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Creating game assets in 3ds Max

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Date Added: 9th July 2016
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Veteran environment artist, Andrew Finch, shows you how to create game
assets in 3ds Max


The new generation of games is here. With the introduction of new hardware - the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One - boundaries can now be pushed further, and quality and realism have taken huge leaps. Games studios have the hardware available to allow them to push the limits further than before.

I want to give you an introduction into creating a next generation asset. This tutorial will take you through the process of creating a single asset and presenting it in a way ready for your portfolio. You will be guided through the modeling and texturing, and also how to author PBR (physical based rendering) maps which will ensure the asset is ready for the next generation of games. I will be using 3ds Max for the modeling and UVing of the asset.

Step 1: Rough block-out

First we'll use simple 3ds Max primitives such as the box and cylinder to block out the rough shape and dimensions of the asset. Using photos for reference, create the basic shape, but don't go too detailed as this is only a guide. (This is normally referred to as a "whitebox asset".)

Place a 1.8m Biped in the scene for comparison. This is handy if you don't have a blueprint or dimensions to work from, as it gives us a good sense of scale and proportion next to an adult human figure.

Blocking out the rough dimensions and shape using the biped as a comparison

Step 2: Refining the basic shape

Convert the box primitive into an editable mesh and use Edge Select to push and pull edges into the basic shape of the main body. Once the basic shape is made, select the two upper edges and Chamfer them to give a rounded edge. (A chamfer is a type of bevel effect.) This is important as it will help catch the light and give a more natural, solid feel to the geometry.

It's important to keep your mesh clean and tidy, so remove any stray edges and use the Cut tool to join edges to the open ends of the polys. To save doing duplicate work, you can cut the mesh in half and apply a Symmetry modifier, which will mirror your edits to the other side of the mesh, making sure it's perfectly symmetrical.

Adding more detail to the mesh to refine the shape of the main body

Step 3: Spline modeling

To create more complex geometry, I start by using splines to block out the desired shape. The good thing about using splines is that they're non-destructive, and if you find the shape isn't quite right you can go back down your modifier stack and make edits.

Here I've outlined the support for the crane arm. I used Bezier Curves to get the curvatures to follow the desired shape. Once you're happy with the shape, add an Edit Mesh modifier to the stack, which will give you all the regular poly modeling tools to flesh out the geometry. If you are not happy with the shape in 3D, go back down the stack to the spline and edit the shape.

Using splines to create complex geometry shapes

Step 4: Finalizing the arm support bracket

Continue to add chamfered edges because it really adds a lot to the final look of the asset. On the main support, I add a 0.005cm Chamfer, which is small but will be enough to let the light roll around the surfaces of the metal geometry.

Notice I also add two small upright supports to add strength to this section. It's important to follow real-life engineering and design. Also, when we come to texturing, we can draw in seams where different surfaces meet. This all makes the asset believable and realistic in our final renders.

Symmetry modifier mirrors the edits, cutting your work in half

Step 5: Hydraulic strut modeling

Start off with a basic cylinder primitive and place it roughly in the right place. Apply an Edit Poly modifier and use the Bevel tool to extrude and expand polys, blocking out the rough shape of the strut. I haven't added a lot of geometric detail here because it's not going to be that visible (it's going to be in shadow). I want the materials to do a lot of the work for us, making it look like there's detail when there really isn't. As long as you get the silhouette correct this is all this element needs.

Thinking about how this asset operates in real life aids us in the modeling process

Step 6: Base framework

To model the base framework, create a rectangular spline shape, and use the Snap tools to snap it to the corner vertices of the generator. In the rendering options for the spline, tick "Render in viewport", this turns the spline into a 3D mesh. You have the option to use radial or rectangular geometry; as this is the main support frame, I use the rectangular option. I find using a length of 6.0cm and a width of 4.0cm gives me a mesh that looks sturdy enough. Align the mesh perfectly with the main generator body by adding an Edit Mesh modifier and pulling the vertices into the correct position.

Spline modeling the base framework using rectangular geometry

continued on next page >

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