Meet the 3ds max tools

Meet the 3ds max tools

If you try to use a wrench as a hammer, or attempt to turn a screw with a toaster instead of a screwdriver, you might be described as tool-challenged, at the very least. Technology has led to the development of a huge assortment of tools, each designed with a specific purpose. The tools and commands in 3ds max are also used for specific operations, so you have to know where to find them and have some idea of what they are meant to do. It’s a bit more complex than swinging a hammer, because 3ds max presents you with a large series of hammers, each designed with a specific task in mind. I get to the specifics of tool usage in later chapters.

Locating the right tools and menus

Before you can use any of the 3ds max tools, you have to know where they’re located. A group of 3ds max main menus and toolbars appears at the top of the opening screen (see Figure).

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Figure: A dark border has been placed around the items at the top of the 3ds max interface to show you where the main menus and toolbars are.

 Tip  If you don’t see the Tabs Panel and/or the Main Toolbar on your 3ds max interface, then you have to make sure they are turned on. Choose Customize>Show UI>Tab Panel and if needed, Choose Customize>Show UI>Main Toolbar.

The menu bar

The list of named items that run across the very top of the 3ds max interface is the menu bar, shown in Figure.

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Figure: The menu bar at the top of the 3ds max interface contains a list of menu options.

Clicking any option in the menu bar reveals the menu selections under that heading (see Figure).

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Figure: Click an option on the menu bar to open a menu of choices.

To close a menu, simply click any other part of the screen. Think of the Menu lists as a selection of menus brought to your table at a restaurant, each one for a different classification of delectable possibilities — meats, salads, breads, insect delights, all manner of selections to please your 3D palette.

After you open a menu with a left-click, it remains open until you close it. When it is open, you can move the mouse over any selection, and click again. This selects that option. Selecting different options in different menus initiates various actions. A command in this book that asks you to take an action that targets a specific menu item is written as follows:


AAA represents the name of the menu, and BBB represents a selection in that menu. For example

Go to File>Export

means to left-click the File menu to open it, and then to click the Export option in the open menu to select the Export command. This convenient shorthand has become a standard way for software documentation and books to guide you through specific actions without getting bogged down in words.

Go to Kitchen Cabinet>Cookie Jar>Cookies.

Working with tools

You can access various tools in 3ds max by choosing menu options, pressing key combinations from your keyboard, or clicking tool icons on a toolbar. The easiest way to access tools is by clicking toolbars. The following sections provide details on how to access the tools you’re likely to use most.

The Tab Panel

If I tell you that I love the Tab Panel in 3ds max, you’ll probably think I’ve spent too much time in front of the computer — but I do. The Tab Panel is at the top of the 3ds max interface, as shown in Figure.

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Figure: This is the Tab Panel, with the leftmost tab (Objects) selected.

Clicking any tab in the Tab Panel brings up all the tool icons associated with that tab. I cover each of these tabbed topics in later chapters in the book. Explore the icons associated with each tab by clicking separate tabs. Figure displays the Tool icons associated with each of the tabs in the Tab Panel.

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Figure: From top to bottom, the graphics display the Tool icons in the Objects, Shapes, Compounds, Lights & Cameras, Particles, Helpers, Space Warps, Modifiers, Modeling, and Rendering tabs.

The number of tool options may look overwhelming, but by the time you finish this book you’ll be breezing through these tools. For now, don’t sweat the details. As high-end 3D software goes, 3ds max is one of the most user-friendly and clearly designed.

The Main Toolbar

The Main Toolbar, shown in Figure, is where you find all of max’s basic tools. The Main Toolbar is located just below the Tab Panel at the top of the 3ds max interface.

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Figure: The Main Toolbar.

The Main Toolbar icons displayed in Figure may not all be visible on your screen. If not, you can slide the toolbar left and right by left-clicking and dragging any empty part of the toolbar. When your mouse pointer turns into a hand, it’s in position to drag the toolbar.

The icons displayed in the Main Toolbar are used to select, transform, and organize models and other objects already in a 3ds max scene. They differ from the icons in the Tab Panel, which create and modify scene content.

 Remember  When you perform actions that require selecting a tool first, this book tells you to “go to the Tab Panel” or “go to the Main Toolbar” first. That should make those pesky tool icons a lot easier to locate. The more familiar you become with 3ds max, the less you’ll need to be reminded where to find the tools you need for any particular purpose (but I include reminders anyway, throughout the book, just in case you aren’t reading it straight through). Each tool in the Main Toolbar gets its share of attention and content; each chapter in the book invites a closer examination of these tools.

The viewports

Viewports enable you to perceive the contents of a scene from different angles. Figure shows the standard default viewport arrangement that 3ds max opens with.

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Figure: This four-part viewport arrangement is the one that 3ds max opens with unless and until you customize the viewport arrangement.

As you can see in Figure, the default viewport arrangement uses four separate viewports unless directed otherwise. From upper-left to lower-right, the viewports are Top, Front, Side, and Perspective. The grid you see is used to place objects in a scene at definitive distances from each other, and is also used as a measurement device when creating the sizes of 3D models. Right-click in any of the viewports to activate that viewport. A yellow outline indicates the active viewport.

The Command Panel

At the right of your 3ds max interface is a separate panel of options called the Command Panel, shown in Figure.

Figure: The 3ds max Command Panel.

The row of tabbed icons at the top of the Command Panel determines what options are displayed in the area below the row of tabs. There are six tabs at the top of the Command Panel. Left to right, they are Create, Modify, Hierarchy, Motion, Display, and Utilities. As you need to know more about how to use these commands throughout the book, I supply the details.

Options at the bottom of the 3ds max interface

At the very bottom of the 3ds max interface is another control area, shown in Figure.

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Figure: The control area at the bottom of the 3ds max interface.

This control area has two separate parts: Animation controls and Viewport Manipulation controls.

Animation controls

As shown in Figure, the larger section that starts from the lower-left corner of the lower Control area and continues about three quarters of the way across the interface encompasses the 3ds max Animation controls. (Other 3D software sometimes calls this area the Timeline.)

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Figure: The Animation controls.

For more about using the options in the Animation controls, skim the chapters in Part VI.

Viewport Manipulation controls

The Viewport Manipulation controls are on the far bottom-right of the 3ds max interface, as shown in Figure.

Figure: The Viewport Manipulation controls.

There are two rows of icons representing the Viewport Manipulation controls. Left-top to right-bottom they are: Zoom, Zoom All, Zoom Extents, Zoom Extents

All, Region Zoom (Field of View_—_for the Perspective Viewport), Pan, Arc Rotate, and Min/Max Toggle. Each of these options gets a more detailed treatment in the section “Getting around in the 3D GUI Viewports” (which follows).

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