Surface Modeling

Surface modeling is more free-form than geometric (parametric) modeling. In parametric modeling, you create a primitive such as a sphere or a plane from the Create panel, and then use the existing settings (parameters) to change dimensions, segments, and so on. This method is powerful but extremely limited in scope.

In surface modeling, you typically use the modeling ribbon Convert to Poly command to convert an object to editable poly format. Alternatively, you can use the quad menu or modifier stack to “collapse” a parametric model to some form of editable surface: an editable poly, editable mesh, editable patch, or NURBS object. You can also use modifiers in some cases; this preserves access to the original parametric object. Once the object is in a surface-model format, 3ds Max gives you a variety of tools for shaping the surface. You perform much surface-modeling work by editing sub-objects of the surface object.

Three types of surface models: patch (left); mesh (center); NURBS (right)

  • Working at the Sub-Object Level

    To achieve highly detailed modeling effects, you can directly transform, modify, and align the geometry of objects at the sub-object level.

  • Subdivision Surfaces

    A subdivision surface is a surface that has been divided into more faces while retaining the object's general shape. You perform subdivision to add detail to an object, or to smooth it out.

  • Soft Selection Rollout

    The Soft Selection controls allow you to partially select sub-objects in the vicinity of an explicit selection. This causes the explicit selection to behave as if surrounded by a "magnetic field." Partially selected sub-objects within the field are drawn along smoothly as you transform the sub-object selection; the effect diminishes with distance or the “strength” of the partial selection.

  • Collapse Utility

    The Collapse utility lets you combine the stack operations of one or more selected objects into an Editable Mesh or the stack result, and, optionally, perform a Boolean operation on them at the same time.

  • Graphite Modeling Tools

    The Graphite Modeling Tools set, also called the modeling ribbon, gives you everything you need for editing polygon objects. Its interface provides tools specific to the modeling task, and reduces onscreen clutter by showing only necessary settings.

  • Editable Mesh Surface

    Editable Mesh, like the Edit Mesh modifier, provides controls for manipulating a mesh object made up of triangular faces as an object and at three sub-object levels: vertex, edge and face. You can convert most objects in 3ds Max to editable meshes, but for open spline objects, only vertices are available, because open splines have no faces or edges when converted to meshes.

  • Editable Poly Surface

    Editable Poly is an editable object with five sub-object levels: vertex, edge, border, polygon, and element. Its usage is similar to that of an editable mesh object, with controls for manipulating an object as a polygon mesh at various sub-object levels. Rather than triangular faces, however, the poly object's faces are polygons with any number of vertices.

  • Patch Objects

    With patch modeling, you can create objects that look mesh-like but whose surface curvature can be controlled with handles, like splines. You can create a patch model with built-in patch grids, and can convert most objects to patch format.

  • NURBS Modeling

    One way of modeling in 3ds Max is with NURBS surfaces and curves. NURBS, which stands for Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines, is an industry standard for designing and modeling surfaces. It is particularly suitable for modeling surfaces with complex curves.

  • Tools for Low-Polygon Modeling

    A few features help you manage the polygon count for scenes and animations that must not become too complex.