Modeling an Airplane

In this tutorial, you explore Editable Poly surfaces further by building a model of a fighter airplane.

The aircraft is a Republic Aviation P-47 Thunderbolt, a heavy-duty fighter used extensively by the Allied forces in World War II. For information about the history and technical details of this aircraft, do a Web search for “P-47”.

NoteUnlike the irregular meshes used in the tutorial Using Photos to Model Façades, the mesh you create in this tutorial has consistent quadrangular faces. Although the airplane is not meant to be deformed, this is the kind of mesh you should create when you model a deformable character.

Skill level: Advanced

Time to complete: 5 to 6 hours

Preparation for This Tutorial

Pointers on Setting Up a “Virtual Studio”

When you build a 3D model from scratch, often it helps to set up reference or “blueprint” images to use as a guide to the 3D geometry. Typically these images are plans that show the side, front, and top of the object to model.

Virtual studio for the P-47 model

You might find such plans on the Web, you might scan them from a book or the instructions for a scale model, or you might draw them yourself. Here are some pointers for how to set them up so you can use them in 3ds Max:

In 3ds Max itself, you can set up three planes in the virtual studio arrangement. For this tutorial, we used Generic units (1 generic unit equals 1 inch), and set the reference planes to the pixel dimensions of the blueprint images: 800 x 800.

Map the images to the planes, using these guidelines:

Now you are ready to begin modeling.

  • Creating the Fuselage

    The fuselage begins as a geometric primitive. You modify the shape of the primitive, and then convert it to an Editable Poly object. For most of this section, and the remainder of the tutorial, you will use Edit Poly tools to shape the airplane.

  • Completing the Tail

    To complete the tail, you add horizontal stabilizers on either side of the vertical stabilizer.

  • Adding the Wings

    The wings are shaped extrusions as are the horizontal stabilizers. Once more, the wing on the right side is provided by the Symmetry modifier.

  • Creating the Cockpit

    The cockpit includes a canopy, which becomes a separate object. It also includes part of the hollow interior of the aircraft.

  • Refining the Aircraft

    To complete the aircraft, you make various adjustments to both the fuselage and the cockpit canopy.