Understanding the basic tools in 3D Studio Max

This is the main toolbar that you will use to create, edit, and manage the objects in your scene; it’s located to the right of your tab groups interface. The tools found here provide access to various settings that control the behavior and shape of an object; they are set using the subsets at the top, the object buttons below, and then the extensible edit sets to set the objects below.

  1. Basic Tools and the Create Panel
  2. Change panel
  3. Panel “Hierarchy”
  4. Movement panel
  5. Display
  6. Utilities

Basic Tools and the Create Panel

This tab gives you access to all objects in the scene that you can create with 3DSMax; it, like the others, is divided into smaller subsets that can be accessed via the buttons at the top of the tab.

  • Geometry . Represented by an image of a sphere, selecting this subset allows you to draw any 3D geometry. By default, the default primitives are used (rectangle, sphere, etc.), but the drop-down menu lets you choose from advanced primitives, composite objects, particle systems, patch networks, NURBS surface, and dynamic objects.
  • figures . This subset is represented by the shapes icon and provides access to drawing tools for flat, two-dimensional objects: splines (circles, rectangles, etc.) and NURBS curves.
  • Backlight . A subset represented by a “flashlight” of tools for creating sets of light sources: “Target Spot”, “Free Spot”, “Target Direct”, “Free Direct”, and “Omni”. The drop-down menu for this subset contains only the default types.
  • cameras . Represented by a graphical representation of the camera. Includes camera types: Target and Free. The drop-down menu for this subset contains only the default types.
  • Helpers: the icon for this subset looks like a small tape measure, and as a tape measure, the tools it contains are useful for building your scene. The drop-down menus for this subset are: Standard (Dummy, Tape Measure, Compass, etc.), Atmospheric Device, Camera Pickup, and Manipulators. You can see other options here if you have certain plugins (like Reactor or Shag Hair).
  • Space warps . This subset (represented by the multi-wave icon) allows you to create forces and other environmental factors in your scene. The drop-down menus include forces (motor, thrust, rotation, etc.), deflectors, geometric/deformable, and modifier-based. As above, you can see other options if you have additional plugins.
  • Systems . This subset, which has two gears on the icon, allows you to create complex systems with the click of a few buttons: bones, sunlight systems, full-bore systems, and ring arrays. The drop-down menu for this subset contains only the default types.
  • The last of the four panels shown above is just an example of the drop-down menus in the various subsets. It shows the options available in the Geometry subset.

Change panel

You will use the tools on this panel more than any other when modeling; these tools control the appearance of your shape by applying modifiers to the polygons; everything from meshsmooths (smoothing a surface with polygon iterations) to extrusion (extruding one or more faces) to curves and cones (literally bending or shrinking your shapes) and much, much more. There is a default set of eight most commonly used buttons, but you can customize them to display any tool you want.

However, the easiest way to get to most modifiers is through a drop-down menu with all available modifiers. After you select a modifier, the window below shows the shape/object you selected and the hierarchy of modifiers applied to it. Below that, expandable editing panels let you change settings for how they affect your shapes.

Panel “Hierarchy”

You will find this panel useful when setting up a hierarchy of objects (related objects) or related bot systems; You can set their behavior towards each other and to the scene using three tabs.

  • Overview . Adjust the rotation points of objects, including how the move/rotate/scale tools affect them (for example, set them to affect only the rotation points, affect only the object, or the entire hierarchy), thus changing the results of using these tools; You can also set or change the alignment relative to each other and the “world”, or changes to a “parent” object affect the related “child” objects of that object. This is the key to “forward kinematics” (an animation technique where you move things in a simple way, one pivot point at a time).
  • I: Here you can control the IK (Inverse Kinematics) settings. IK is an animation technique that can control the behavior of a whole chain of objects simultaneously, as if they were actually connected and subject to each other’s forces (for example, if you human wrist stretches, one wrist will not move; he will pull his forearm with it, which in turn will stretch his shoulder, then his shoulder, then his body from behind). We’ll talk about this in more detail in a separate IK tutorial.
  • Link information . This subset is very simple; allows you to lock or unlock motion, rotation, or scaling along an axis and control which axes pass motion, rotation, or scaling.

Movement panel

The options here have more to do with the animation of your shapes/objects than with the shapes of the shapes themselves. (The other is Track View, which we’ll talk about later, but both act as an alternative to each other.)

  • parameters: . Here you can assign a controller to your movement (such as position, rotation, or scale), create keys for those controllers, or edit frame information to make it easier to move a key, take a key out of a key, or several other settings.
  • Routes . It allows you to view the path an object has traveled over time and use that image to control the path.


This controls the appearance of objects in your scene. You can hide, show or freeze objects or groups of objects as desired. You can also change how they are displayed/in what form, or change the viewport attributes.


The 3DSMax utilities are actually plugins for the program and are available through this panel to perform various useful tasks.

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