You may know 3d Studio Max as a design and animation program, but might not be aware of its effects features. These features are based on a physics engine, which simulates real-world, cause-and-effect relationships and phenomena, such as weather and object collisions.
The simplicity of particle systems, one of Max's effects, makes them ideal for learning first. Particle systems can simulate snow, rain, explosions, and similar phenomena.
Create a Particle System
1. Open 3ds Max. Press the "Reset" button under the application icon to clear away remnants from previous scenes, then open the "Particles" item under the "Create" menu.
Click the "Particle Flow Source" item, then drag the pointer over the default construction grid to create the particle object. It won't look like any standard object, but no part of the object itself will render yet. Do notice the prominent arrow at the object's center: it points down. You'll see shortly what that arrow refers to.
2. Drag the animation area's time slider at the bottom of the screen to watch the object emit particles downward---the direction referred to in Section 1. This effect tells you that there's already a lot of default functionality in the Particle Flow Source (also called PF source). But, you don't see true geometrical objects yet. The small crosses are stand-ins for them.
To see the actual geometric shapes put out by the PF source, go to any frame after the first and press "F9." You'll see cubes or a similar shape coming from the PF source.
View the Particle Control Panel
3. The 3ds Max program lets you manage particle systems with the "Particle View" control panel. Enter "Particle View" by first selecting the PF source object, then press the rainbow icon at the top of the control panel on the right side of the screen. This action displays the set of parameters for the PF source. Among them, find the "Particle View" button and press it.
The control panel for the PF source will open and display an array of physics-oriented parameters you can adjust. The "Event" pane lists actions or "Operators" that impact the PF source's behavior. One of the actions, "Display," controls how the PF source's particles appear in Max's modeling mode.
Select the "Display" item, then select the "Geometry" item from the "Item" list box toward the upper right of the "Particle View" window. Redo the animation time-slider movement and notice what PF source should be emitting in real-time: the cubes that you'd rendered earlier.
Change the Cubes to another Shape
4. You don't have to settle for a particle emitter with just one kind of particle. You can define your own particle. Create any kind of standard object on the construction grid: for example, a box, tree, or door.
Return to the "Particle View" and select the "Shape Instance" item from the large list of items at the bottom of the window. Drag an item over the existing "Shape" until a red line appears, then release the mouse.
This will replace the default PF source particle shape, but now you must select the new particle type. Select "Shape Instance," then press the "Particle Geometry Object-None" button on the right. Click the new shape you've created, then move the time slider again: the PF Source object now will emit the new object.
Explore the Particle View
5. Learn more about 3ds Max's effects and physics features by exploring the Particle View's operators and their parameters. Then, read the formal documentation for these features in the application tutorial topic "Special Effects."