Is 3ds Max easy?

> Recently I’m starting a simple project w/ 3DS MAX, and I was just
> wondering how good people are at this program. I’ve viewed the recent
> Haloid and Road series by Monty Oum, and the choreography was simply
> amazing.

A “simple project w/3DS MAX”? What’s that? :) No, seriously, You might
start out with a simple idea, but you’ll probably not keep the project
that way. One reason is that you’ll realize how much 3ds can add to
your project and want to change your requirements to suit your new
potential with it.

But to say that a game trailer, or something/anything else you’re
referring to, is typically done with a single program is probably an
over-simplification. Different programs do different things well, and
the shrewd among us only use the best at each task for that task
instead of trying to use a single program. Many tools aren’t software
applications. Depending on what you’re doing, you’ll need a lot of
photography experience if you want other things to be easy, or you’ll
need some physics-even 3d game physics-to make sense out of what your
mind sees in a way that makes the transition to a media simple. Note:
I didn’t say “easy”, I just said “simple”! :)

So you want to know how good someone is? I’ve thought for a while
about how I would throw my opinion into this thread, and I think the
best way is to explain that you can use any software poorly and be
“good”. I never confuse proficient with good, or even with talent-much
less creativity. A good recipe needs a little of this, and a little of
that. But while you see the same ingredients in your kitchen, you can
make wildly different dishes-some even good! :)

The reason is that just like in cooking, there are more ways to mess
things up than to do it right, and only you will know your mistakes
because they will be known to you as time. Inefficiency comes with a
lack of knowledge and experience with software-and most everything
else, eh? Inefficiency is the devil’s fuel. It serves no other purpose
than to create frustration, which then permits compromise and
mistakes. Have you ever met a master and had them tell you their
“short-cuts”? Short-cuts only exist for those with a job to do-not

But here is where things get interesting. The art of art is in knowing
what to mess with, and more importantly what not to mess with. With
3ds there are a ton of “tricks” to use to simply make render time
faster. They each come at a price, but the knowledgeable user/
programmer (yes, I’m not leaving out MAXScript) knows which objects
can be low poly, which objects to exclude from radiosity calculations,
which objects should be transparent maps casting fake shadows, etc.-
all without affecting the user experience.

If you’re experienced with computer programs, you can smell
inefficiency in your actions, which should force you to read some more
of the books you should have on the software. I read each book cover
to cover, forget almost all of it, then use it in my work-because I at
least know the answer I’m looking for is in there somewhere!

> So, a person like him can obviously recite the hotkeys
> like…well….let’s just say he basically has all the hotkeys
> memorized.

The cooking example serves well here (get it?)… People learn hotkeys
because it is inefficient to use a mouse to find pull-downs all the
time. It starts to hurt your mouse/trackball hand. There are some
pretty slick trackballs out there that have lots of programmable keys,
but I’ve staved off surgery with a combination of mouse and Kensington
Expert Mouse (optical).

The lesson here is that learning hotkeys earns you nothing. Nobody
knows what hotkeys were used in a rendering or animation.

> I was wondering, in order to succeed at a 3 min 3D animation, is
> familiarity with the program a must? I mean, I only know (and use)
> about 30% of the hotkeys, and seeing my progress recently, it’s going
> to take muuuch longer than anticipated.

I make animations much longer than that, and the ones I make are
relatively simple. In architecture you use mostly camera and lights on
static models/scenes. What you mean to accomplish in 3 minutes’ air
time will determine the answer to this question. You only need 30% of
the available, pre-configured hotkeys.

> What are your views on this? Is it a must for a filmmaker to be
> completely at home w/ a program to be productive?

I’ve been around animators since I was a kid living next door to Chuck
Jones. The charitable causes work I do brings me into contact with a
bunch in a variety of media. These folks are not what they themselves
would call “filmmakers”. They look at technology like 3ds differently
than I do. They are “artists”. We can sit down for lunch, and I’ll
break out my laptop and show them a rendering I just did, soliciting
their opinions. But to convey what they have been doing they all start
drawing on the tablecloth! To them, I’m cheating!

If you are a filmmaker, then you already know the importance of
understanding your equipment. The more you understand your cameras,
for example, the more you can make them do. If you have assumptions as
to how each tool can be used, your work will never grow.

> Also, has anyone here done some hardcore 3D action scenes (fighting
> animations)? Does it take forever to hand-animate the sequence?

This is a strange way of saying this, to me. There is only one case
where I “hand-animate”, and that is a special case of setting up a TON
of still shots for an overnight render (another subject). I always use
keyframes otherwise.

There are some things that you’ll need to do regardless of the tools
you choose. Skinning a character and placing keyframes for your scene
and characters is the least you can get away with. Try:

3ds Max Animation with Biped
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: New Riders Press; Pap/Cdr edition (March 9, 2006)
ISBN-10: 0321375726
ISBN-13: 978-0321375728

…as a primer. The book talks about skinning, too, which is required
to bring your characters to life-or at least put flesh on them!

Is 3ds hard? No.
Are there “easy” programs out there? Yes.
Can you make a simple movie with any of them? Yes.
Can you make a movie trailer like the one you mentioned above with a
single piece of software? No.
Will knowing hotkeys make you an “artist”? No.
Can you be just as effective with 3ds as with a tablecloth? Yes. (They
usually autograph them for the staff!)
Are software tools like 3ds complicated? Yes. Things would suck if
they weren’t. You’d run out of road long before your imagination
reached it’s destination otherwise.

You can be as effective as you want to be. You just have to decide how
much you want your tools to help you re-create what your imagination

Bogus Exception

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