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

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

In this quick tip, Alex Martin introduces you to two features of 3D Studio Max that many new artists overlook, a correct unit setup and the ever handy tape tool. Working with a correct scene scale is extremely important, especially when it comes to multiple artists working on the same scene, or when recreating accurate lighting for a project. This quick tip will give you a few tips for setting up your units system correctly, and provide a practical example for measuring the distance between objects using the tape tool and how this applies when working with Z-Depth.

Whenever we create a primitive object in 3ds Max, it shows its dimensions without any proper unit by default. For example, I have created a box in the viewport and you can see there is no unit setup defined for its dimensions (Length, Width and Height). However these dimensions have some values, but we don’t know what exactly these are; meter, feet, inches, centimeters or something else?

The majority of 3ds Max users just start working this way, and this is indeed a fatal tendency. If you’re working on an architecture or industrial project, or anything which requires a correct unit setup, then you must take care of it.


Not working with a correct unit setup can create lots of other problems. Let’s look at it through an example. Say, there are two users A and B, working in 3ds max on two different machines and both are working without setting up the correct unit order. User A has created a biped (scene 1) and user B has made a car (scene 2).


Now, after merging both projects together (scene 3), it shows the real problem. In scene 3, you can see the ratio mismatch clearly. The biped is too big for the car. This happened, because both users were working without setting up the correct unit order. If they had used the unit setup before, this problem could have been avoided.


Now, let’s see how to work with the correct unit setup. Open 3ds Max and first of all go to the Customizemenu. Here click on the Units Setup… option.


This opens Units Setup window. Here click on the System Unit Setup button to open the System Unit Setup window. By default, it shows 1 unit = 1 inch.


This means if you draw a box in the viewport, its dimension values are in inches by default. So in this example, a Length value of  40.0 means 40 inches and so on.


Now let’s go back to the Units Setup window. You can choose here a metric unit system also. Just turn on the Metric radio button and select any of the available units (meters, centimeters, kilometers etc). Then click on the OK button.


Now create a new Box in the viewport, and you’ll see its dimension values are in meters now.


You can change the unit system to US standard also. You can see I have changed the system unit to Feet/ Inches and now the same box’s dimension values are displaying in feet/ inches. So this is the way to get a correct measurement in 3ds Max.


Now let’s see how we can use unit setup in a different case. I have created a biped in the viewport. The question is, how to determine the exact height of the biped? Since the biped doesn’t have any dimension values, we need to apply a trick to know the height of the biped.


There is a simple trick to set the proper height of the biped. Create a Box of the same height beside the biped. Now check the height value of the box. It shows 16 feet and 5 inches. This means the biped has the same height as well. So this is the trick to determine and setup the proper height of a biped.


Now let’s see how to determine the proper distance between two objects in 3ds Max. I have created two objects in the viewport, and now we have to get the exact distance between the two.


To know the distance between objects, we’ll use Tape tool. Click on the Helper icon and then select theTape tool.


With the Tape tool selected, first click on the starting point, don’t release the mouse button and then click on the end point. The starting point of the tape tool is called the head/ tape and the end point is called the tail/ target. The connecting line in green between the head and tail represents the current distance.


If you select the head of the Tape tool, you can see the exact length or distance between the head and tail points.


If you turn on the Specify Length option, you’ll see the Length value gets changed and the green line of the tape tool exceeds a bit.


You can easily set it correctly by the spinner for the Length parameter.


Let’s see through an example, how the tape tool helps in Z-Depth channel extraction. Press the F10 key on the keyboard to open the Render Setup window. Here go to the Render Elements tab and click on Add. This opens the Render Elements sub-window. Here select Z Depth and then click on OK.


Inside the Z Depth Element Parameters, there are two options, Z Min and Z Max. If you want the correct Z Depth value, then you must know the correct Z Min and Z Max values, which are actually the distances from the camera focus to the target objects.


So you can see how important the measuring tools are in 3ds Max. I hope you have enjoyed this quick tip tutorial.

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