CGschool - '3DS Max 2011 One Project from Start to Finish' Review
by Dave Buckley www.davebuckley.co.uk
Dave Buckley is a 3ds Max and Revit application specialist who has recently made the switch to become a full-time freelance architectural visualiser.
When this book was first announced, the 'mock-up' front cover that was being used to advertise it, detailed a very different image to the one that is on the book now. It fit perfectly with the term 'Architectural Visualisation' that is used in the title of all the other books that 3DATS have released. However, when I saw the final cover image, which to me looked like a screenshot from a Pixar film, I was somewhat disappointed. However, it could never be truer that you should definitely not judge a book just by it's cover. If you want to learn something new, this book is excellent. Regardless of the final project that has been used as a focus of the book, all of the topics and techniques covered in the book can be applied to the type of architectural visualisation work that we see posted on CGA everyday. And every single chapter taught me something I hadn't even considered before. The guys who have written the book from Cat-a-pult really do show the meaning of thinking 'outside of the box'.
My original thoughts were addressed a couple of pages into the book, the guys explain why this project has been chosen and why the project I had seen originally had been scrapped. I will return to this in my conclusion.
Expectations for the book are set before any tutorial based chapters begin, and you are told that a number of additional bits of software will be used throughout. So be prepared to download trials and installations of programs such as Pixplant, Vue, Mudbox, Glu3D, UVLayout etc. I personally think it's a good thing to use lots of different tools. I've never seen a project that has started and finished in one bit of software. And with so many tools available to us today, it makes sense that one should always use the best tool for the job.
Some scenes can be quite heavy on your workstation but the guys have accounted for this and optimization is definitely a recurring theme throughout And I must stress that this book slightly differs to the other from 3DATS in that it is exclusively VRay throughout.
One thing that slightly disappointed me was that the book just seems to dive straight in and in Chapter 1, you begin working on what appears to be a randomly selected object from the scene. It would have been nice to see a small write up or analysis of the final scene and how the guys decided to approach it. But then again, for those of you that like to get hands-on straight away then this would be perfect. Anyhow, Chapter 1 is all about modelling using standard primitives, splines, modifiers and compound objects and the guys really seem to utilise every setting in every object or modifier to it's full potential.. It's assumed that you have either basic knowledge of 3ds Max or have read the previous books, as any steps that have been covered in detail elsewhere, aren't really covered in too much depth. For intermediate users this is perfect, it means you progress through the exercises quickly. For beginners, it may prove a little trickier if this is the first piece of training material you've seen regarding 3DS Max.
I personally learnt something new as early as in this Chapter, when I was instructed to use the SplineIK modifier for the placement of a fence. This demonstrates what I mean by the guys utilising tools to complete tasks that you wouldn't normally think to do.
After modelling the object (telescope in this case) you are taught a number of different unwrapping techniques to aid with the correct texturing of the objects. The unwrap tutorials are really in-depth and clear up a lot of the difficulties around unwrapping that you see floating around the forums.
Finally this chapter gives you your first taste of switching programs to complete a task, as you first use the Ivy Generator and then Photoshop to develop the textures for the resulting ivy leaves. Again some very in-depth instruction here and it's nice to see some of the newer tools, that haven't really been in Max for that long, being used to good effect to compliment the process, for example, the Graphite tools are used to aid the placement of materials for the Ivy.
Chapter 2 focuses once again on modelling and texturing, only this time using different techniques again for the landscape. The use of the graphite tools is expanded upon, as well as standard poly-modelling techniques, however I couldn't help but feel that certain areas of the poly-modelling process could have been expanded on a little further. For example,techniques that can be vital to poly-modelling such as terminating edges and maintaining quad based meshes are somewhat overlooked and rather just assumed. Again this could prove quite tricky for beginners. However, you are given a lot of freedom to experiment with certain tools at certain stages throughout the process.
The unwrap tools appear once again, only this time using pelt-mapping and some rather ingenious techniques to aid the texturing of the landscape, including exporting a base model to Mudbox, sculpting some finer details, painting masks inside of Mudbox and then utilising these inside of Photoshop to paint the final textures for the detailed landscape. The Photoshop process is extremely detailed and you will no doubt learn something new about Photoshop as well as Max.
Modelling is continued with standard techniques, primitives, splines and the graphite tools to model a detailed tree based on the reference image. To prove how the guys are thinking outside of the box, in this chapter they use blob-mesh to create the crown of the tree,hair and fur for leaves, and also the morpher modifier to transfer textures from a low-poly mesh to a high-poly mesh.
There is also more very in-depth unwrapping techniques and we see the use of the viewport canvas tools to texture paint the tree inside the 3ds Max viewport. A word of warning though, at the start of the book, it is stated that production of the book began when they were using Max 2009, since then we have seen two more releases, and soon to be a third with the announcement of Max 2012. The point I'm getting at is that some tools have changed across these 3 releases, as I found out when trying to follow the viewport canvas steps at this stage. This tool in particular has changed in recent release and has been somewhat revamped. All the techniques that are outlined in the steps are still possible, you just might have to do a little digging if you are using 2011 as I was. Regardless, the chapter continues with the fine-tuning of the viewport canvas textures in Photoshop which again is very clearly laid out. To summarize this chapter - “The Devil is in the Details”.
You should be getting the idea by now – modelling/texturing, but what this chapter does offer that’s slightly different from the rest, is an analysis, based on a reference image, of what you are going to recreate before doing any modelling (a scarecrow in this instance). You will also take your newly found unwrapping skills a step further, with the use of another program called UV Layout, a very nice and easy-to-use unwrapping tool. There is more extensive texture painting guidance again in this chapter, but to take it a step further the guys introduce us to a program called Pix Plant to generate normal and specular maps to use with the diffuse maps that we have previously created in Photoshop.
Many times we see images created where people have shown some water but what we don't really see is much thought going into it. For example, it's generally just a plane with a nice water shader on it. This chapter does focus around water but also takes into account all of the elements that may affect the appearance of the surface and also the appearance of what's below the surface. For example dust and dirt particles that will blur objects that are submerged in the water, and how the reflection/transparency will change depending on where the camera is positioned. Using a combination of materials, masks, space warps, ripple and wave modifiers and another 3rd party application – Glu3D, you create many of the effects that you see in the real-world where water exists. Slight changes in water direction around objects that come into contact with the surface, or splashes and deformations from running water and a water wheel in this instance. This is probably the most in-depth analysis and attention to detail I've seen in relation to water in a 3D environment.
Chapter 6 returns to modelling and texturing for the distant landscapes, familiar tools crop up again, such as Viewport Canvas and Hair and Fur, only this time used in a different context. What is new though, is the introduction of particle systems being used in conjunction with mixed noise maps for the placement of trees. There have been a few tutorials floating around the web recently regarding scattering items with Pflow. This guide should clear up any remaining questions and possibly add something to the workflow you may be using at the minute. The clever use of the noise maps to control accurate placement of certain types of tree was definitely something I hadn't seen in a Pflow/Scattering tutorial before.
Finally in this chapter you create mountains and a sky inside of Vue 8 xStream to give you the background for your 3d scene, this may seem a little bit over the top for how much of this background is seen in the end but even so, it's great to add these tools to your arsenal and learn something new about a very powerful piece of software.
This chapter is all about animation. The way the project has been chosen, there are plenty of objects to be animated. The water that we spent so carefully creating earlier is animated to add that extra dynamic to what was already looking fantastic. Those hair and fur modifiers you have been using throughout are also put to great use here for animating the grass blowing in the wind. The hair and fur modifier for grass is actually greatly expanded upon here for the creation of around 20 different types of grass, all of which are animated in reaction to space warps such as wind.
Lastly you even begin to skin and animate some birds through the use of biped and bone systems. And you utilise FumeFX (another 3rd party plug-in) to simulate smoke. The whole biped and birds does take up quite a large chunk of the chapter and if I'm honest it seems a little unnecessary when you think that all previous books have been aimed at architectural visualisation. How often are you asked to animate birds? However, the steps are very detailed and should you ever be asked to animated humans in context with you visualisation then this part of the book will definitely help you out.
To much these days in architectural visualisation, lighting has become scientific rather than artistic, people tend to stick a daylight system in and dial in the corresponding information for the exposure control, with the occasional IES for a night shot. This chapter deals with both. You are taken through a typical daylight set-up, using the daylight system and physical camera. This then transforms into various types of night lighting. We learn how to control individual lights one at a time to result in a nicely lit and well balanced scene. The lighting is analysed well, and built up carefully, controlling colours and intensities of each individual light to achieve the desired look. HDRI lighting isn't left out however, and is covered as method to compliment the night scene. The chapter also carefully describes the process of rendering each light out separately as a to maintain full flexibility when compositing later on. The technical side of lighting is still addressed with detailed descriptions of the various physical camera controls to be able to get the correct exposure levels for all of the lighting situations.
The book concludes with a chapter dedicated to the rendering and post production. The chapter contains good explanations of why certain render settings were chosen for both still and animated cameras. The parameters are all very well explained and you are not left second guessing why a certain parameter has been set in a certain way. There is also a heavy concentration on preparing the scene for compositing, including breaking the scene up into various parts, a very well described exercise for rendering passes and the benefits that possesses.
The chapter concludes with the compositing of all the passes that we have been rendering throughout the book. It doesn't stop there, we continue with heavy work in Photoshop and after effects, utilizing a number of other plug ins, and adding volume effects, motion blur and depth of field until we are left with the image that you see on the front of the book.
I mentioned in the introduction that I would return to my comments about the project that was chosen. Initially I was excited at the prospect of seeing what actually goes on in well established studios to make sure projects get out the door. Soon after opening the book, we are told that if the original project had been used, the authors would have been very limited as to what techniques would be demonstrated due to client demands etc. Personally, I would still liked to have seen the sort of constraints that are put on real projects. At the end of the day, the book is called 'One Project From Start to Finish' after all. And not one project comes without constraints. And I would have loved to see it oriented around a 'typical' architectural visualisation scene as this is what we have come to expect from 3DATS. However, this book and project is excellent in the respect that it covers a wealth of techniques that quite simply aren't covered anywhere else. I would fully advise you to pick up a copy as I can almost guarantee you will learn something new. I just think it should have been more aptly named 'One 'Ideal' Project from Start to Finish'.
To purchase this book please visit the 3DATS website.
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