onno van braam
computer graphics, webdevelopment


Polygon Modeling 1: Introduction

Conventions used:

- In the tutorials sometimes next to an action there is a number, for instance like (1), this refers to the next image in the tutorial and then the part of the image. So (1) refers to the most left part of the upcoming image.

- EP: Editable Poly
- VSO: Vertex Sub-Object
- ESO: Edge Sub-Object
- PSO: Polygon Sub-Object
- MS / MS'ing: MeshSmooth / MeshSmoothing


In these tutorials I will be covering the basics of editable poly-modeling in 3D Studio Max. From all the tools available when using editable polies to how to apply them and maybe more importantly: when to use them. I'll assume you have a basic idea of how 3D Max works, and where to find things, but don't worry if you don't since I'll try to use many, many (partial) screenshots and icons to make clear what I do. At the moment I use Max 5 so everything you see will apply to Max 5, but from what I have seen from the so called 'new features' PDF file of Max 6, they didn't improve any of the modeling. And therefore everything explained should apply to Max 6 without and problems.

State of Mind

I do not claim to know all, or that my techniques are the techniques and all other sucks. On the contrairy, everybody should develop his own style of modeling but it's always very useful to see other people do it. Since then you will see what he/she does differently and makes you think about your own and his/her way. You'll balance them in your head, and try to see the pro's and con's of each way and then decide: hm, this is smart, I'll try to use that, or think: bah, my way is more efficient or a bit of both of course. But any way: you are thinking about what you do and how you do it! This is essential, and is the basis of these tutorials: why do you do what you do? Have you ever thought about it? Probably because you think that what you are doing is best... and that may be true, but when you only know your own techniques, you will never know.
It might be that this all sounds like bollocks, but I think that in the end knowing how to model is all about a certain state of mind, an intuition, which is aquired by doing it a lot and looking at other peoples methods and techniques. Then when you have aquired this intuition, then and only then will you make progress in skill and art like never before. It will be this moment when you have confidence enough to jump in and model what you want! I must warn though, this moment doesn't come easily. It takes effort and dedication.

Alrighty, enough of the philosphical / psychological mumbling.

Editable Poly

Editable polies are a certain type of objects used in 3D Max. There's others like editable meshes, NURBS, spline objects etc., but the one we will be using solely is the editable poly. Why you ask? Because of many reasons:
- Do what a program does best: Max is perfect for polygon modeling if you ask me, as where Rhino rules the NURBS modeling waves.
- Editable poly has a vast amount of built in tools, opposed to editable meshes.
- EP's (I'll use EP from now on, in stead of Editable Polies) are very intuitive, even though when using MeshSmooth (which will be covered extensively) you are not WYSIWYG'ing (what you see is what you get), it still is a very simple, easy going way of modeling. Vertices, edges and polygons are simple and easy to comprehend mathematical objects.
- I use it for almost everything that I model, so it's logical that a tutorial I write is about the technique I use.

EP's are built up from vertices (zero dimensional objects: points), edges (1 dimensional objects: lines), and polygons (2 dimensional objects: surfaces). These are the three building stones with which almost everything in the 3D modeling world is built. You may create them differently (using NURBS, splines, meshes etc.), but when rendering you just need polygons to actually see something.

A Simple Start

Okay, we'll be starting here: start 3D Max, create any object of any size, it's just for explaining purposes, so for instance a box, then select it, right click on it, find the 'Convert to:' option and select 'Editable Poly'.

An other way of doing this is creating the object, open the modifier tab, right click on the object name (the one in grey) and select 'Convert to: Editable Poly'. In short: you need an EP.

When modeling with EP's, there are so-called sub-objects. I call it: 'you can go into vertex sub-object mode', by which I mean that when you go into this mode, you can edit the positions of the vertices of your EP. You go into sub-object mode by left clicking 'Editable Poly' in the modifier tab (Ctrl + B does the same), it then becomes yellow. By clicking the plus sign on the left you can expand it and see which sub-objects are available for your object, if everything is okay you have 5 options: Vertex, Edge, Border, Polygon and Element. I personally never, ever use Border and Element, so they won't be covered in detail. With the shortcut 'Insert' you can change the sub-object to the next one (try it!). When you left click 'Editable Poly' again (or press Ctrl + B) you go out of the sub-object mode.

You will notice soon enough that each sub-object is very different, yet very similar in what you can do. You can do almost the same in each sub-object, but the effect is not always the same! There is a sort of symmetry or cohesion between the sub-objects which is very beautiful. For instance you can 'Extrude', 'Grow / Shrink' in each Sub-Object, they do about the same thing in each SO. Yet certain aspects are exactly the same in each sub-object and do the same thing (only applied to vertices, edges or polygons depending on in which sub-object you are, for instance the Soft-Selection works straight forward in the edge and polygon sub-object, once you understand how it works in the vertex sub-object). Therefore I won't be explaining (or just skipping) certain options since they come back three times...

There's also options which I will skip completely, either because I have never used it, or because I think it's totally useless.

In the next section I'll explain my view on the sub-objects. Do not think this is all true or the general definition, it's just how I see it. I won't go into detail about what you can do with them, yet. This will be extensively explained in Tutorial 2, 3 and 4.

Vertex Sub-Object

The dots, the points of your model: vertices. Obviously when modeling you'll want to change the positions of your vertices since that is the bare essential part of modeling, but something you may not have realised: VSO (vertex sub-object) is mostly used to shape your model.

Edge Sub-Object

The lines of your model: edges. I mainly use this SO for fine-tuning. It's the place to be when your model has the right shape, but you want certain parts to become less smooth when using MeshSmooth. Chamfering will be the magic operation.
Additionaly ESO is very handy for creating new surfaces.

Polygon Sub-Object

The faces, surfaces of your model: polygons. When you are in PSO it's usually because you want to create something, hardly ever to change your model. Not very often would you want to change the form or shape by moving / scaling / individual polygons. Yet, when you would want to create additional blobs, extensions, whatever, to your model then the PSO is the place to be.

When reading tutorials 2, 3 and 4 and see what you can do in each specific sub-object, it'll become clear why I said certain SO's are used for specific modeling actions.


now i can drive 3ds Max...
Deepak Dhyanil
Hi I am just recently used 3d max my problem is that I am not understand how to make charecter face plese give fully step tutorials thankyou
b.suresh yadav
Hi, I have just recently started using 3DS MAX. Thank you very much for your tutorials, they are incredibily useful.Can you please send me some of your tutorials, techniques and others?
Daniel H
Hi, I have just recently started using 3DS MAX. Thank you very much for your tutorials, they are incredibily useful!
Sho me pregunto cuando los voy a encontrar traducidos :P ... no entiendo ni bosta ! y veo q tan wenos ... jiji ...
es impresionente como aprendes con estas personas tan bondadosas de clase tan elevada en estas guias
Dave Branco
Esti chu beau pi cave
thx man, really helped
Zambila Mihnea-Catalin
Man... You rock. Very good tutorials. i especially like the one with meshsmothing...
Hi, very good tutorial,Can you please send me some of your tutorials, techniques and others?
Fantastic site indeed! got so many things learned and took so many screenshots of tutorials i've been searching for so long now. thanks!
"From all the tools available when using editable polies to how to apply them and maybe more importantly: when to use them"
exactly, the max manual show most things you need, but it lack of telling when to use it, thanks for your tutorials :)
Karl Brian
i have learned so much with your tutorials. Can you please send me some of your tutorials, techniques and others?! thanks.
Wow... Now, I can finally model with Max... I was a zmodeler user before, but I really would love to use max to model like you!
Hi~ I am leeDS ang live in Korea.
You are king of 3D !! Here is so nice website!!
Thanks For your tutorial!
send me too plz
send me tutorial
Very true about adopting techniques from observing other modeling methods. Only tutorial I can find that picks up on that. Its always been hard to pick up what someones thinking when they are modeling, only to have them say "hey, that was simple wasn't it". And looking at your work (stunning!) it would take alot of thought to effectivly dumb down this tutorial so that we can achieve that foundation of "thinking" in polymodeling.

Thanks again