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Taking the Surprises out of Importing an Adobe Illustrator File into 3ds max 4

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When you're importing Adobe Illustrator files into 3ds max 4, the files may look fine in the viewports but be really small or have incorrectly applied B麩er vertex handles. This article tells you how to make sure that your Illustrator file imports correctly into 3ds max 4.
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Often things aren't what they seem when you're importing Adobe Illustrator files into 3ds max 4. Sometimes the sizing of the object is wrong. Sometimes Bézier vertex handles are incorrectly applied, sometimes Illustrator imports more vertices than necessary to accomplish the shape, and sometimes the Illustrator files import amazingly small in the scene, even though they look fine in the viewports. Some of these problems are the result of the Illustrator artist's working style, and others are a direct result of the import process. Because of these potential problems, it's important that you examine the scale of the imported Illustrator file immediately after you import it. To avoid problems, I recommend that you measure the size of the imported Illustrator shape to understand what you are working with.

To import the Adobe Illustrator file as a single shape into a 3ds max 4 scene and to check its measurements (see Figure 1), follow these steps:

Figure 1 The Illustrator file to be imported into 3ds max 4.

  1. Click the link for and save it to your hard drive.

  2. Choose File > Reset to reset 3ds max 4, and then choose File > Import to open the Select File to Import dialog.

  3. Change the Files of type to Adobe Illustrator (*.AI), navigate to the correct folder, select the file, and click Open.

    The AI Import dialog opens ( Figure 2). Because you just reset 3ds max, you can choose either option in this dialog box: one option merges into the current scene (which is currently reset), and the other option resets the scene and then imports the shapes.

    Figure 2 The import choices of the AI Import dialog.

  4. Leave Merge objects with current scene active and click OK to accept the default.

    The Shape Object dialog opens ( Figure 3). The Import Shapes As options in the dialog are pretty straightforward. Either the shapes are imported as one shape with multiple spline sub-objects, or as individual shape objects, one spline each. I usually leave the Illustrator file as a single object and decide later what needs to be individual shapes.

    Figure 3 The Import Shape options of the Shape Import dialog.

  5. In the Shape Import dialog, leave the default Single Object option active, click OK to import the shape ( Figure 4), and then name the imported Illustrator shape Vic01.

    Figure 4 The file is imported into 3DS Max as one shape.

  6. From the Create panel, choose Create > Helpers > Tape. Watch the Length value in the Create panel, and drag the mouse in the Top view from the leftmost side of the imported splines to the rightmost side. Don't release the mouse button: just note the length of the tape. (In my case, it's slightly over 15 units.) Right-click to exit the tape creation.


    Using the tape helper is very helpful when you need to get specific linear measurements quickly.

  7. If you accidentally created a tape helper, select it the tape helper and press the Delete key to delete it from the scene.

    The fact that the shape is roughly 15 units across from left to right means that the shape isn't very large in the scene. Its smallness could have an adverse effect on your work. Take a minute to examine why.

  8. Making sure Vic01 is selected, open the Modify panel and apply an Extrude modifier. In the Parameters rollout of the Extrude modifier, change the Amount to 1 (Figure 5).

    Figure 5 The Vic01 shape now has an extrusion of 1 unit applied.

    The extrusion that resulted from an amount of 1 is far too large for me. When I work on scenes, I prefer to be working in whole numbers. I don't like to be forced to use decimal points while I am working. You can avoid the problem by scaling up the size of the shape; However, you need to be careful with how you apply the scale. In these steps, you apply the scale using two different techniques so that you get a clear picture of the dangers of scaling the incorrect way.

  9. In the Modify panel, click the Remove modifier from the stack button to delete the Extrude modifier from the Vic01 shape.

  10. With Vic01 selected, apply an XForm modifier in the Modify panel.


    The XForm modifier allows you to apply transforms to objects before the rest of the stack affects them.

  11. Activate the Select and Uniform Scale tool, and activate Offset Mode Transform Type-In on the status bar. (You should now only be able to enter a value in the X: field of the Transform Type-In.) With the XForm sub-object gizmo still active, enter X: 3000 percent in the Transform Type-In.

    The XForm gizmo scales the shape to 3000 percent, and the X: Value returns to 100 on the Transform Type-In ( Figure 6). I can't give you a technical reason for choosing 3000 percent when I scale an Illustrator file. It's just the number I use when I work with AI files and it seems to work. If you adjust the views, you can see the Vic01 shape again.

    Figure 6 The XForm modifier scales the Vic01 shape.

  12. Click the Zoom Extents All button to view all the Vic01 shape again ( Figure 7).

    Figure 7 The scene with Zoom Extents All applied.

    It doesn't look much different than when we first imported it. However, to 3ds max, it looks much different: It's much larger. Why don't you use the tape again to verify its size.

  13. Choose Create > Helpers > Tape. Then, while watching the Length value in the Create panel, drag in the Top view from the leftmost side of the Vic01 shape to the rightmost side ( Figure 8). Right-click to cancel the creation of the tape helper.

    The shape is about 460 units wide now, and you're ready to apply an Extrude modifier again to see how it looks.

    Figure 8 Use the tape tool to measure the Vic01 shape in the Top view.

  14. Make sure the Vic01 object is selected and open the Modify panel. Apply an Extrude modifier; the Amount should still be set to 1 ( Figure 9).

    Figure 9 The Extrude amount of 1 is less obvious now.

    The Extrude modifier applies an extrude with an amount of 1. Thanks to the scaling from the Xform gizmo, the Vic01 shape is much larger. This allows you to work with whole numbers when adjusting values in the Extrude and Bevel modifiers. If you want to see what would have happened if you hadn't applied the XForm before you scaled the shape 3000 percent, follow the next few step.

  15. Activate the Select and Move tool (on the View XY axis). In the Top view, Shift+drag the Vic01 object to the right. Place the new shape object slightly to the right of the original. Release the mouse button, and the Clone Options dialog opens (Figure 10).

    Figure 10 The Clone Options dialog.

  16. In the Clone Options dialog, leave the default settings and click OK to exit the dialog and clone the Vic01 shape. Click Zoom Extents All ( Figure 11).

    Figure 11 The newly copied Vic02 shape is to the right of the original Vic01 shape.

    Now remove all the modifiers just added from the Vic02 shape.

  17. Make sure the Vic02 shape is selected and open the Modify panel. Make sure the Extrude modifier is active and click the Remove modifier from the stack button to delete it. Make sure that the XForm modifier is selected, and click the Remove modifier from the stack button to delete it ( Figure 12).

    Figure 12 The modifiers have been deleted from the Vic02 shape.

    Now that the modifiers have been removed from the Vic02 shape, it returns to its original tiny state. Now let's see what would have happened if you hadn't used the XForm modifier to scale the shape.

  18. With the Vic02 shape selected, activate the Select and Uniform Scale tool, making sure that Offset Mode Transform Type-In is still active. Enter X: 3000 to scale the Vic02 shape up 3000 percent ( Figure 13).

    Figure 13 The Vic02 shape is now 3000 percent larger again.

    Great. Now you're back where you started, and you can apply that Extrude modifier one last time.

  19. With Vic02 selected, apply an Extrude modifier, making sure that the Amount is 1 (Figure 14).

    Figure 14 The Vic02 shape has an Extrude of 1 applied.

    Both shapes have an Extrude modifier with an amount of 1 applied to them. The shape on the left was scaled up using an XForm modifier (with the extrude applied after the scale transform). The shape on the right was scaled up without an XForm modifier (with the extrude applied before the scale transform).

    Now that I have driven home the importance of scaling using the XForm modifier, you can clean up the scene a little.

  20. With Vic02 selected, choose Edit > Delete to delete it from the scene, and then click Zoom Extents All.

    Since you no longer need the Extrude modifier on the Vic01 object, remove it.

  21. Select Vic01, and, in the Modify panel, click the Remove Modifier from the stack button to remove the Extrude modifier ( Figure 15).

    Figure 15 The Extrude modifier has been removed from the Vic01 shape.

    Since you want to keep the scale that resulted from the XForm modifier, collapse the stack to Editable Spline.

  22. In the Top view, right-click the Vic01 shape and choose Convert To > Convert to Editable Spline.

  23. Save your work.

    You now have imported an Illustrator file into 3ds max 4 and are ready to begin working on it.

About this article

This article is excerpted from 3ds max 4 Media Animation by John P. Chismar (New Riders Publishing, 2001, 0-7357-1059-7).

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