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Using a material on facing type particle geometry will never work effectively for creating a realistic looking particle effect, if correctly blending that material against your same background can't be accomplished. Let's be honest. It is going to be pretty hard to convince your audience when you have got a bunch of little square objects floating around your scene, none of which offering one iota of believability to your effect. Luckily, 3ds Max has a healthy handful of mapping options that allow for that all important particle edge feathering that take place. This video will show you some of those options.
As you are probably well aware, a material's opacity channel in Max works off grayscale values, where the darker areas in a map will create transparent or visible locations on an object's surface. That surface in a particle effect would be the actual geometry or geometry type that you have chosen for your particle system. If you can strategically locate the transparent positions along the edges of your particle, you will achieve a realistic blending of the particle against its background, and that so many times is the trick to achieving a believable effect.
Your choices for particle feathering many times began by using a Gradient or Gradient Ramp map. Using the maps radial option, quickly gives you that white on black feathering to the outside. Adding a little noise breaks up the evenness of that color to color transition even further. I am taking the amount of noise to .1 and its size to 2. Now you can adjust the transition even further by changing the color 2 position setting directly below the color swatches. Here is a value of .4, .7, and I will take it back to the original default number of .5. The Gradient Ramp does pretty much the same thing with a few additional controls for adjusting the color layout.
Underneath the color ramp, I will take my gradient type again back to Radial. We can now reverse those black and white colors by double-clicking on the color flags you see at both ends of the ramp. Under Interpolation, I will change to Ease Out, Ease In, then back to Linear. The Gradient Ramp map also gives you the noise controls. Let us try an amount of .1. We can then change the type of noise directly to the right of the amount setting. Here we are using Regular. Let us try Fractal. We will change to Turbulence.
Then back on the left below Amount, let's change the size to 5. The Fall Off map can also do a terrific job in blending edges. Having a handful of different options for controlling the style of the black and white color dispersion. You have also got the good old Noise map with its controls for pattern, size, and color variation. Let's also try adjusting the size of the noise. We will go to 10, here is 50, and we will go back to the original default setting of 25.
Now with the color swatches, we can vary our color variation. I'll click on the white swatch, first taking it to medium gray. Here is lighter gray, lighter still, and then I will return to white. Adjusting the intensity of the color separation, we can use the threshold controls. Let's take our high value to .8 and our low value to .2. As you can see, that kind of clamps down on the colors even more.
Let's take the threshold back to the original settings of 1 and 0. And there is the Mask map that allows you on even more advanced level of feathering control by masking out any map that might be added to the effect. For my example, I will load a Noise map in the Map channel and a Gradient map, choosing Radial for my mask. I think the important thing to realize is that you have a ton of different options when wanting to blend your particles onto whatever scene or imagery that might be behind it.
Learn those choices, experiment with their various settings, then simply use the ones that do the best job of creating your effect.
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