Getting Started in 3DS MAX 3.0

Except where otherwise noted, "click" means "click with your left mouse button" and LMB, RMB, and MMB mean Left, Right, and Middle mouse buttons, respectively.

In any tool as powerful and multi-faceted as 3DS MAX 3.0 is, it is important to understand the basics of maneuvering in the program before you begin to experiment with the more complex features it offers.

When you first launch the software, you should see a panel on the far right which looks like the one shown here. This is the "Create / Geometry" rollout. Note that several very basic shapes are listed. For our purposes, a teapot will do nicely (teapots are a 3D tradition – don’t ask me why).

  1. Click once on the teapot, and then click and drag in any of the 4 viewpoints (i.e. in the quad view). This will automatically make a uniformly scaled teapot object – when you stop dragging and release the mouse, the teapot’s initial size will be accepted. Don’t click and drag again, unless you want more teapots.
  2. Note that only one view port is active at any time. Whichever of the four view ports you have most recently clicked in will have a white outline around it – this is the active view port – and it is in this window that you are "working" at any given instant.


  3. Now use the "Name and Color" tab to set a name for the teapot – many users fail to develop a good naming habit, and later get into a lot of difficulty because of it. I called my teapot "silly_pot", but any name will do, just to establish the good habit.
  4. We now have something to navigate around and look at. Let’s begin by understanding the view controls. The eight buttons pictured below are found in the lowermost right hand corner of the MAX display. Knowing how to use them is totally necessary if you want to be productive in 3DS MAX.
  5. The two magnifying icons in the top row are just what they seem to be-> zoom controls. The plain magnifying glass zooms the current window, while the magnifying glass with the red grid behind it zooms all the windows. To use them , click on them, and then drag in the quad views.

    The Eye / Magnifying glass icon at the left end of the bottom row is the "zoom in on this region" button when you have an isometric view selected, and is a dolly-the-camera button when you have a camera or perspective view selected.

    The hand icon serves as a "pan" feature, allowing the user to "slide around" in any view (also MMB ("middle mouse button") where your mouse supports it).


    The Circle with three arrows icon rotates the view (and so should NOT be used in the isometric views).

    The other three buttons are more global in their impact. The button in the very corner of the interface toggles between the "Quad" view, and a single view port interface. This is really helpful when it comes time to get in close on something – you can use the whole monitor to display a single view port.

    The final two icons are "fit" icons. They cause the views to be resized

    (not the objects) so that the objects exactly fill them. The button to

    the right fits all four view ports, while the one on the left fits only the selected view port.


    The preceding eight buttons are very important – take the time to get used to what they do – it will save you a lot of frustration later. As well, when you are modeling, remember to use these buttons to change the view so you can see what you are doing.

    Note: many buttons in 3DS MAX have more than one function – in some cases, you will see a little tiny black triangle which indicates that there are other choices for that icon – hold down your LMB to access them. For instance, the "fit all views button" has a modes which alternatively "fits all items in all views" or "fit selected items in all views".

    Clicking your RMB on any button will bring up either a numeric entry requester, or a configuration panel for that item.

  6. Next to this section are the Transport Controls. The tow row of these buttons function much like a VCR’s play, rewind, and so on.

The really big button marked "Animate" turns on "Automatic Keyframe Creation and Editing" – which is a handy way to animate.

The button that looks like a key toggles different key creation modes, while the button that looks like a clock allows access to the Time Configuration panel.

Work Habits, and Files in 3DS MAX

1. Scene Files:

2. Image Files:

File Management: (open Windows explorer, and set your self up right)

It is very easy to get confused when dealing with files in a 3D environment, not least because there are at least these two types of file, but also because users tend to have poor storage and naming habits (we’ll look at this problem later in the course). For now, try simply creating a folder structure like this one:

Where "projects" is a root folder in which you’ll place all of your 3D work – and give each project within the project folder it’s own folder (such as "My_Project_For_Today").

Where do you put this folder tree? In two places:

  1. On the local hard drive, choose whichever partition has the most free space, and create this structure in the temp folder.
  2. Next, copy the whole structure to your user account on the server.

Use the local file structure to store files while you are working, and then copy it over to the server when you are done. So, when you begin a session, copy your project from the server onto the local drive, and when you are done, copy it back. This will reduce network load, and therefore make everyone’s computer run better. As well, this ensures that you have a second copy of the files laying around while you are working, just in case.