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This will go over the basics of using 3D Studio MAX, including explaining options and modifying various parts of the interface (only those options that would help in modeling), and simple geometry creation and manipulation. This was made with 3D Studio MAX 4, but should work in other (newer) versions for the most part.


Viewport Settings

Viewport Configuration Menu

On the top toolbar, click on Customize, then Viewport Configuration, or right click on the viewport label (Top, Left, Front, Perspective, etc.) in the top left corner of a viewport and select Configure... at the bottom. This menu allows you to change various visual options regarding the viewports, such as their orientation, how they display objects, etc.

Rendering Method Tab

Rendering Level: These options control how the objects are shown in the viewports, you can set it to Smooth and Smooth + Highlights to see how the smoothing groups look. Facets and Facets + Highlights turns off the smoothing (only in the viewport, it doesn't remove the smoothing off of the actual model) so you can see how the individual polygons are aligned versus each other. Checking Edged Faces highlights all edges for all objects in the viewport so the polygons are easily noticeable.

Rendering Options: Disable Textures turns off the textures on objects. You can change the Default Lighting of the scene, 1 light or 2 lights, the alignment of the lights moves with the viewport. Use Selection Brackets turns off and on the broken rectangular brackets around the selected object. Display Selected with Edged Faces highlights all edges of the currently selected object.

Perspective User View: Field of View changes the angle at which the objects in the scene are shown, it also distorts the sizes of the objects by making their depths shorter (with a lower number), or longer (with a higher number). 45.0 is default, smaller numbers makes the far end of objects seem larger/closer because of distortion, this could be helpful in using Perspective viewport to edit vertices on long objects.

Layout Tab

Under this tab you can select different layouts of the viewports, from a single viewport, to one large with two or tree beside it, or the default four equal size viewports. Click on the preferred viewport, and at the bottom you can click on each one and change the view.

Viewport Context Menu

The viewport context menu is what you get when you right click on a viewport label. Here you have some of the same options you had from the Viewport Configuration Menu, such as Edged Faces , and Rendering Level options, and the ability to change which view the viewport is.

Show Grid: This turns off and on the grid in the currently selected viewport. This should be left on in the viewports, except for Perspective, since it’s not needed in this view for the most part.

Show Background: This turns off and on the Viewport Background if one has been applied, if there isn’t one in the currently selected viewport then this option will be disabled. If you need to zoom in a lot, then you’d turn off the background as the more you zoom in, the more memory it would take, after zooming in some you start getting a warning that it needs a certain amount of memory to display the background.

Undo and Redo: These undo and redo changes made to the viewport, such as zooming in/out, panning, rotating. The keys for these commands are Shift+Z, and Shift+A, respectively.

Viewport Background Menu


In this menu you can place an image into the background of a viewport to accurately model over. This menu can be accessed by either pressing Alt+B, or by clicking on Viewport Background in the Views menu on the menu bar.

Viewport Source: This is where you find the image to insert into the background of the viewport. You can browse and select the image by clicking on the Files... button.

Aspect Ratio: These options determine rather the image will be resized to match the viewport or not. Match Viewport resizes it to fit the viewport, Match Bitmap doesn’t, and is the option that will be needed. After Match Bitmap is selected, the Lock Zoom/Pan option becomes available, check this so that the image resizes and moves when panning and zooming, so it matches the objects in the viewport.

Configuring Button Sets

Configurebuttonset buttons.jpg

You can add and remove buttons in the Modify and Utilities tabs on the Command Panel, instead of searching through the drop down menu for a tool/utility every time, you can just click a button.

To assign a modifier or utility to a new button, under the Modify tab click on the Configure Modifier Sets button, then select Configure Modifier Sets. Under the Utilities tab just click on the Configure Button Sets button.
Configurebuttonset menu.jpg
In this menu you have the list of modifiers/utilities on the left, and the button configuration area on the right. To create a new button, increase the number in the Total Buttons text box towards the top, this creates a new blank button at the bottom of the below area. To assign a new modifier or utility to the button, find it in the list to the left, click and drag it over to the new blank button. You can move the buttons around by dragging one over another, when you let go, the buttons will then move around accordingly.

Button Setup

Modify Tab: Current setup: Edit Mesh, Mesh Smooth, Unwrap UVW, UVW Map, Optimize, and Smooth

Utilities Tab: Current setup: Polygon Counter, Texporter, Reset XForm, UVW Remove, and MAXScript

Assigning Shortcut Key Combinations


You can assign shortcut key combinations to modifiers, and other tools to quickly access certain ones.

Click on Customize User Interface in the Customize menu on the menu bar. You can see what keys are assigned to what by clicking in the Hotkey text box.

To assign for example, Shift+V to View Align (used to align vertices together or flatten an object), look through the selection box on the left for View Align (Mesh) towards the bottom and select it, click in the Hotkey text box on the right, press and hold down Shift, and then press V, then click on the Assign button just below it. Close this window when you’re finished assigning shortcut keys (it’s automatically saved).

Object Creation

Objects are created from the Create tab, under the Geometry section on the Command Panel. Towards the top of the Command Panel is a drop down menu, here you can select between the type of geometry that you can create. Only three of them will be covered, Standard Primitives and Extended Primitives will be covered in this section, Compound Objects will be covered later.

Creating objects usually consists of clicking and dragging to form the base, then letting go of the button and dragging up or down to create the depth of the object, then clicking again to set it. Other more complex objects (like the tube) or less complex objects (like the plane) require more or less (respectively) steps. To get out of creation mode (crosshair cursor), just right click. The creation of a object can also be canceled if you right click while dragging or before the object is set.

This will describe the how each of the types are created and the steps. Editing the objects will come later.

Standard Primitives

Teapot: Select Teapot, click in a viewport and drag in any direction to create it.

Sphere, and GeoSphere: Select Sphere, or GeoSphere, click in a viewport and drag in any direction to create it.

Plane: Select Plane, click in a viewport and drag in any direction to create it.

Box, Cylinder, and Pyramid: Select Box, Cylinder, or Pyramid, click in a viewport and drag in any direction to create the base, then let go and move the cursor up or down to create the depth.

Torus: Select Torus, click in a viewport and drag in any direction to create the base, then let go and move the cursor up or down to increase or decrease the thickness.

Tube: Select Tube, click in a viewport and drag in any direction to create the base, then let go and move the cursor up or down to increase or decrease the thickness, then click and let go and move the cursor up or down to create the depth.

Cone: Select Cone, click in a viewport and drag in any direction to create the base, then let go and move the cursor up or down to create the depth, then click and let go and move the cursor up or down to make it more or less tapered.

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