How to Build a Realistic Material in 3ds Max

show more Building a realistic material provides you with in-depth training on 3D + Animation. Taught by Steve Nelle as part of the Textures and Materials in 3ds Max show less
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Building a realistic material

Once the needed modeling for a scene has been completed, the next step of the production process is typically to build and apply a material or skin to the surface that you've created and that's where many feel the real fun begins, as it gives you as a 3-D artist the opportunity to bring an even greater sense of lifelike realism to the scene. Always remember your job as an animator is to get an audience to believe in what you're creating and it'll many times be the skins and textures that you'll apply that will serve as the mechanism to get that viewer to not just accept what you've done but to more importantly truly appreciate it.

As we begin our in-depth look at creating materials, it's important to realize that adding that extra sense of lifelike believability to the skins that you build isn't always the easiest thing to do. You see seldom when constructing a skin are you're going to find yourself simply creating a solid color that's then wrapped around a smooth and dull surface. No, the world we live in, the environments we must create, are much more complex than that. There's going to be designs and patterns, various levels of texturing and shine, even issues of things like aging and wear and tear.

Every one of those elements will need to be both considered and added in, in order to achieve the level of realism that your audience has pretty much come to expect. So as we strive to create the most photorealistic imagery possible, there's a couple of suggestions that we can use to get off to a good start. First is the importance of trying to use a visual reference whenever possible. That reference can be an object or simply a picture of an object. Either way, building a great-looking material will almost always be made easier by having something that arms reach that you can use for comparison.

Take for an example, creating the skin for a beat-up trashcan or dumpster. As you can see by the picture, our reference has a lot more going into the way it looks than merely a main body color. No, there are scratches and scrapes, various levels and areas of shine, even a few environmental elements mixed in, like rust and dust. Every bit of that is combining together to give the dumpster its overall appearance. Imagine how difficult it would be to create all that without having something to refer to. How easy it would be to overlook a characteristic or two that make it look the way it does.

No, having that picture on hand makes creating that customized look not just easier but also a good deal faster. And what about creating let's say the metal body for this wristwatch. Try doing that without a reference. Oh, you might come close but here's what's so important to remember about creating realism. Put yourself in your audience issues and think about what it's going to take to get them to believe. All you need to do when building that skin is to forget just one or two of those little surface attributes and your audience will immediately realize that something is off.

Many times not even knowing what's off, they just realize something's wrong and that's all it takes to get them to start criticizing. So to improve your odd for success, always try to get your hands on something, anything, that you can use for reference. The time it takes will be worth it. Now in addition to using reference material it's also essential that you look at building a skin as a step-by-step process that's going to take a little time to think through. Remember it doesn't take much for an audience to detect something's wrong. We all seem to be pretty good at that. So as you study and organize your thoughts as to how to best make a particular skin, be sure to focus on the smaller, more subtle visual characteristics that make the object specifically look the way it does.

Again, you got to remember it's not all simply about an object's color. No, almost every skin you make is going to have a healthy handful of attributes, surface characteristics in other words, that will go into giving it its appearance. So concentrate on the big picture but at the same time don't lose sight of the smaller maybe less noticeable elements. The object's age, its texture, its shine, its reflection, whether or not there's any transparency, it all adds up and it all counts big-time in bringing out the realism. Look at all the things that go into making the skin for this paper towel holder.

I mean you can definitely see its age, right? The wear and tear. You got areas where the stain has worn off, corners nicked up, dust settled in. No way you'd take that baby as being brand-new. So remember if your scene calls for something that looks old and tired, make it look old and tired. I mean, look at the difference between new and old with these tin snips. The ones with the red handles are barely a few months old, while the yellow handled pair have been sitting in the bottom of my toolbox for well over a decade. And you can see that, right? The smudges on the handle, the oxidation on the metal. They're old and they look old.

Make sure you apply that same thought and consideration to your 3-D scenes. You do and you'll find yourself creating things that look like photographs and not just computer-generated images. Let's go see what we can do.

Building a realistic material
Video duration: 4m 48s 7h 44m Intermediate


Building a realistic material provides you with in-depth training on 3D + Animation. Taught by Steve Nelle as part of the Textures and Materials in 3ds Max

3D + Animation
3ds Max
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