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Particle Effects in 3ds max 4

Kim Lee explains particle classes and parameters common to each particle system, and then puts those concepts into practice with a sample project.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Particle Classes

In 3ds max 4, there are three classes of particle systems: Simple, Super, and Third-Party.

Simple Particles systems were the first ones included in Max 1 and these include Spray and Snow. They are considered simple because they contain only a few parameters and are designed for the most basic effects. Spray and Snow are still integrated and interactive, making them a big step up from their ancestors, the AXPs of 3d Studio DOS.

Super Particles systems were added in Max 2 by Yost Group members Eric and Audrey Petersen. This extended particles a bit further and in the process completely decentralized them. SuperSpray, Blizzard, and PCloud are nearly identical, except for the way they emit particles. SuperSpray emits particles from a point in space directionally in a stream that can be spread out conically or thin and wide like a fan. Blizzard emits from an invisible rectangular surface, and PCloud emits from within a geometric volume.

PArray is the only Super Particles system that differs more than any other. PArray emits particles from the geometry of objects and has the most options for determining what those particles are composed of. Unique to PArray is instanced geometry and fragments. Instanced geometry references an object in the scene to use for particles. Examples of such would be complex geometry such as detailed rocks or animated hierarchies such as a bird made up of several objects. Object fragments are created by placing particles on the surface of an emitter object, and then using that object's geometry to create fragments. A simple example would be to generate fragments from a cube. Each triangle polygon forming the cube is detached and becomes particle geometry. Where the particles move, the fragments move. This is a simple method that retains a few parameters to control how many fragments are created and how thick they are. Unfortunately, because they're working exclusively with triangle polygons, their results tend to be synthetic looking.

Third-Party particle systems are easily integrated into 3ds max 4 via its extensible architecture. Most Third-Party particle systems are specialized and operate uniquely compared to one another.

One common production add-on to the existing particle systems in 3ds max is Particle Studio from Digimation, an event-driven particle system that enables a nonlinear and flexible particle workflow. In this method of working, particle systems are organized into blocks of events, the timing of which can be determined relatively, absolutely, or by particle age. Oleg Bayborodin, the developer of Particle Studio, has effectively balanced speed, ease of use, flexibility, and capability into a particle system for 3ds max 4.

Cebas Computer's ( Matterwaves particle system is unique because it contains bitmap-driven parameters. Users can, for example, use a bitmap applied to emitter geometry to determine the rate of emission. This can be slow to work with, but has its merits. Cebas also recently released its flagship event-driven particle system, Thinking Particles. This is a highly procedural approach, building on the workflow method of Particle Studio—or Side Effects' Houdini, for that matter—but also greatly expanding upon it. My first impressions are that this is an overly complex particle solution, though, it's probably the most capable and flexible currently available to 3ds max users.

Next Limit's ( RealFlow is a standalone computational fluid dynamics simulator that has hooks into 3ds max 4. Because it treats particles as fluids in a medium and allows for particle-to-particle interaction, RealFlow can simulate substances such as viscous fluids and gasses realistically.


Prior to Max 1 in 1996, particle systems were rudimentary in 3d Studio DOS. Most (if not all) were third-party products, and only a few gave any sort of method of visualization or feedback. The AXP plug-ins tended to be in a small window with a few parameters to describe the particle system. Users had to render frames to see how the particles looked and moved.

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