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Quick Tip: How to Setup Units & Use the Tape Tool in 3D Studio Max

In this tutorial you'll learn how to create and composite 3D elements into live action footage using SynthEyes, 3D Studio Max and After Effects. You'll learn how to track live action footage in SynthEyes, model destruction in Max, create debris with Particle Flow and how to composite it all together in After Effects.

Open the Syntheyes software.


Now we will load the live action footage we need to track. So go to File > Open.


This opens a browser window. Navigate to the location where you have saved the files. The footage is in an image sequence, so select the first file and then click on Open.


This opens the Image Settings window. Here you can take care of the original frame rate of the footage, pixel aspect ratio and lens settings. Since the original frame rate of the footage is 25 fps, I have changed the Frame Rate to 25.000 fps. You need to act according to your footage's frame rate and camera settings.


SynthEyes loads the footage in its timeline. You can see, I have placed several pulse seeds on the ground. These will act as good tracking markers.


Now it’s time to track the scene. So just click on the Auto button.


SynthEyes tracks the scene in just a couple of seconds and generates the camera and tracking points as well. But you can see the camera is not facing in the right direction. We need to setup the correct co-ordinate system before exporting the camera data to 3ds Max.


Click on the Co-ordinate Control System Panel icon (or press F8 alternatively.)


Now first click on the 3 icon and then click on a good tracking point to set it as the origin.


Click on another point to make it the reference point for the XY plane.


Finally, click on one more point to make it the reference point for the Z direction. As soon as you click on it, a dialogue box appears and asks you to finalize the coordinate system. Click on Yes.


Another window appears which confirms the solving is done, click OK.


And now you will see the camera is pointing in the right direction. All the tracking points are now placed on the ground. This confirms that the tracking has been done successfully. Now we are ready to export the camera to our desired 3D software.


Go to File > Export > Max Script V6/ Later.


It will ask for another confirmation. Select V6 or later and then click on OK.


Save the script to a specific folder, so we can use it later in 3ds Max.


Launch 3D Studio Max. The very first thing we need to do is run the script, which we saved from SynthEyes. Go to Max Script > Run Script.


Select the script file you saved and click on Open.


You will see the same camera and tracking points load inside the 3ds Max viewport. The camera is looking downwards and all the tracking points are perfectly positioned on the ground.


Now we need to set the live footage as the background. While in the Camera view, press Alt-B to open the Viewport Configuration window. Check the Use Files ratio button, the Animate Background option and the Match Rendering Output button, and then click on the Files button.


Since the live action footage is an image sequence. Select the first file (Floor_00000.jpg), check the Sequence option and then click Open.


It will ask for another confirmation. just press OK. Now you will see the live action footage in the viewport background.


Now we will create the broken floor, props, debris, etc... with the help of the tracking points. The tracking points will help as correct reference points. First of all, we will create the broken floor. So go to Shapes > Line and create a random shape in the Top viewport.


Apply an Extrude modifier and give it an Amount value of 5.0.


Create a Box (Create > Standard Primitives > Box) and place it on the ground. Set the Height of the box according to your needs, but make it less than the extruded line object.


With the Box selected, go to Geometry > Compound Objects.


Select Boolean. Click on the Pick Operand B button and then click on the extruded Line object in the viewport.


This actually subtracts the extruded line object from the box. You can see the result, we now have a broken floor.


Right Click on the Floor object and convert it to editable poly (Convert To: > Convert to Editable Poly.)


Rename this object Floor.


Now go to Geometry > Standard Primitive > Geo Sphere and draw the shape out in the viewport covering the hole in the floor.


Turn on the Hemisphere option under the Parameters rollout in the modifier panel. This will cut the sphere in half.


Click on the Mirror tool. Select the Z axis and then click on OK. This will turn the hemisphere upside-down.


Turn the hemisphere into editable poly ( Right Click > Convert To: > Convert to Editable Poly) Go to Face selection mode and select all of the top faces.


Press Delete on your keyboard to delete these faces.


Now we will make the small broken chunks of the floor. So let’s create several random shapes with the help of the Line tool (Create > Shapes > Line).


Once done, select all the chunks and apply an Extrude modifier to them.


Select all the chunks and then go to the Group menu and group them all (Group > Group).


Now we will spread the chunks on the floor using a Particle Flow system. So create a PF Source system (Create > Particles > Particle Flow Source) and open the Particle View window by pressing 6 on the keyboard.


Delete the Position Icon, Speed and Shape operators from the event.


Make a small plane (Create > Standard Primitives > Plane) on the floor and then convert it to editable poly.


Select an Edge on the plane and extrude it by pressing and holding the Shift key.


Keep extruding the edge along the broken floor as shown.


Go to back to particle flow once again (6). Add a Position Object and a Shape Instance operator into the event, by dragging them from the bottom list.


Now go to the Shape Instance operator and click on the None button. Select the grouped chunks group and turn on the Group Members option.


Go to the Position Object operator and add the extruded Plane into the Emitter Objects list.


Go to the Birth operator and then set the Emit Start and Emit Stop to 0. Set the Amount value to 100.


Go to the Display operator and set the Type of display to Geometry. Now you will see the chunks are spread on the plane in the viewport.


The chunks are not lying on the floor perfectly. So go to the Rotation operator and set the Orientation Matrix as Random Horizontal. The chunks are now lying correctly on the floor.


Select and hide the Plane (Right Click > Hide Selected). Go to the Shape Instance operator once again, and set the Scale value to 50 and the Variation value to 25.


Now create a new Plane with several length and width segments, and place it beneath the floor.


Apply a Lattice modifier to the Plane. Set the Struts Radius value to 0.2, Sides to 20 and Joints Radius to 0.


The modeling process is done. Now let’s do some texturing. Press M to open the Material Editor. Select an empty slot, click on the Diffuse button and double click on Bitmap in the list.


Select the Ground.jpg texture and then click on Open.


Apply this texture to the hemisphere (Geosphere) object. Apply a UVW Map modifier to the hemisphere and select Spherical mapping.


Following the same process, apply the Iron Texture.jpg file to the rebar object.


Apply a UVW Map modifier to it and select Planar mapping.


Following the same process again, apply the Floor Texture.jpg file to the chunks group and then apply another UVW Map modifier with Planar mapping.


Now it’s time to add some lights to the scene. Go to Lights > Standard > Target Spot and add a Target Spot light to the scene. This will act as the key light. I have set the direction of this light to match the real light source in the live action footage. You should be aware of the real light source's direction while shooting, and then the same kind of lighting effect should be applied in your 3D scene.

Keep the same parameter settings for the light as shown in the image. You can always play with the values if you like.


I have added two more lights as the Fill lights. The shadows are off for these lights and the intensities are quite low. As I said, you can always play with the settings of the lights to get the best results.


Now it’s time to render the scene. Before we proceed, we need to do a couple of things in the Material Editor. Press M to open the Material Editor. Pick an empty slot, click on the Standard button and then choose Matte/ Shadow from the list.


Apply this to the floor mesh. This will make the floor mesh transparent in the render, but it will still receive shadows from the chunks.


First, we will render the diffuse pass. Press F10 to open the Render Settings. Here set the desired range of frames to be rendered, and the dimensions of the render. In this case, I choose 1280/720 pixels.


Set the file name and the rendering location. You need to render the frames with an alpha channel, so set the file format to either TGA with 32 bits, or PNG.


Lastly, enable Mental Ray and start rendering.


Once the diffuse pass is done, we will render the ambient occlusion pass. This pass will help us get a realistic result when compositing. We need to do a little bit of a tweak in the material editor before getting the ambient occlusion pass. So press M to open the Material Editor. Pick an empty slot and click on the Standard button. Choose Mental Ray from the list.


Click on Surface and select Ambient/ Reflective Occlusion from the list.


Set the Spread value to 1 and the Max Distance to 50. You can play with these values if you like.


Press F10 to open the Render Setup. Go to Processing tab and enable the Material Override option. Then select the Ambient Occlusion material slot and drag and drop it onto the Material Override channel.


Finally press 8 to open the Environment and Effects window. And choose a pure white color for the background.


Now render a frame to see how it looks. This is the rendered frame from the ambient occlusion pass.


Now we will follow the same process of rendering as we did to create the diffuse pass. The only difference is that we need to save the ambient occlusion frames in . JPG format.


Once the rendering is done, we will do the compositing in After Effects. Open After Effects and import both the Diffuse and Ambient Occlusion render passes and add then to the timeline (keep the AO pass on top of the Diffuse pass.) Bring in the live action footage as well and place it below all the other layers.


With the AO pass layer selected, Right Click on it and go to Blending Mode > Multiply.


After doing a little bit of color correction, it now looks like this. Hit the Play button and you will see the 3D rendered scene matching perfectly with the live footage.


You can always play with the Particle Flow settings and lights a little more to achieve different results. Hope you liked this tutorial, and please share your views and results in the comments below.



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