Working with 3dsMax was a lot more fun than I had initially anticipated. I turned to YouTube or the Autodesk Knowledge Desk <http://knowledge.autodesk.com/> website for any tips or information whenever I got stuck.
The way I mostly went about my constructing my model was with a trial-and-error type approach. If I needed a rounded, rectangular object, for instance, I thought of a chamfer box and started from there. If I needed a semi-circle for an archway or the top of a window, I chose a tube or a cylinder, knowing I could slice them at 180 degrees. I would often run through ten or twenty different modifiers on an object to see what they did, and if I didn’t like it or it didn’t give me the desired effect, I would simply delete it and the object would return to its previous state.
One of the more difficult things about 3dsMax for me was organising my objects into layers or attaching objects so that two or three objects became one, and so could be manipulated, moved or rotated easily as a single unit. I never got to stratifying my objects into taxonomic units because I was so tight for time, and kept thinking I’d be better off just getting on with shaping the window or applying test materials and displacement maps. The issue with not organising my objects meant I would often clumsily have to select all the criss-crossed wooden beams making the roof individually when I could potentially have just placed them all inside of the same layer, selected that layer and then have them chosen as one for manipulation.
I also never got around to practicing snapping or aligning objects, which meant getting the different parts of the walls to fuse seamlessly was very time consuming and quite difficult.
Overall, my organisation policy was awful. If I were to undertake a project in 3dsMax again layering, snapping and aligning would be the first things I would brush up on – and I would invariably use these features throughout the constructing phase. I’m not ever going to spend fifteen minutes trying to determine the width of a box to the width of a semicircle so that they fit on top of one another without any jutting out bits ever again.
Patience is something you really need for 3dsMax – but I find once you get into that graphic design trance where you forget about who or where you are and are thinking in shapes rather than words – it’s not too stressful a job to do. On one occasion I went in to the computer room at 9 in the morning, and by one o’clock I realised I had only one window-shaped hole cut into my wall to show for my effort.
Yet, for all its cannibalisation into one’s time, 3dsMax renders some amazing images for you — to the point that when you first see them you think “I didn’t really make that, surely!?”. And, in many respects, no, you didn’t. Using mental ray for textures involves the simple assignment of a bitmap image for a displacement map or a bump map, choosing the image for the diffuse colour if you like, adding more or less specular lighting or glossiness, whatever you like, and setting up lighting like photometric target or mr Sky Portal lights, and the rendering capabilities of mental ray will do the rest.