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3D Studio Max/Design


3D Studio Max/Design (3ds) is a polygonal-based software developed by Autodesk. This powerful tool is used for everything from games and animations to sketching and architectural renderings. For architects common use, it could be splitted into two main categories, 3D-modelling and rendering (creating computer generated illustrations).

When it comes to 3D-modeling, it is important to know that Max is not meant to be accurate. It is not suitable for making correct plans, sections and so on, but rather sketch something that you imagine but can’t draw on a paper.
When modelling, you often start with primitives like boxes, sylinders, spheres etc. You can also start with creating a line, and is in many ways similar to SketchUp’s ways of creating 3D-models. The difference is that 3ds is a much more powerful tool and doesn’t have any problems with organic shapes. When knowing this tool well, it is a handy and effective way of sketching and/or preparing the render.

Even though you don’t know how to model in 3ds, you could be skilled in rendering. Using .3ds, .dxf or .dwg, you can import from most sorts of 3D-software. This includes Rhino, Sketchup, Revit, Archicad and many others.
If you only want OK and quick renders, Artlantis and such programs could be a tool for you. If you want to spend a bit more time learning rendering and want great, super-realistic render, Max is better tool. It could be a bit confusing in the beginning, but  when learned the basics, it gives you a lot more powerful parameters to tweak.
When making renderings, you apply materials to the components, add lights to the scene, set up a camera, adjust some render settings and then Render. Completed renders are often adjusted and edited in programs as Photoshop. Todays technology makes images sometimes hard to different real from fake.


Additional pages

Get 3D Studio Max/Design

3D Studio Max Design is a windows only program, if you need to run it on a mac, you can find help here.

You can download 3D Studio Max Design, along with many other programs from Autodesk, from their student portal. Please make sure you register with your whole name and as a student of NTNU. When you have registered you can both download the software and get access to your own serial number.School access: We have 3D Studio Max Design installed at the Computer lab, but since it is freely available to you, just download it on your laptop.  For common users, there are no differences between 3D Studio Max and 3D Studio Design. Autodesk markets different names to different users, but don’t worry about that, it doesn’t matter wich version you got.

Learning 3D Studio Max/Design: Basics

For the basics of 3ds, the best overview is essentials training. It is well made and following it you will be up to speed in a weekend or so. If you speak norwegian, you can use the norwegian forum when needing technical help or want to get comments on your work.
You can also find some old, but inspiring tutorials on Evermotion and for specific techniques there is of course youtube like for any other software.

Learning 3D Studio Max/Design: Intermediate

After learning the basics, you should probably start learning proper rendering, as it is one of the most used skills inside 3DS for architects. A good place to start is the built in Mental Ray engine and looking into making both exterior and interior renders, as the setup for these are usually pretty different - a sun/sky system for exterior work and a light-based scheme for interior work. This part takes quite some time to learn and even longer to master, but knowing a little bit about rendering will make your life a lot easier. A good, if dated, video can be found on or you can check Autodesks 3DS learning channel on youtube.

Learning 3D Studio Max/Design: Advanced

For modeling and simple architectural rendering, the basic 3DS max package is more than enough. However, there is a world of possibilities - super realistic renderings, animating, fire, waves, buildings collapsing. All of this is possible, but you will need some extra plugins, detailed below. Start with learning how to beat the two biggest issues in architectural rendering, realistic water and plants, and have a look at Vray, one of the better architectural renderers on the market, or Maxwell, a ridiculously nice rendering engine available to a lot of programs.

  • Maxwell, a top notch renderengine.
  • Vray: This plugin gives you physical cameras (Iso, shuttertime, blender etc), advanced materials and realistic lighting. Probably the best renderengine for 3ds.
  • Dreamscape Realistic water surface simulation
  • FumeFX Fire and explotions!
  • FloorGenerator, Multimaterial Generates geometry floor-boars instead of only using textures.
Other Sources
Links and further studies

  • Cinema 4D is a good alternative from Maxon that also runs on Mac
  • Blender3D, a open source, but powerful software
  • Maya by Autodesk is very similar, but is more geared towards for animations
  • Modo is another great freemodeler with an extensive feature set and a good rendering engine
Notes and Appendix

Software develops incredibly fast and not everything on these pages might be updated. If you find any errors, please let us know.


3D Studio Max Design wont start.

Is you copy legal?

My move/scale/rotate tool is missing

Hit X


Version Date Author Comment
24 19.02.2013 20:34 CET Pasi Aalto Migrated to Confluence 5.3

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