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The material editor in 3D Studio Max, while not made to Renderman specifications (the industry standard) is never less a very powerful tool for creating materials to apply to objects. In this write-up I’ll discuss the material viewer, how to apply materials to objects, the basic and extended parameters, as well as the Maps roll-out.

First, the viewer. In a reset Max scene, the material editor by default displays 6 materials (3x2). This can be changed to 2 other settings, 5x3 and 6x4, for 15 or 24 materials. Other options to the right (the string of buttons) are mainly preferences as well as changing the background for material display. Changing from a black background to a checked colored one is useful for transparent, semi-transparent, or translucent materials in order to see the effect against different colors.

To import a blank or pre-fab material into the editor from either a Material Library or the scene itself, you press the “Get Material” button, the left-most button below the material display rows. Note: just because a material is in a scene doesn’t mean it is in the material editor! Materials imported or merged into the scene will not show up in the Material editor until you use the “Get Material” button and choose the “From Scene” radio button on the left.

The basic parameters], thus named because of how they display in the track view, cover things like the diffuse, or base, color, the various sub-colors, as well as the Shininess and (in version 3) anisotropy. The extended parameters cover opacity and a few sundry parameters. All of these values can be animated and edited inside the track view. An important button, but one that is rarely mentioned (I almost forgot) is the effects channel selection button. The button by default appears as a “0” below the material display. This is primarily used in the video post in order to apply effects to single objects.

The basic and extended parameters are useful for simple materials, but in order to create more advanced (and thus more realistic) materials, one must use the maps roll-out below the basic parameters. Here is where 3D Studio derives it’s power in materials. Any basic or extended parameter is expanded here by allowing the use of “maps,” or images applied to various properties of the materials. For example, while in the basic parameters you can only set a single color as the diffuse color, suing the map roll-out you can apply a granite effect overlayed with a checker map to create a very...odd material. However, the real strength does not lie in single maps, the real power lies in creating composite maps by selecting, say, a checker map, then making each type of check a different map. Max allows an infinite number of layered materials, although at some point their is so little effect that it becomes a waste of texture memory. Following are a few pointers about some maps:
-For reflections, choosing reflect/refract slows rendering down considerably in complex scenes, while the renderer creates the maps. choosing “raytrace” instead allows for slightly less accurate but much faster rendering.
-In opacity maps (and any map that uses color selectors to denote levels of transparency) darker colors denote opacity, while lighter colors denote transparency. Thus white would be transparent, while black would be opaque.

The material editor, like the track view, is much, much larger than it first appears. There are also several roll-outs below the maps, such as SuperSampling, which I may cover in a later write-up.

Note: To read the differences between this editor and those built to Renderman specs, go here.

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