This tutorial will be focused on teaching the basics of using and creating materials in 3ds Max. To begin, the main thing that I want to express is that in order to discern materials in a 3D scene, you have to have lighting. You can't simply avoid this step. You should have at least a basic lighting rig setup that comes close to the scene that you will be using. How else will you be able to tweak the parameters of the materials if you do not know how light is affecting your object?
I am not going to go into detail here about how light works; here is a link for more information on this matter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light
For argument's sake, let's just agree that we need light in our scene before we begin dealing with materials. Here we will create a version of the most basic light rig, the 3-point lighting setup.
We will look at how to create a basic lighting rig, using just the Scanline Renderer in Max. We then will begin to look at how to setup your materials. I will also show you how to use just about every map slot in the material editor and what they can be used for when it comes to your 3D scenes.
Basic Lighting Rig
First, let's create our light rig. Fire up Max and let's create a Target Direct light in the Perspective View. Left-click once to create the actual light source out on the parameter of the home grid, then drag out to the centre of the grid and left click again to create the light's target. Hopefully I won't have to explain in detail the step of creating a light anymore. We are going to create an exterior scene so this first light will be our sun, hence the use of a Direct light (Fig.01). More on this in a minute.
We have created the first light of our 3-point lighting setup. Here is an example of what we are going for from Wikipedia (Fig.02).
So now that we have our main Key light, which in this case is going to represent our Sun, we can easily create the rest of lights. Notice we didn't move the light at all; it is resting flat on the Z axis. Again, this will help us in our total creation process. Okay, while holding Shift and using the Move tool, go ahead and move our Direct light over to create Fill light 2 to reflect Fig.02, and rename this light Fill Light 1 (Fig.03).
While we're at it, we might as well rename our first light to Key Light.
Let's go back to our first Fill light and go ahead and copy it over to make our second fill light (Fig.04).
Now we are going to add one more light and this is going to be our Backlight. This light is going to be used to give our scene or more importantly our main objects, i.e. characters, a little backlight to better separate them from the background.
This will be used on a per shot basis, more on this later as well.
Go ahead and copy our fill light once more and place it in our fourth position and rename it Backlight (Fig.05).
Good, here is the basis for our lighting setup. Now it is time to go in and start tweaking.
For this we obviously are going to need some geometry. So here we go:
Create a sphere and a plane so that you have this now in your scene (Fig.06).
Alright, now that we have base geometry, let's go in and start tweaking our lights. Here is where you need to focus on principles and not so much on where I place this light or how much I change some value.
Each lighting setup you create will be adjusted based on each scene.
First let's move our Key light up to around 50 units on the Z axis, our fill lights to around 25 or so and our backlight a little higher than them all. Remember, you determine the placement when it's your project so don't get concerned, just try to replicate this as quick as you can (Fig.07).
What you should notice now is that our lighting is very blown out. Here is a quick render (Fig.08).
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