MMST 163: Complex Lighting & Materials; 3D Character Animation 10729 - MMST 163 - 010
Environments & Character Design, Animation -- 3D Studio Max

College of Marin , Indian Valley Campus, January 20 - May 15, Spring 2015
Class: Fridays 10:10a– 3:30p (IVC BLDG 27/Main Building, Room 129)

Final Exam: 10:10a - 1:00p, Friday, May 22, 2015 IVC BLDG 27/Main Building, Room 129


Instructor:    Jeffrey Abouaf      Contact:



    Student Learning Outcomes

      1. Employ appropriate modeling, texturing, lighting and special effects to build convincing 3D environments.
      2. Build and map specific texture types for use in entertainment or CAD projects.
      3. Understand different types of lighting and rendering tools and when to use them.
      4. Design, model, texture and rig a charater to include in a 3D environment.
      5. Animate and output environmental and character assets as final animations for use in simulations/games.
      6. Enhance critical and self-evaluation skills for assessing 3D models and animation
      7. Acquire familiarity with the general use and production processes found in industries using 3D content
      8. Achieve intermediate-level competency with a professional 3D production tool, i.e. Autodesk 3D Studio Max.


    At the conslusion of this course, the student will have:

    1. Intermediate analysis skills to identify and critique 3D models and animations in movies, games/simulations and AEC walkthroughs.
    2. Intermediate skills necessary to model, texture, light and enhance 3D virtual environments, props and characters.
    3. Be able to create and accurately map textures onto 3D objects.
    4. Add convincing lighting and atmospherics to existing scenes.
    5. Produce renderings of 3D animations for print, online, broadcast, or interactive delivery.



This class will extend your 3DS Max skills beyond the fundamentals in two areas: during the first 8 weeks we will investigate, design and construct environments and virtual sets. The remaining sessions will focus on creating characters to populate these worlds. More advainced students should use these techniques to stretch their art and design skills.

During the first half of the course, you will create concept art. From that you will build an interior and an exterior scenes usable as environments for 3D animation or game play. This will involve reviewing and extending your skills with modeling, texturing, UVW mapping, lighting, cameras, atmospheres, particle systems and special effects. We will use Autodesk 3D Studio Max 2014. The lighting discussion will cover basic setups and dramatic effects, as well as an introduction to Max's global illumination and photometric lighting tools. A discussion of lighting and materials necessarily includes a discussion of rendering technique, rendering to layers and to elements, and compositing these components with special effects in post production. The environments discussion will focus on the intended purpose for the setting, how the set design can convey the scene purpose and how to dress a set for believability. This discussion will include a discussion of atmospheres and particle systems, as well as special effects such as glows, flares, and blurs

During the second half of this course you will design, model, rig and animate one or more characters using 3D Studio MAX. The principals shown apply across the major software packages. Specific techniques will be demonstrated in 3D Studio Max 2014. Through lectures, exercises and projects, you will learn how to model a bipedal character mesh and set up a simple skeleton rig using Max Bones and Character Studio (Biped) or the Character Animation Tools (CAT). You will bind this mesh to the skeleton using the Skin modifier. Throughout this course you will survey current trends, issues and directions, and produce two projects showcasing some of them.


We will be using Autodesk 3ds Max 2014 almost exclusively. The machines in the lab, and those similarly equipped on campus have installed the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite 2015, which includes Autodesk 2015 versions 3ds Max, Maya, Softimage, Motion Builder, and Mudbox. While 3ds Max is exclusively on the Windows platform, the others are available for Mac or Windows machines. If you have need, you may use other 3D software, but these will not be demonstrated or supported in class.

To assemble your animations, you are welcome to use any video editing package you prefer. The lab machines (Windows) have Photoshop CC 2014 (with adequate video features), Premiere Pro CC 2014, After Effects CC 2014 and Autodesk Compolsite 2014. On the Mac OS, the entire Adobe Creative Cloud is installed.

Consult with the instructor prior to using software not listed above.

If you are new to 3D art and animation, you are strongly advised to aquire expertise in one package before attempting to learn a second one. All professional grade 3D software packages are engineered from similar concepts. 3ds Max 2015 contains all fundamental features found in the competing products. Although all packages have particular features in which they excel, the biggest differences are in their workflows and interfaces. Your time is best spent achieving depth of knowledge in a single package before undertaking a second. Once you have expertise, the learning curve for other products moves quickly.


The instructor will make assignments in class to be brought to class the following session.  In addition, there is a standing assignment is to review and complete the context-appropriate Tutorials provided with the 3D Studio Max software (from the online tutorials that come with the software). These will not be reviewed in class unless you bring your questions to class.  These assignments are given in lieu of an assigned text book,

Additionally, students should immediately choose and direct their efforts toward producing four projects (below).

Plan to spend at least as much time working outside class as in.



Most communication outside of Class will be through the MyCOM portal. This system offers email to the instructor and among class members, a calendar, a forum and the ability to post URL's and files (although each file must be 1 Mb or less).

The instructor will use MyCOM, the Class Blog or the instructor's site ( - students are expected to check their MyCOM account at least once per week for announcements, and class uploads, and as instructed, the Class Blog or the instructor's site ( MyCOM will be our primary means of communicating with each other outside of class, and links to outside resources or material will be posted on MyCOM. The instructor is privately available via email. All email from students to the instructor's MyCOM address will be copied to the instructor's personal email address. Where the question is of interest to all class members, it will be posted to MyCOM or to the class Blog can serve as an extended classroom, where we can share answers, solutions, and comments.


Your attendance on time and timely delivery of assignments will impact your grade. There is no assigned textbook, or required materials. Most content, techniques and the assignments will be presented during the lecture/demo portion of the class, i.e. the first two hours.Your timely attendance is central to understanding what content you are expected to master and what assingments you are to deliver.

Consistent class attendence and communication with the instructor has proved basic to students' success in this course.  The content varies with the preparation, experience and skill of the class.  It works both ways:  the sources and works in progress students bring often become an important part of the content, in part because it is current and relevent, and in part because it usually means something and that speeds learning. 3D art and animation generally is a collaborative art form, and the class experience builds these skills.


In addition to homework assignments , students should immediately choose and direct their efforts toward producing four Required Projects, two environment scenes, and two involving a rigged/animated character. . The projects can be anything of your own choosing within the covered subject matter, i.e. design visualization of environments for CAD, VizSim or Entertainment; character design, building or product design, game scene or level design, etc. which use techniques explored in class. More experienced students should aim to push their skills. The instructor will work with them on this, even if the content is beyond the scope of the covered material.

Project Content & Due Dates
No. Due Date: Description:
1 February 20, 2015 Animated Environment Walkthrough - first interior or exterior scene
2 March 20, 2015 (Midterm) Animated Environment Walkthrough - second interior or exterior scene
3 April 10, 2015 Animated, Rigged Character - animated simple poses
4 May 22, 2015 (Final) Animated, Rigged Character - same character complex performance


  1. Script: First, write down what you plan to do and what you want it to say. This can be a description of a scene to a full blown story. It can be one scene, or many.
  2. Reference Materials: Search for reference imagery (i.e. photos of environments, character ideas, etc.
  3. Concept and Template Art: Based on your references, (and if your content will be different from the reference photos), prepare drawings of your content from different angles and in different poses. These can be rough. Then prepare orthographic views of the same obect (i.e. top, front, and side views) to use as reference during your modeling/texturing.
  4. Storyboard: Draw a sequence based on the concept art that describes what you want to present (i.e. storyboard the project).
  5. Animatic: Make simple, rough animations based on the story boards to check camera angles, layout & blocking, and timing As you upgrade scene elements, render them out as updated animatics.
  6. Final Render: Replace the animatics with the final versions of your content. Student's often think of rendering as the final step, as if making a print from film. Instead, consider rendering as the ongoing sampling of a work in progress. Begin rendering tests with your first versions. This is your best method to correst story, timing, movement, lighting and mood.


Please consult with the instructor early for advice on the scope and difficulty of your project.

Allow at least one week before the due date to render out your project – students always underestimate this process. For best results, make lo-res test renders as you go - this eliminates surprises at the end when it doesn't work.

Please consult with the instructor early for advice on the scope and difficulty of your project.

Allow at least two weeks before the due date to render out your project – students always underestimate this process.

For each project, deliver:

(1) an animation 30 - 60 seconds in length at 30 frames per second (fps) i.e. 900 to 1800 frames finished animation to be delivered as a compressed Quicktime movie or  an AVI movie , at 640 x 480 (or 720p HD) resolution,

(2) your 3ds max archive file (*zip format)

(3) 4 to 6 hi-res still images in JPEG format at 1024 x 768 or greater resolution from the animation sequence which showcases detail and dynamic poses or angles

(4) any drawings and storyboards. 

You are responsible to make sure your projects are delivered in a compressed format and on media compatible with the equipment in the lecture hall. (Jump Drives or CD's). You will present your projects in class on the due date.

Student grades will be based primarily on projects and secondarily on their attendance and completed assigments

All projects are due on or before the due date, which are the dates set for the Midterm and Final Exams .  No extensions or incompletes will be given. 


  Part I: Environment and Set Design

Introduction and Overview.

What factors into designing a good environment?

What factors go into making a good set? How is this different from a good environment?

Pre-rendered vs. Real-Time 3D graphics: considerations; similarities and differences

3DS Max: a “virtual film studio”; -- the role of the camera

Identify the big issues at the earliest stage.

Modeling and Texturing Environments and Sets

Concept Art - defines the look, the inspiration, and identifies challenges

Story Boards, Color Scripts, Animatics -- progressive scene building

Modeling/Texturing - review general techniques; considerations peculiar to environments

Output Cosiderations for building exteriors & interiors for movies and games.

Organizing the scene; Tools in 3DS Max, using external files.

Lighting Considerations and Techniques:

Using Standard vs Photometric lights, limitations

Max's Advanced Lighting --General & Global Illumination (render-engine specifics)

Consider baking in lighting effects

Animated camera and lighting effects

Intermediate Texturing:

Cameras and lighting impacts texture design

Atmospheres and effects impact textures

Shader types; Material Types; Map Types; how they inter-relate.

Procedural vs. non-procedural materials; gradients, falloffs, antialiasing

The two 3DS Max Material Editors; how and when to use each

Building multi-layered and complex materials and maps

Texture Baking; Normal Maps

Specialized and Complex Textures; what is "Realism"; "Stylized"

Painting Textures in Photoshop

Applying textures - UVW Mapping and Unwrap UVW issues


Appropriate pre-rendered movies/cut-scenes vs. real-time rendering

Output and output formats -- tips and techniques

The default Scanline Renderer vs Mental Ray.

Other Rendering Engines.

Fogs, Atmospheres, Volumetrics, and Special Effects.

Particle Systems: Basic, Advanced and Particle Flow.

Post-production considerations:

Anticipating the requirements of a real-time renderer.

Maximizing flexibility for post production editing

Isolating and rendering to layers; Render Elements; EXR

Overview of Autodesk Composite workflow

Part II: Character Design, Rigging and Animation


Overview of the character development process: design, modeling, rigging, animating.

Importance of drawing and understanding anatomy

Character animation principals from the 2D world (squash, stretch, anticipation, exaggeration)

Everything is based on the intended audience, budget, output device(s), team.

Design, Modeling and Texturing Issues for Characters

How to develop a character from scratch

Concept Art, Storyboards and Animatics

Box modeling in Edit Poly mode

Edge Loops  & Subdivision Surfaces

Working with Max's Graphite Toolset

Modeling issues specific to characters


Modeling with Textures (Subdivision Surface Displacement in the Material Editor)

Other Texturing issues: Texture size and detail; UVW mapping issues; Unwrap UVW

Introduction to Mudbox

Non-bone-based Rigging

Why do we need bones?

Applying modifiers to deform the mesh (whole mesh vs. selection sets)

Manipulators and wiring issues

Secondary animation effects (bounce, jiggle using the Flex modifier)

Animating with Splines and the Linked-Xform modifier

Rigging with other animation controllers (eye-rigging with the Look-At Constraint)

Introduction to Morphing – the Morpher modifier

Bone-based Rigging

Why not just use Biped? Advantages and Disadvantages

Review Hierarchies and how they work

Forward Kinematics (FK) vs. Inverse Kinematics (IK), Uses

Setting Up a Bone chain (scaling, fins)

Setting constraints

IK Solvers; Helper Objects with IK

Setting Up a character

Simple bone rigs using Forward and Inverse Kinematics

Pre-rigged Animation Systems Biped, CAT, Motion Builder - The Basics

What it does (and doesn't) do.

Figure Mode (modifying the skeleton to fit the mesh)

Footstep Mode (Footsteps vs. Freeform modes)

Keyframe Mode

Importing motion capture data

Recycling motion files; layering motions

Motion flow mode, stitching motions together

General Overview of CAT

General Overview of Motion Builder

Interoperability Issues for transferring date between character animation systems

Attaching the model to the Biped

The Skin Modifier

Character Studio not required

Techniques for fine tuning the Skin modifier for animation

Painting Weights

Built-in Deformer Gizmos

Animating the Character


Keyframing in Footstep Mode

Keyframing in Free Form Mode

Bone Rigs

Keyframing and function curves  



The instructor maintains a current set of 3ds Max resources at  Follow the Class Blog discussion throughout the week. Visit Training & Resources/Scripts & Plugins,and Books, and Links/3D Art & Animation Portals for related sites, tutorials, articles, scripts and recommended books.

Here are some specific resources -- refererence as well as tutorials -- that will be referred to in conjunction with this class:

  1. 3ds Max, the Help file. Often overlooked, this may be the quickest route to any answer you seek.
  2. In 3ds Max, Help/Tutorials (instructions and URL for downloading the exercise files are contained in this file).
  3. The Autodesk 3ds Max Learning Channel on YouTube.
  4. 3ds Max and related courses on (If you are a resident of Marin County, you may obtain a free subscription through the Marin County Library). Materials form this source will be used extensively in class.
  5. Other highly recommended video sources are The Gnomon Workshop and Digital-Tutors, both of which are fee-based subscriptions.


MMST 163 - 173 in Bldg. 27, Room 129, IVC: F 10:10 am – 3:30 pm
Instructor: Jeffrey Abouaf
Office Hours: Bldg. 27, Room 129, IVC: Fridays, Saturdays 9:00a am – 10:am

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