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Model a Detailed, High-Poly Camera in 3ds Max 2010

This massive, 117 step tutorial covers the entire process of modeling a detailed DSLR camera, that would be suitable for use as a high-poly scene object in a render, or for generating normal maps to be applied to an in-game model.  We will also be going over some of the ins and outs of 3ds Max 2010's new graphite modeling tools!


The first thing you need to do is set up your reference in the scene. To do this, place a plane in the front, top, and side view ports, and make them the same dimensions as the source image (which you can download from the link above). In this case they should be 950x784.

Now you can begin to model.  In either the front, or the back view, drag a box out so that it fits the approximate shape of the camera.

Apply a new material to the model, so that you can see the underlying reference images. Hit 'M' to bring up the material editor, then select an empty slot, and turn down the opacity. You may also want to change the color to make it easier to see.

Left click on the box to select it, and then right click to convert the object to an 'editable poly'.  Start shaping the box to match the reference image in each of the views.

Try to pick key points on the object to place your segments.  In this case a hard edge or angle change would be the best choice.

From the back, insert two edges.  3ds Max 2010 has a new 'swift loop' tool that is handy for this.  Then extrude from the top to continue the shaping process.

More shaping.  In this case you can start to extrude the front.

Add more edge loops to define the shape where you will extrude the hand grip.

Extrude the faces to form what will later become the hand grip.

You can now begin shaping the newly made section.  A good tip is to never add too many new cuts or divisions before cleaning them up.  This will go a long way to keep your model clean, and also make everything easier to understand.

Extrude a few more segments, matching the shape to the reference images.  Try to follow key edges found on the camera (highlighted in red on the image below).

After you have the flash section roughed in, move on to the area around the lens.  Start by added two more edge loops.

Add two more loops, making them parallel to the others, and shape them around the lens. This will be important later for keeping a hard edge.

Pull the faces out a little.

Now that you have the basic form down, add a 'turbosmooth' modifier (found under the 'modifiers' tab).  Use 2 'iterations' and select 'isoline' display.

You will notice that there is a hard edge where the lens is attached.  To create this effect, you need to re-enforce the edges you want to be hard by adding extra geometry.  Use the 'inset' tool twice to create the desired effect.

Clean up any unwanted edges, as they will cause problems with smoothing.

At this point your model should look something like this.

Clean up the flash area.  I had to weld a number of vertices, and attach one edge to the other to keep the edge loops flowing.  You may need to do some similar adjustments, but the main thing is to keep the geometry free of triangles, and to keep the edge loops flowing around the model in a logical way.

Start shaping out the area around the small info screen, and at the front where the shutter button is.

Add some more of those hard edges by selecting the one line and simply using the 'chamfer' tool.

Often when you use the 'chamfer' tool you will get triangles.  When using 'turbosmooth', you will want to go around to these spots, and get rid of the triangles to make your model look cleaner.  You can achieve this by selecting the vertices around the triangles and simply welding them together.

You should have something that looks like this.

Now clean up the sides.  For both, just keep the edge loops flowing right down the sides.  You can use the 'cut' tool to achieve the desired effect.

Start to cut the other side.

Nice sharp edges.

Move on to the eye piece.  This is a pretty simple section to do.  Add a box in the top viewport.

Convert it to an 'editable poly'.

Move it into place.

Now add the details by using the 'inset' tool several times.

Push the one face backwards.

Now use the 'inset' tool a third time.  Push it back a little, and scale it in from the center.  Select the outer edges (highlighted in red).

Use the 'chamfer' tool.  The settings are relative to the scale of your object, so your number may differ from mine somewhat.

Continue to do this for the corners.

All done the eye piece.

Move back to the info screen.  Using the 'cut' tool, add two more lines, and move one to the left a little.

More clean up.  Just tie off the edges near the top to make quads.

Extrude the faces that you want to be the screen inward .

Always try to keep the edges clean.  Otherwise, smoothing won't work very well, and you won't get the results that you want.

Now do the edges on the other side.  You can also pull the one up a little bit.  You can remove the edges that are selected in the image below since they are not needed.

Next up is the back video screen.  Just like every other part so far, start with a box, convert it to an 'editable poly', add a few segments, and line them up to the reference photos.

Select the middle faces and extrude them out a little.  This will be the screen.


Chamfer the corner edges.

This is entirely optional, but to finish the screen off, you can select the face and inset it once.  If you plan on doing a custom texture, then you don't need this, but if you just want to throw on some solid colors, then this could help.

Now do the mode selector dial (this is where you can select the different presets and modes on the camera).  Make a cylinder in the top view port, and line it up with the reference images.

The dial is on an angle, so you will have to rotate it some.

Add some detail by performing a small chamfer.

Select every other face on the side and extrude them a bit.

With those faces still selected, use the 'bevel' tool (located near the 'chamfer' tool).  It will give the ends a more interesting look.

Now you need to do the base that the dial sits on.  Make another cylinder and chamfer the top.

To give the camera some branding, use the basic 'text' tool, type in the name "Pentax", and use the 'extrude' modifier to add some depth.

Next up is the shutter button.  Start with a cylinder, and scale the top inward. This will give you the basic shape.

From the top view, line it up with the reference.

Add an edge loop, select the top face, and scale it in a little.

The one edge is still a little too sharp, so with it selected, use the 'extrude' tool.  Don't give it any height or depth...just keep it at '0'.

Time to make the button.  Start by insetting the top face.

Extrude the face, and chamfer the edges to round them out.  Toggle smoothing on to see how far apart your lines need to be.

You should now have something that looks like this.

Next, make the button that goes next to the shutter.  Use a box, extrude the face outward, and scale it in a little bit.

Chamfer the edge to round it off.

More clean up. The area just behind the shutter button needs some love.  There is also a hard edge separating the front section from the small lcd screen.

Using the 'cut' tool, cut two lines parallel to one another, and right up to the top of the shutter.  With 'turbosmooth' on, this will have a nice crisp edge.

The result with smoothing on should look like this.

Moving on to the other side, do some tweaking to the body shape.

Just like the other side, use the 'cut' tool to place the edges.

You should now have something that looks like this.

Back to modeling the controls. Use the same process that was used for modeling the mode selector in steps 45-50.

For the bulge around the dial, simply use a sphere and scale it in on the Z axis.

Here you can see the finished control.  If you are going to get right up close, you can add even more detail, but if this is just going to be sitting on a desk in a render, or used for Normal map baking, then this is more than adequate.

Use the same method of inset, extrude, then bevel for all of the controls.

You should now have something that looks like this.

Finish off the camera body shape.  For this you have to model in the thumb support.  Rough out the shape by moving some of the vertices with 'turbosmooth' on.

With 'turbosmooth' off the edge flow can look a little strange.  I recommend toggling it on and off quite often.

Add another line to harden up the area.  Without it, it would be too smooth with 'turbosmooth' on.

After adding a few lines, and playing with the geometry, the result should end up looking something like this.

Now go around and make sure everything is in the right spot.  For example, the screen may need adjusting, or the dials may need to be pushed in a bit.  At this point you should also save your work.  Even though 3ds Max has an auto save, you can never be too careful.

Line up the basic geometry for some of the buttons.

Move them into place on the model.

For the control wheel, chamfer the edges to round them off. Then inset the middle, and push it in a little.

To make the button finger grips, start with a box, add a few segments, and line them up with the reference.

Apply a 'turbosmooth' modifier, and then clone them around the model as necessary.

This particular camera has a number of small buttons.  Use the basic 'capsule', and play with the settings to make it pop out on the ends.  You may wish to convert this to an 'editable poly' and delete the faces you don't see, but this is entirely optional.

Now copy the same buttons around to the back.

To finish off the eye piece, you have to add some more detail at the top. Using the 'connect' tool, make two edges, and then make two more edges connecting them.  You should end up with a shape that looks like a long rectangle.

Extrude that face inward a little.  Then add a box, add a number of segments to it, and bevel the top of every other face.  Adjust the gap between each of them to be a bit less wide.

Now move to the front of the camera to add the curving hard edge on the hand grip.  Use the 'cut' tool to add the basic flow.

Then just tie off your edges.  With 'turbosmooth' on, you should get a nice curving hard edge.

Next up is the flash bracket.  Start with a box, add a few edges, then extrude once.

Model the metal bracket using two boxes.

You are almost done the camera body, but there are two more parts to add at the front, near the bottom.  Start with a box, add two segments, select the border edges, and then chamfer them.  You can use either the reference, or your own judgment.

The opposite side has almost the same shape but smaller, so just mirror the one side over, scale it down a little, and move it into place.

Time to move on to the lens.  Add a cylinder and just adjust the size.

Add a few edge loops to define where you will be extruding from.

Start extruding.

Add a small bevel using the 'chamfer' tool.

Add two more edge loops for the main focus ring.

The focus ring has a rubber grip with small extruded bits.  You need to make the polygons thinner, so with the previous lines still selected, click on the 'connect' tool to add another group of edges.

Now select every other face.

Using the 'bevel' tool, extrude the faces outward.  You can see the settings that I used, but don't forget that, depending on your scale, your numbers may be different from mine.

You should now have something that looks similar to this.

Now start on the front, by beveling the front face a little bit.

Then extrude it in a little bit.

Extrude back out. This is this part of the lens that is 'telascopic', and moves in and out depending upon the focus settings.

Line it up with the reference.

Start insetting again.

Extrude inwards.

Inset one more time.

Now select the thin strip of faces and extrude them out a little.  Then, either chamfer the edges, or bevel them.  Either way the result will be the same.

For the glass part of the lens, just use the capsule primitive again. Then just scale it in, until it's almost flat, and move it into place.

Now would be a good time to assign smoothing groups.  The fastest way to do this is to use the 'smooth' modifier.

Chamfer any hard corners.  Even if they look sharp on the real object, giving them a small bevel will help them to pick up nice highlights at render time.

Bevel the faces near the front of the lens.  Just follow the larger shapes on the reference pictures.

Next up is the grip for taking off the lens.  Select the edges near the back of the lens (highlighted in red in the image below).

With those edges still selected, click on the 'connect' tool, and play with the number of segments.  When you are happy with what you have, click ok to apply the changes.

Select every other face, and bevel them out using 'local normal'.  You can use similar settings to the ones in the image below.

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The lens is now finished.  Any other details would be applied using textures such as normal maps.

Unhide everything and you should have a high-poly DSLR camera that looks something like this!



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