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volume 1, issue 11

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Thinking Outside the Box:
Modelling Detris

By Paul "Villam" Steed

Another thing I've found myself doing of late that helps speed is doing my transforms in one window. Knowing and quickly changing your axes whether you're doing a move, scale or rotate transform is crucial to making the one window work, though. Since I've only recently begun using Max, I distinctly remember some confusion and frustration getting the axes down. However, I really dig hotkeys so I quickly embraced the F5, F6, F7 and F8 keys for my axis-switching instead of the buttons...

I still occasionally go to orthographic windows (left, right, front, top, etc.) for moves, scales and rotates yet for the most part I do almost everything in the perspective window. In this view by clicking on a vertex in my mesh I can use that selected point for my axis of rotation, quickly spinning and checking my model on any side. Some other hotkeys I use ALL the frickin' time besides F5, F6, F7 and F8 are 'z' for zoom and [ctrl] 'r' for rotate. These are my work horses since I'm constantly zooming in and out and looking all over my object.

So unless you have that plugin for max that gives you Alias-like marking menus, I strongly recommend the use of at least these hotkeys. Some miscellaneous ones I also use are [alt] 'h' for hiding selected geometry and [alt] 'u' for 'unhide all' geometry. Regardless, Grasshopper…USE HOTKEYS. They're easy to learn (like, uh… u-s-e them a few times) and the chronal units they save by adding to your rhythm is prodigious to say the least. Go right now to File/Preferences and get intimate with the Keyboard section. Go ahead. I'll wait.

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Another thing. This may sound strange but until recently I didn't use the 'edit mesh' modifier. I simply applied some modifier of choice and then collapsed the stack once I was satisfied with the results. This is probably because I didn't like a long string of entries in my modifier stack or I got that warning early on in my Max learnin' and figured, "Why use edit mesh if it won't let me go back earlier in the stack once I've made some changes?" Thing is, 'edit mesh' and 'editable mesh' do have some differences in the way they allow you access to at least edge and face sub-objects.

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We'll start with edge. Do this simple experiment. Make a perfect cube. Just make a box in the perspective window and type in 200, 200, 200 in the initial box creation parameters menu. Then convert it to an editable mesh by choosing appropriately after clicking on the stack icon. Click on 'zoom extents' and rotate the view into a nice 'corner on' view of the box.

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Turn off your grid (I find the grid very annoying most of the time - unless I need to measure or guide something of course) and go to 'edge' in the sub-object menu.

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Now, your 'backface cull' box should be checked automatically under Display so you should be seeing the above and the edges on the backside of the box are now visible. Wave your mouse over the edges in the foreground. Go ahead. Do it. What happens? A little cross pops up over the edge telling you it can be selected or messed with. Now wave your mouse over the edges that aren't in the foreground. Nothin'. Nada. Zip. No little cross. No action at all for you. This edge is playing coy and will make you do some work before you can affect it. To do that you'd have to [ctrl] 'r' your happy butt to the other side and then you'd get some. Again, this is accessing the sub-object menu via 'editable mesh'. The lowest of manipulation with no construction history which is the result of a collapsed stack or converted primitive. With me so far?

Okay. Now let's take the same box and apply an 'edit mesh' modifier to it. Go ahead. Select the box if you haven't already and click over there on 'edit mesh'. If it isn't visible go to where it says 'more' and find 'edit mesh'. Cool. Now try the same thing. Go to 'edge' under the sub-object menu and wave your mouse over any edge. Yeah, baby. This box is an easy box. Lascivious and wanton even.

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Notice also that this particularly accessible box automatically gives you the invisible diagonal edges as well. I'm constantly going to Display and UN-checking the 'edges only' box after I make something (I'll send a shirt to the first one who tells me how to keep from doing this all the time and have the invisible edges show all the time automatically when I create the object. Takers?)

Now look at face. When creating faces you have to make them connecting the dots in a counter-clockwise fashion using 'build face' once that button is lit. Now why in the hell is it that when you build faces on an object using 'edit mesh' you do NOT have the option to remove smoothing groups on a face by the 'clear all [smoothing groups]' button? Try it. Delete a face from your box while using the same 'edit mesh' modifier as before, build it again (counter-clockwise) and look at what you get when you go down to the smoothing group area of the menu.

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Now collapse the mesh's stack and do the same thing. Delete and rebuild a face. Select it and check out the extra option under the smoothing group boxes...

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Ah well. Hope this short trip kicking up modeling effluvia proved at least interesting. I apologize if I talked over your head or (a more likelier probability) brought up dumb stuff of no use to anyone. Next tutorial in two weeks we're going to choke our chicken. Be here next week when I wax philosophically.

Andy Rooney


- Paul Steed is an incredibly opinionated 3D artist at id Software. He bares no resemblence to Andy Rooney. loonyboi, however, does look strikingly like Ed Bradley.


Credits: Thinking Outside the Box logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Thinking Outside the Box is © 1998 Paul Steed. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't even try it. We've got really big guns, and we're ripped, baby.