Creating Interesting Textures for Objects

Creating Interesting Textures for Objects

A preset material is to a texture what a Primitive is to a 3D model in 3ds max. Just as a Primitive can be used as a jumping off place to create more complex models, or as a model all on its own, a preset material can be used either as the foundation for creating a more complex texture or as it is. Using a preset material is the simplest way to create a texture for your 3ds max objects.

Navigating the Material Editor

The easiest way to access the Material Editor is by clicking its icon under the Rendering tab in the Tab Panel. (It’s the fifth icon from the right, the one that looks like four spheres in a rectangular array.)

Clicking the Material Editor icon after you have placed a model (which could be a Primitive) in your scene brings up the Material Editor Panel, shown in Figure.

Click To expand
Figure: The Material Editor Panel.

The six spheres you see at the top of the panel are all gray by default. Each represents a possible material that can be applied to your selected object. The panel is filled with options, many of which are for advanced 3ds max users. I don’t cover every option in this book, but by the time you finish this chapter, you’ll be able to create a wide range of interesting materials.

The first thing to do is to decide what type of Shader you want to create. Under the Shader Basic Properties area of this panel, you see a Shader Type area that by default reads BLINN. This is one Shader Type. To access the other Shader Types, left-click and hold the downward-pointing arrow next to BLINN. When the list appears, select the PHONG Shader Type, one of the most common. After you have selected the PHONG Shader Type, the PHONG Basic Parameters appear at the bottom of the panel, as shown in Figure.

Figure: The Basic Parameter settings for the PHONG Basic Shader Type.

Under Phong Basic Parameters, at the upper left, you will see the three basic parameters that you can change to create a basic Phong Material: Ambient, Diffuse, and Specular. Click the lock icon to the right to switch it off, and click the staple-like icons to the left to switch them off. A bit later, you will realize that Ambient, Diffuse, and Specular components are also grouped under what are known as Channels for a material or texture. Ambient, Diffuse, and Specular each display a rectangular area of color to their right. Disregard the smaller square boxes at the right. These larger rectangular areas are Color Swatches. Left-clicking a Color Swatch always brings up the Color Selector, allowing you to choose a new hue for that Color Swatch. Do that now. Select a new hue for the Ambient, Diffuse, and Specular basic Phong Parameters. Note that the preview image (the sphere) at the top of the panel displays your new choices.

What are the Ambient, Diffuse, and Specular components anyway, and how do they differ? The easiest one to understand is the Diffuse component. Diffuse represents the color or texture of a material as seen in the daylight. When you say an apple is red, you could also say, “That apple has a Diffuse color component that displays a red hue.” (Try that the next time you go shopping with a friend.) The Ambient component is a bit more complex. You might think of it as the color or texture that an object displays when the lights are off, or in pitch darkness. Normally, this is set to a medium gray, because we lose most of our color sense in the dark. If it were set to a ruby red however, the object that has a Diffuse yellow value in the light would be seen as bright red in the dark. Specular is easy to describe when you think of an apple again. If you take an apple and shine it vigorously and place it on a well lit surface, you will see that the apple has reflective spots of light on its surface. These areas are known as hot spots by the computer graphics artist. Because different materials affect light differently, these Hot Spots, or Specular areas, can emit different colors (and even textures). In the Phong Specular Color Swatch, you can set the Specular Hot Spot (also called a Highlight) to its own hue.

You set the size and brightness of the Specular Hot Spot by changing the values for three settings under Specular Highlights in the panel:

  • Softness (a value that ranges from 0 to 1): This setting affects the edge of the hot spot, whether it is to be soft and fuzzy or sharp.

  • Specular Level (0 to 999): This setting affects the brightness of the hot spot, with larger values increasing the brightness.

  • Glossiness (0 to 100): This setting affects the size of the hot spot, with increased values reducing the size.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to create multiple objects and explore different value combinations — to seek out new names for the objects and to boldly create a series of different Shaders.

For example, you can create an object Phong Shader for each of the first six Material preview spheres you see at the top of the panel. Explore different value combinations. Type in a different name for each one in the label area provided. When you are finished, click and drag one at a time to your Perspective Viewport, dropping each Shader on whatever object you placed in the scene. This particular process creates Shaders differentiated by their Ambient, Diffuse, and Specular values.

Using preset materials in the Material Editor

The Material Editor enables you to tap into a wide variety of preset materials — which you can either apply directly to an object (by the drag-and-drop method discussed earlier), or customize first.

Accessing the Material Map Browser

The standard 3ds max material presets are found in the Material Map Browser. To access the Material Map Browser, open the Material Editor Panel, and left-click one of the preview spheres to activate it. Then, left-click the rectangular Standard button. This opens the Material Map Browser. Once in the Browser, select Mtl Library under Browse From, as shown in Figure.

Click To expand
Figure: The Material Map Browser.

By clicking the icons at the top of the Material Map Browser, you can display the presets as a list or as icons.

Selecting a preset material

Click any preset from the Browser to see it displayed in the preview area at the upper left of the Browser. Then click OK to make that preset appear in the Material Editor in the material slot you selected beforehand. When that’s done, the material is ready to be dragged and dropped onto any 3D object in your scene.

Accessing new preset materials folders

At the bottom-left of the Material Map Browser you can see a list of File Commands. Open will allow you to search for previously saved preset materials anywhere in your computer. Merge will allow you to blend more than one Material Library together. To save your unique material creations as presets for further use, you can use the normal procedures: Save and Save As.

Applying preset materials to objects

To apply a preset material to any 3D object in your scene, simply use the left mouse button to drag and drop the material onto the object as displayed in any viewport. If you have a scene loaded with multiple objects, you see a label appear with the name of the particular object before you release the mouse button.

Saving your sanity: Go to Parent

3ds max has a materials capability that’s the envy of the industry, but this capability comes at a price: the time you spend getting comfortable exploring its controls. My aim is to get you up and running with materials and textures, not to tell you everything there is to know about how to customize everything (which is impossible anyway). You may sometimes forget what you’re doing and get hypnotized by the different controls in the Material Editor. Suddenly you may find yourself lost and unable to return to a place in the Material Editor that you recognize. If that happens (it’s pretty much a guarantee, so I should say when it happens) one magic button in the Material Editor can save your sanity, returning you to a recognizable place — the Go To Parent. You can access Go To Parent by clicking the second-from-the-last icon on the right of the Material Editor. (It’s a lot like running home to Mom for sanctuary when the neighborhood dog is chasing you.)

Go To Parent moves you toward the surface of the Material Editor Panel when you find yourself buried somewhere at the depths. Click it as many times as necessary, until your surroundings in the panel look recognizable.

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