3DSMax Users' Group 3-30-2005

What a whirlwind of a meeting!  We had a packed house at ITT and started early. Special thanks to Josh Squires and his Colleagues at ITT for hosting the meeting and helping us with food.   We were lucky enough to have folks from Discreet (now the Media and Entertainment division of Autodesk): Vincent Brisebois, the uber-informative Application Engineer and our local Kelcey Privett of the Development team.  Garry Gaber (formerly of LucasArts) came to share his work, along with his wife / producer, Melissa Gaber, and their young "assistant", Zander.

First up: show-and-tell from some of the ITT students:

James Shipman- james.shipman@gmail.com shared his work in progress: a 3D animated short story. He presented some screen tests of different effects used; and finished up by sharing another work in progress -- his demo reel.

Craig Perkins - was not able to attend, but Casey Thorpe showed some of the models and environments created for Craig's capstone project.

Casey Thorpe - presented a dim cave environment and a warrior character with a sword .  He shared some of his difficulty with early versions of the model where the arms were crimping, and showed a later version that worked properly.  He described the method he used to make the sword, and shared his "helmet" workaround for a bad hair day.  ; ) Then came his work-in-progress dragon model.

Q: How to make realistic dragon skin?
A: (Kelcey & Vince) Try using two textures in Subsurface Scattering (shader in Mental Ray). One for the outer layer of dragon skin, another for the subdermal layer, with veins and such.  Some people like to use Dark Tree (a standalone procedural texture generator that comes with a Max plug-in) to create patterns , then use Photoshop to paint & touch up.

Tyrone Tyson - a relatively new Max user, shared his flash portfolio, with beginner projects such as a spaceship animation, Photoshop stills, and a sequence inspired by personal events.

*Isaac mentioned that dropping files into Windows Movie Maker and exporting to WMV is a quick method of compressing video for easy sharing.

Isaac Gallegos shared his animation of assembly line robots competing for objects on a conveyor belt.  The two automatons fought for the same item, resulting in one robot being damaged.  By the end of the sequence, the injured robot's adversary had repaired his cohort and resorted to a friendlier competitive activity: chess.

Next: more seasoned group members with some fantastic show and tell:

Doug Prince - showed us a really impressive assemblage of monsters, police, models /walk cycles, misc animations, gaming scenes, 3D anatomical illustrations, architecture, and environments such as cities and forests.  Very detailed, clean work.  The reel can be downloaded from his page at http://supermodelkit.com/

Patrick Byers - www.visioncompanydesign.com
Patrick shared his architectural renderings of a "castle" (actually a Methodist Church) and presentation work done using  3DSMax 7 and Combustion 3.  First, he described how long it took to render the initial scene.  He noted that when you change a single item in the scene, you have to render the entire scene again in Max. Then he described how he rendered the elements into components of the animation to be created in Combustion.  The biggest benefit here was the saving in re-render time.

For example, he could render the background and buildings separately, then if he changed his mind he could swap out the buildings in combustion without rendering the entire scene again from scratch.  Another example he noted was the reflections on the windows.  In the Material Editor, he selected a ray trace with reflectivity, and simply rendered a reflection pass as a targa.  Then he overlaid the window element onto the scene in Combustion.

He showed layers in a Photoshop file comprised of various (render to texture) passes: cars and environments, diffuse of the church, a material override in Mental Ray done for shading, reflections, trees and z depth (used to apply the Depth of Field filter in Combustion.)  He used the RPC sample plug-in to create a single tree, which he duplicated and modified to improvise a bit of variety in the landscape.

Patrick's work was a great example of a few of the way Combustion can be used with Max to create an architectural visualization animation.  Most of this work was done by simply rendering to stills in Max, and using them as layers within Combustion.

This demonstration was perfectly in context, given this week's focus on Combustion.  It's great to see how these tools are put into practice to create an efficient workflow.  For those of you who haven't used Combustion, it can create awesome motion graphics, and also save tons of render time over the course of a project by compositing rendered elements into a scene.  Later, the scene can be arranged and switched up without re-rendering all of the elements again.  Neat!

There are many more ways to create a dynamic animation using render elements in Max. Rendering to .rpf (rich pixel format) allows you to create an element that contains more data than a simple targa still.  Some of this data includes: Z Depth, Material Effects ID, Object ID, UV Coordinates, Normal, Non-Clamped Color, Coverage, Node Render ID, Color, Transparency, Velocity, Sub-Pixel Weight, Sub-Pixel Mask.

See the description (in red) farther down on this page & feel free to ask us about specials on Combustion 4.

Next: our feature presentation by Garry Gaber:

Garry Gaber spent 10 years with Lucas Arts in California, rising from the ranks of Artist to Project Director.  He has worked on several games and CG projects.  Though he uses both Maya and Max, Gary said that most of the work on his reel was done with 3DSMax and After Effects.  An abbreviated recap of the items featured in his reel include:  spaceships, models from the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, a Jedi Knight animation, scenes from the City of Narshada, a tank (and a ship that was never used) from Force Commander,  .

Then, just for fun,he shared some of his original stuff including a music video from MTV, and clips from his short film "Special Menu"  which was produced by his wife, Melissa Gaber.  Garry mentioned that they created the 45 minute short film using a Canon XL1, did special effects in 3DSMax, and built the movie with DVD Encore.  At prodding from the audience, he shared the trailer, the hilarious gag reel, and some storyboard / animatic sequences done in Max (which Gary noted helped enormously, since they needed to film all of their shots in a very limited amount of time.)  Because they were able to plan the shots in 3D, it streamlined the filming, which was done in relative haste.

Zander provided us with insightful commentary during the presentation.  : )

Finally, an exhaustive demo on Max7 / 7.5, Cloth, Hair and Fur, and Combustion:

Vince Brisebois: The Application Engineer from the Media and Entertainment Division of Autodesk, formerly known as Discreet.

note: Vincent studied both Architecture and Computer Engineering in college. He then moved on to do 2D/3D production work for many years while teaching 3dsmax in Montreal. He was hired at Discreet in 1998 as Technical Support Specialist and Trainer for Lightscape and has been an Applications Engineer for 3dsmax since 2002. In the past few years he has worked on projects ranging from video games and engineering to film and broadcast. Specializing in lighting and rendering, he has worked with the Deringer Group, Frantic Films and David Lynch and many others. Currently serving southern California he is based out of Santa Monica and does product demonstrations as well as technical training for 3dsmax and combustion.

Vince really knows Lightscape (now Max's imbedded Radiosity lighting and rendering)  He pointed out to us that a common error by 3D artists is to crank up the radiosity settings all the way.  (more is better, right?)  While that could be useful if you're in court, striving for perfect accuracy, he noted that a great render can be obtained using lower settings...and it won't take 10 years to render. : )  He generally uses settings between 2% and 15% and gets great results.

CLOTH, HAIR and FUR: These are the new tools available to subscription customers.
Note: 7.5 and Extensions are only available if you're on subscription.  Subscriptions are (due to federal SEC rules) only available when a full seat or upgrade is purchased.  Feel free to ask us more about the subscription program!

Garment Maker:  This is a neat tool that allows you to be a virtual tailor.  You can create sections of cloth, arrange them around your model, "sew" the pieces together, and preview in real time.  Garments are initially built flat, then you curve and position them in 3D space within the Garment Maker, select edges, create seams, and preview your results.

Vince used a sphere to demonstrate.  First, he created a cloth "garment" built above the sphere.  He noted that separate properties can be applied to the various panels of cloth.  Vince showed us some examples, including a model wearing a garment using a direct X shader for the material, used to simulate velvet.

First, you create the spline.  Choose an orthographic view.  Draw the spline in segments (outlines of garment panels) apply the garment maker to it, which will automatically cap off the spline segments as "panels."  The only restriction is the sections must be on the same level (elevation on a particular axis.)  Before applying Garment Maker, all sections of the garment must be in the same editable spline (i.e. all panels of a garment are part of the same object to be modified.)  After drawing the sections of your garment, select one section, choose "attach" (in tools on the right) and attach the sections together as one object to modify in the Garment Maker.

Then, go into subobject in the Garment Maker modifier, start picking your panels and position in 3D space around your character.  Go into subobject: vertex mode, select all of the verts in your editable spline, click on "break" which breaks everything up into segments, making each segment edge selectable, so you can attach the edges with seams. The edges need to be matching lengths, otherwise they won't line up properly.  Your garment doesn't need to be perfect right away. Just push (into shape), weld (edges together), relax, then throw on a mesh smooth and you'll get a nice result.

"Simulate Damped" is kind of a "precision  mode" that slows down the simulation process by adding more time and performing more calculations between each step.  It slows the sewing springs' process.  At the end, the springs snap shut and gravity takes over!  Vince likes to use this setting to create the garments, then once the garment is created use "local" to settle into frame zero position.It is important to be sure the sewing springs are visible in the viewport.  He turned gravity off to simulate the cloth without it dropping away (i.e. the cloth hangs around the model without falling to the floor).

Q: do multiple cloths require multiple simulations?
A: no, only one simulation for all of the cloth in the scene.

note: if you're simulating and notice a visible problem, such as the character's geometry sticking through the cloth, just go back a few frames, "truncate" the simulation, increase your subsamples, then continue where you left off.  You can do this several times during a simulation, increasing or decreasing your subsample settings to get the desired result.

"Simulate local" - means to simulate without the timeline moving.  This is a way of getting the timeline to start with the cloth in the proper position.  (old cloth simulations had to be started at negative frames to allow time for the cloth to settle..this way you can start at frame 0 with the cloth already in place)  Use the simulate local setting while you set up, position and pin the cloth.

"Groups" are used to pin objects to cloth, cloth to cloth, or attach cloth to nodes.  Go into subobject: groups (all verts will light up blue on the object).  You can then soft-select or alt-select your verts, and "pin" to nodes/dummies, surfaces, "preserve" (i.e. ignore as cloth...keeping whatever previous animation was there before cloth was applied-usually a skin wrap)  One example that was shown was a layer of cloth that was attached to a model's skin.  All of the verts were initially soft-selected, then certain groups around the joints (shoulders, etc) were removed from the selection using  the alt key...then "preserve" was clicked.  The result was something like a leotard or body suit, that molded with the skin, but acted like cloth around the joints.  Neat!  If it's not pinned in the right spot, you can go into subobject: face mode, select some or all of the faces, and "live drag", tugging at faces during the simulation to reposition correctly.  When you stop the simulation, it will be frozen in the correct position.

Look for the demo on using "preserve" to pin cloth to character skin on discreet.com
Q: will discreet.com still be online?
A: Yes, it will just redirect to Autodesk.

GREAT TIP: the point cache modifier has been around since version 1.  Many people aren't aware of it.  You can dump the point cache to create point cloud info.  Then use the skin to deform the cloth rather than the more complex layers of bones, etc.......You can also save multiple animations using point cache.

In order to work properly, you'll need a static number of verts.  (i.e. you can't animate the skin by adding/subtracting from the # of verts and expect to get a consistent result.)

NOTE:  If you have a lot of point cache data, such as in a scene with an army of characters, you might want to try another version called "point cache 2".  It's a free download if you google it, but it looks like it may only be for Max 4.x.  It allows you to (among a few other things) stream point cache data off the hard drive, while the Point Cache currently in Max needs to load the entire point cache into RAM before it can be played.  Could be a useful enhancement for ambitious projects.

Hair & Fur:
This is a world space modifier in version 7.5.  Use by selecting object faces and adding hair/fur growth. There are lots of hair presets to work with, and you can even specify that the texture on underlying faces ("scalp") will color the hair.

Q: Can you make "hairy cloth"?
A: Sure, one example where this might be useful would be the ears on a dog.

You can also use Combustion in conjunction with Max to animate the hair color.  One example could be a cheetah with spots that move around and morph into text.  Combustion has a dynamic link between Combustion and Max, called a Combustion Map.  In Combustion, simply choose your tools and paint the Combustion Map. You can animate brushstrokes used in the map in Combustion.  In Max, you can see the results in your viewport in real time.  Especially useful with dual monitors.  For more information, try googling "Combustion Map."

Note about Combustion:
These aren't your mother's layers!

Forget everything you know about layers.  It is a bit unfortunate that Combustion uses the term "layers" to describe something far more dynamic than what we're used to thinking of as layers in programs like Photoshop.  Combustion is used to composite a range of input data from 3D (Max objects, target cameras, texture maps, render elements, etc) , 2D (photoshop stills and layer sets) video (from your video camera or NLE)  audio, and more.  Combustion's layers are perhaps best described as "footage".  One notable virtue is the ability to create highly complex camera shots of your scene, then apply special effects, lighting, shadows, and more which line up PERFECTLY.  That would be very hard to do manually!   If any of you saw Gary Walker's presentation of the "High Moon" movie trailer at the January meeting, it was a great example of how this program can be used.

Combustion allows you to composite a mix of these items in a non-destructive 3D workspace (complete with animated cameras exported from Max).  Or, you can composite 2D objects in a non-destructive 2D workspace.  Combustion also has a very efficient particle and text effect system, so you can save your animated text and explosions for when you're done with the primary animation in Max.  You can even texture your objects in Combustion by using render elements in Max and applying as a texture map.  It can be launched directly from Max's material editor, allowing you to work on your project in both Combustion and Max at the same time.  This even allows you to paint on your 3D objects, thus animating their texture maps.  You can also render out to elements such as velocity and depth channels, enabling you to create motion blur and depth-of-field effects in post-production, animating these values over time. Wow!

Combustion is a stunning bridge between your 3D, 2D, NLE, and audio applications.  It can greatly improve your render time while providing slam-dunk results, handling color correction,  vector paint effects , rotoscoping, Flash output, and more.  Most 3D artists probably think of Combustion as an accessory to Max, but for film professionals, it is more likely that they consider Max to be the accessory.  Combustion performs tasks that any one of these 2D, 3D, NLE, or audio programs simply cannot accomplish alone.

Ask us about courseware available from Autodesk called "Combustion and Max Integration."

StylingTool: blow dry, brush (the brush size -though not the shape can be adjusted), cut, scale, clump preview render- quickly shows what the hair will look like

Any of these values can be changed and animated:
General Parameters: density, length, curl, etc
Material Properties: tip/root color, mutant color / percentage (i.e. for making hair more multicolored and realistic)
Frizz Properties: kink & frizz

-Hairs can be changed to geometry buffer or mental ray primitive

Q: can you braid hair?
A: (Kelcey): yes, there is a tutorial that shows how to lock hair to cylinders and braid the cylinders.  You can also use splines as guides for hair.  ex: use splines to guide hair to create a part, then take into the styling tool to beautify.

The group's next assignment is to brush Isaac's hair  ; )

Scene States:  A very useful tool for creating a variety of versions of your scene, this is a new feature in version 7.5.  It is comparable to Layer Comps in Photoshop, but is much more flexible because rather than simply turning your layers and effects on or off, you can actually have different materials, animations, and positions in each scene state. In Max 7.5, right-click within the viewport, choose "save scene state" and a list pops up with options to choose from.
example: create an architectural scene...make different scene states for several versions:
day lighting
night lighting
objects hidden or visible (ex: trees, people, etc)
mesh version
non-rendered items
various display settings
various render settings

Batch Render:  For those of you who stay up all night rendering many versions of the same scene, try this new feature in Max7.5  Choose render: batch render.  This will allow you to render your many scene states locally, or send them out to a network render farm, or to an executable batch file (.bat) which you can dump into an external command line renderer.  This can add a huge amount of flexibility for large facilities.  For small-time users, after creating all of these scene states, they can be batch rendered while you sleep.  : )

Vince showed us a Vespa model with various lighting/render options.  One way to create nice textures is to render various versions to texture, then layer them in Photoshop (for stills), Combustion (for animations) and change the blending options / filters between the layers.  The options used in this example: -Ambient Occlusion- done with material override.  AO is not lighting dependent.  It creates a "dirt map", adding the appearance of shading in areas where the object would reflect on itself.  AO can be used to multiply another layer of a texture where materials were rendered with Global Illumination.  Good for creating a "dirty" appearance.

Here's a cheat for film: render to texture, bake on model, render without Global Illumination...or use both Ambient Occlusion and Global Illumination.  Since a lot of clients may not have Mental Ray residing on their network render farm, just use AO on one machine, bake it into object using render to texture, then send it off to the standard network scanline renderer.  Since AO isn't "view dependent" it's very fast, and yields nice results.

Then we watched the Warhammer 40K Dawn of War cinematic, and the intro created in a very short time by Blur using Max, Brazil, and Afterburn. *WOW*  Next came several movie CG clips
-Day after Tomorrow - Vince noted that "Syntheyes" (ssontech.com) is a great plug-in for mapping a scene. It places a grid automatically to use when compositing.  Used by Digital Dimension to create scenes in this movie.
-Ring of the Niebalungs (see particle flow below)
-Toyota Matrix and Pepsi Commercials, and the animatics created in Max for these projects
-Animated short about a Pinata

Parameter Collector - This was introduced in 3DSMax7.  Gives you control over animated parameters which can be grouped and controlled efficiently.  This is much easier than constantly reselecting the same verts over and over again.

Mesh Caching (in Max since version 6) can display up to 16 million polys in real time..in shaded mode.  : 0  this requires changing a few preferences to work properly.  Vince noted that the "vanilla" install of Max is rarely the most optimal config for most users.  Learn about your settings!

Particle Flow (in Max since the Subscription drop between versions 6 and 7) is used to create particle system in the scene from Ring of the Niebablungs, where the particles (arrows) that struck wood surfaces caused fires, while the particles that struck stone bounced off.  He demonstrated the flow chart used to control the behaviors of the particles.

Particle flow works well with Afterburn (volumetric particle rendering plug-in for Max)

Note to Users: Afterburn and Dreamscape are the two top-selling Max plug-ins.  Feel free to ask for more info!

Thanks to all those who contributed to this session.   Hopefully this will help us all remember the things we saw.  Feel free to let me know if I've misspelled your name, gotten anything wrong, out of context or if something is unclear!

Happy digital content creation to you all!  See you next time!

Jamie Crawford
Animation Representative
Austin Business Computers