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The Tools

Because Inside 3ds max 4 is primarily a book focused on the technical/tool side of the process, you explore some of the ways to take advantage of certain features of max that facilitate a good workflow. The following suggestions might not be ideal for your particular project, but they should inspire alternate approaches that might be more suitable.


  • Agree on a standard file-naming convention and centralized storage location.

  • Take the time to name objects in a file intelligently and consistently—whether it is a model, a texture, a light, a bone, or a glow effect.

  • Get in the habit of saving incrementally.

  • If you're unsure of the results of a procedure you plan to perform, use the Hold feature—often. The Hold feature is located in the Edit drop-down menu. Remember that executing a Hold actually saves your scene to a temporary file that gets overwritten every time you use it. However, even if max crashes, you can retrieve your last Hold file by using the Fetch feature.

  • Learn some basic MAXScript.

  • Whenever possible, create selection sets for models, rigs, lights, and so forth. This makes hiding and unhiding things much easier, which speeds up productivity.

  • Use the Pop-Up notes feature to include important comments that will appear for other artists when they open your file.

Layout and Previs

  • If time permits, always do a previs.

  • Create the previs as accurately as possible in terms of timing, camera moves, and overall action. Don't overwork the previs. It's more important to see whether the overall pacing of a scene is correct at this stage than it is to see whether a character is bending its knees correctly.

  • If possible, build the previs to the same scale as the real scene will be built. This way you might be able to swap in models and animation, using the previs file as a base.


  • Whenever possible, avoid collapsing an object's Modifier Stack. This maintains the object's history and allows easier changes.

  • Set up hotkeys or custom Quad menus to speed productivity.

  • Agree on a standard scene scale, especially if many artists will be building models for the same project.

  • If Xrefs will be used in production, use the master model to make low-res proxy versions to speed the animation process.

Texturing and Mapping

  • If possible, use individual modifiers to assign Material IDs to sub-object selections and to apply mapping coordinates. This enables you to easily make changes without having to dig into one Editable Mesh, Poly, or Patch entry. It also makes your work transferable, because the modifiers can be copied to other objects.

  • When picking bitmap files for use in a material, consider whether others will be opening the file and whether they will be able to access the same map paths. If centralized storage is configured in your production environment, try to use UNC paths so that every machine can see the same path.

  • Name materials and maps intelligently.

  • Create Material Libraries to facilitate the use of your materials in other scene files.

Rigging and Setup

  • Get in the habit of giving bones unique names and/or a prefix for the particular character. Make sure to do the same for any Helper or Manipulator objects used.

  • If you know your rig will be merged into other files, be aware that when using constraints, the object you are constraining to will be merged even if it is not selected in the object merge list. You might want to create a temporary proxy object for your constraints for merging purposes.

  • Talk to the animators at length to get a good idea of what kind of motion they need the rig to do.


  • If applicable, use the capabilities of controller lists to allow animation to be added in layers. This makes trying out alternate animation performances easier without having to change existing keyframes.

  • Use the RAM Player whenever possible to compare and examine animations.

  • When feasible, use the Xref features of max to include externally referenced models in your scene.


  • Name lights intelligently, especially when you know they might be merged into other scene files.

  • If possible, work closely with the texture/mapping artists and the rendering artists.


  • Use UNC paths wherever possible, especially when using network rendering.

  • Whenever it will speed production, render separate passes (elements) for compositing purposes.

  • If you really want or need to use a post effect from the max side, render it as a separate pass also.


  • Make sure to sit down with the artists who will be doing the compositing and make a checklist of everything they need. A few of the things you should not forget to discuss are Alpha Channels, frame rates and counts, pixel aspect ratios and frame resolution, image file formats, and compression types, if applicable.

  • Don't use the compositing phase as a crutch for 3D. Remember that compositing is supposed to add the icing to the cake, not fix the baking stage.

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