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Book Review: Mastering Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2011 by Mark Gerhard and Jeffrey M. Harper

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Autodesk 3ds Max Design provides a comprehensive, integrated rendering, 3D modeling, and animation software solution for architects, designers, civil engineers, and visualization specialists to ramp up quickly for production. Endorsed by Autodesk, the goal of Mastering Autodesk 3ds Max Design is to quickly get you up to speed using this powerful software package.

Mastering Autodesk 3ds Max Design is focused on design issues and not character animation or advanced special effects. What it does contain is step-by-step tutorials covering the primary functions of the software that you will use in the process of visualizing design projects. Mastering Autodesk 3ds Max Design is 960 pages and is divided into 15 chapters.

Chapter 1, “Getting to Know 3ds Design Max 2011,” will introduce some of the new special features and then gets you working with the 3ds Max interface. You will then learn how to navigate and configure viewports, dock and float toolbars, copy objects and use the transform tools, as well as creating a named selection set.

Chapter 2, “Introducing 3ds Max Objects,” shows you that you can create just about any kind of object from a handful of basic shapes. You will learn about primitives, extended primitives, splines, as well as how to apply a modifier, make a clone of a 3ds Max object, and how to manipulate a group.

Chapter 3, “Creating Shapes with Splines,” continues with the creation of objects, but now works in detail with splines. These are more primitive than the primitives that you worked with in chapter two. These allow you to create more varied forms than you can working with primitives. Here you will draw shapes with splines, outline and extrude splines, as well as modify closed splines with Boolean tools.

Chapter 4, “Editing Meshes and Creating Complex Objects,” looks at fact that since now you have created these basic objects, you need to learn how to add openings to the walls. You will also see how to import scanned images that you can use to trace, designate a modeling template image, attach objects to a mesh, and create clones with Array and Snapshot.

Chapter 5, “Working with External Design Data,” examines how you can work with other AutoCAD -based software applications more directly in with 3ds Max. You will do this by importing 2D line drawings as a starting point and use them to create 3ds Max geometry.

Chapter 6, “Creating AEC Objects,” focuses on creating parametric architectural objects – wall, windows, railings, etc. If you don’t have a parametric building program, you can use AEC (architectural, engineering, construction) objects to create models of buildings.

Chapter 7, “Organizing and Editing Objects,” continues to work on the model you have been developing, but now explores how to organize your work using object names and layers as well as aligning one object’s location based on the location of another.

Chapter 8, “Light and Shadow,” will show you how you can control the appearance of the objects that you build through the manipulation of lights and shadows. It is lighting that is one of the three main elements that affect the look of your models – the other two are materials and cameras, and this chapter focuses on lighting.

Chapter 9, “Enhancing Models with Materials,” examines the second of the three main elements that affect your models. In this chapter you will be introduced to both forms of the Material Editor – the Compact Material Editor and the Slate Material Editor, and how to design, edit and use materials.

Chapter 10, “Using the 3ds Max Camera,” completes the last of the main elements by working with the camera. What this chapter shows you is how to set up for a virtual photo shoot. You will see how to place a camera and set up the relationship of the subject being shot and the surrounding area.

Chapter 11, “Organizing Objects and Scene Management,” describes that a scene is all of the models, materials, effects, and externally referenced files contained within a single .max file. This chapter shows you how you can access and utilize your scenes while developing your renderings and animations.

Chapter 12, “Understanding Animation,” looks at how you can bring your renderings to life through the use of animation. You will learn how to carefully choreograph each camera move, change of lighting, and object movement to create a natural flow through time.

Chapter 13, “Creating Animations,” now builds on what you learned from the last chapter and begins looking at rendering the animation and saving them as files. You will learn about presets that will save you time, how animations differ from still images, and how to put a 3ds Max scene file together.

Chapter 14, “Advanced Rendering Using Mental Ray,” which 3ds Max 2011 comes with an updated version of Mental Ray. Here you will learn about some of the more advanced features and with high dynamic range (HDR) image files.

Chapter 15, “Finishing It Off: Atmosphere, Effects, and Compositing” looks at how you can add to the appearance of objects in your scene without actually adding any geometry. They fall into two categories – atmospheric effects, and rendering effects. These can give your scenes a much more realistic look and feel.

Mastering Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2011 is a very well organized book and detailed in its approach to using 3ds Max Design. Because it is the official guide, it can be used for achieving certification. One of the appendixes contains an exam preparation map for each of the topics and the related chapter that the material is covered in.

If you want to learn and understand 3ds Max Design and take your skills to the next level, or if you have been working with it for a while and now want to truly understand how to make the most of this complex software, then I highly recommend Mastering Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2011.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.