3ds Max User Interface
The 3ds Max User Interface is based on both Windows concepts and at the same time resembles the original layout of AutoCAD and 3D Studio (DOS). The UI is integrated -- all features are implemented within a single application with several floatable and dockable windows (as opposed to, for example, Lightwave 3D which features two separate applications, or 3D Studio (DOS) which featured multiple modules with individual UIs within a single application). The UI is customizable (since R3,R4) within certain limits and features
- Title bar containing file and project name, software and video driver version (R9)
- Main Menu which is also customizable
- Viewports with various layouts and customizable sizes (up to 4)
- Command Panel which can be docked left, right or floated feeely.
- Toolbars which can be either docked, floated or disabled.
- Time Slider for controlling the current time
- Trackbar area for manipulating keyframes
- Time Controls for controlling animation parameters and playback
- Viewport Navigation controls
- Status Bar containing feedback fields, lock key, Transform Type-In controls, Time Tags and Communication Center
Except for the Title bar, Main Menu and the Viewports, all other elements can be disabled separately or in groups (the last 3 groups only as a single entity).
The Command Panel contains most of the tools used to create, modify and animate scene objects.
In the early versions, the Command Panel could be docked either left or right. In R3 it became floatable. In R4 it became resizable, making it possible to display multiple columns within the same window. Different tools expose their control parameters via Rollouts displayed in the Command Panel. These Rollouts can be collapsed to just a title bar or expanded to show the full content. When multiple rollouts are displayed or the rollouts are longer than the Command panel, they can be scrolled with the mouse up and down. The rollout order of each tool can be customized by dragging and dropping with the mouse.
The Command Panel contains 6 tabs :
Tab 1: Create Panel
The Create Panel contains 7 buttons which control the object class to be created:
- Geometry - multiple sub-categories are available, incl. Standard and Extended Primitives, Compound Objects, Particle Systems, Patch Grids, NURBS Surfaces, Doors, Windows, AEC Extended, Stairs and Dynamics Objects. More categories can be added by 3rd party plug-ins and scripts.
- Shapes - multiple sub-categories provide Standard, Extended Shapes and NURBS Curves.
- Lights - multiple sub-categories provide Standard and Photometric light types.
- Cameras - 3ds Max ships with just a Standard sub-category, more can be added by 3rd party plug-ins.
- Helpers - multiple sub-categories are available, including Standard, Atmospheric Apparatus, Camera Match, reactor, Assembly Heads, Manipulators, Particle Flow and VRML97.
- Space Warps - multiple sub-categories provide Forces, Deflectors, Geometry/Deformable, Modifier-Based, reactor, Particles & Dynamics.
- Systems - 3ds Max ships with just a Standard category providing access to Bones, Biped, Sunlight and Daylight systems and a Ring Array System (for demonstrations only).
Tab 2: Modify Panel
The Modify Panel is used to apply modifiers to the Modifier stack. The Modify Panel displays:
- the name and color of the current object;
- a drop-down list with all modifiers sorted either alphabetically or by user-defined categories;
- an optional set of buttons organized in user-defined categories;
- the Stack View which shows the current state of the Modifier Stack and provides several buttons to pin, control the display, make unique, remove modifiers and configure the Modify Panel;
- the rollouts of any selected modifier or base object in the stack
Tab 3: Hierarchy Panel
The Hierarchy Panel has 3 modes:
- Pivot - provides tools to control the position and alignment of the object's pivot points
- IK - implements the now obsolete Interactive IK system of early 3ds Max versions.
- Link Info - controls the data flow and inheritance between parents and children
Tab 4: Motion Panel
The Motion Panel provides two modes:
- The Parameters mode is used to assign controllers and tweak their parameters and keys
- Trajectories is used to convert object trajectories to splines and splines to animation keys
Tab 5: Display Panel
The Display Panel has only one mode but multiple Rollouts:
- Display Color - controls what colors to show in the Viewports in Wireframe and Shaded modes
- Hide by Category - used to hide specific classes of objects like Geometry, Shapes, Lights, Cameras, Helpers etc. Also provides custom and scripted filters for advanced hiding.
- Hide - used to hide and unhide specific objects in various ways
- Freeze - used to make objects unselectable and selectable again in various ways
- Display Properties - used to control the display properties of the currently selected objects (also available in the Object Properties dialog)
- Link Display - used to control the display of parent-child relationships.
Tab 6: Utilities Panel
The Utilities panel hosts a large number of Utility plug-ins which can modify on the current system but do not directly participate in it. Utilities are the simplest form of a 3ds Max plug-ins and can provide additional tools that do not need full integration into the 3D scene - for example tools to reduce keys or the number of objects in the viewports, tools to check or measure different aspects of the selected objects etc. Each tool is exposed either as a button in a button set that, when pressed, makes a number of controls available in the bottom of the Panel, or as an entry in the More... list which shows all available utilities not shown on buttons yet.
Viewports and Navigation
3ds Max provides up to 4 viewports. They can not be floated.
Each viewport can display an orthographic (front, left, top etc. relatively to the world coordinate system or to a user grid), orthographic user view (isometric view), perspective, camera or light view. In addition, the UIs of several tools can be shown in the viewports as so-called Extended views incl. ActiveShade, Track View, Schematic View, Asset Browser, Biped Animation Workbench, Motion Mixer and MAXScript Listener windows. Scripted tools can also be registered as extended viewport types and can be placed in viewports.
Each viewport can be expanded to full view using the default shortcut Alt+W or the Maximize Viewport Toggle icon in the View Navigation controls in the bottom right corner of the UI.
The borders between the multiple viewports can be dragged with the mouse to specify different sizes. To reset the size to the default layout, you can right-click inside the border and select "Reset Layout" from the context menu.
Each viewport can display objects using several shading modes including Wireframe, Smooth + Highlight, Hidden Line, Facets, Facets + Highlight, Flat, Lit Wireframes and Bounding box. The transparency can be set to None, Simple or Best per viewport. Each viewport can be disabled using the D key to avoid redraws when the viewport is not in focus. Some useful shading-related shortcuts:
- F2 toggles shading selected faces on and off
- F3 toggles between smooth+highlight and wireframe mode.
- F4 toggles between smooth+highlight and shaded with edged faces mode.
- O toggles Adaptive Degradation Override mode on and off. This is a mode used esp. in early days of the software when viewport performance was even slower due to missing hardware acceleration. When enabled, navigating the scene can cause all geometry to be reduced to faster modes, typically down to bounding boxes. The number one question in all Web Support Forums is "I pressed some button and now I get boxes when I pan and zoom". Answer: "Press O again".
To customize a viewport, right-click the viewport name in its upper left corner and select from the context menu.
3ds Max ships with a custom software Z-buffer driver based on Heidi technology which can be used with any graphics card. It also supports OpenGL and Direct3D using drivers from the graphics card manufacturer. Custom drivers based on the Heidi API can also be implemented by 3rd parties. For the viewports to function correctly, a valid graphics mode must have been selected in the Customize>Preferences>Viewports>Choose Driver... dialog which can also be displayed at startup via the command line parameter -h.
The viewports can be navigated in multiple ways - using just the mouse, a combination of keyboard keys and the mouse, and purely with the keyboard.
Direct Mouse Controls:
- Middle Mouse Button = Pan
- Wheel = Zoom In/Out
- Alt+Middle Mouse Button = Orbit (a.k.a. Arc-Rotate)
Keyboard/Navigation Controls Icons + Mouse:
- Alt+Z = Enter Zoom Mode, press+hold Left Mouse Button and move mouse to zoom in and out
- Ctrl+R = Enter Orbit (Arc-Rotate) mode, press+hold Left Mouse Button and move mouse to rotate. Placing the mouse cursor outside of the circle rolls the camera. Placing the mouse cursor at one of the boxes on the circle limits the rotation to a single axis.
- Ctrl+P = Enter Pan mode, press+hold Left Mouse Button and move mouse to pan around.
- Up Arrow = Enter Walkthrough mode. Use Quake-style FPS controls to navigate - press+hold Left Mouse Button and move mouse to look around, press+hold W to Walk, A and D to strafe left and right, S to walk backwards, E and C to slide the camera plane up and down.
- I = Interactive Mode - moves the current mouse cursor position to the center of the current view. Holding the button while moving the mouse pans interactively WITHOUT EXITING the current creation mode. This can be used for example while drawing splines.
- [ = Zoom In
- ] = Zoom Out
Action Items Interface
Since Release 4 in 2001, the User Interface can be customized using so-called Action Items. Action Items can be defined by both plug-ins and MacroScripts. The same Action Item can be assigned to a menu, a Quad Menu, a toolbar and a keyboard shortcut using the Customize>Customize User Interface dialog.