    Sean Christian Bellinger - 3D Artist, Game Developer, Educator

    "Nothing happens in contradiction to nature, only in contradiction to what we know of it."
    - Agent Dana Scully

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Essex, UK.
    hbdgaz... what can i say man... awesome post! well done....
    Complaining is like a rocking chair, It's fun for a while but it doesn't get you anywhere.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Magnolia, Texas
    Sorry about getting off topic..........

    Hbdgaz, this was a great post even for an experienced user.
    Sean Christian Bellinger - 3D Artist, Game Developer, Educator

    "Nothing happens in contradiction to nature, only in contradiction to what we know of it."
    - Agent Dana Scully

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    Midlands, UK
    Well done that man, Jolly good show.

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