Bringing the SimCenter™ to life in 3D Studio Max®

By Mike Carroll Jr. ©2000-2001 CGSD Corp. All rights reserved.

Located in a small warehouse in Mountain View, California for the last several years has been a prototype of SimulTainment Corporation's® SimCab™, a two-seat motion-based simulator. John Barnes, president of SimulTainment Corp., is one of our clients at CGSD Corp.®. The simulator was built to support AeroBall®, a sports competition game which involves multiple players.

Building a model.

Recently, we were given the task of recreating the SimCab as a high-polygon 3-D model that could be rendered for publicity shots and data sheets. From 2-D CAD views, I was able to get an accurate model using patches, the FFD modifier and mesh editing tools provided in 3D Studio Max 2.5.


Rendered close-up of SimCab shows subtle sparkle from the candy apple finish.


But I want a Candy Apple finish!

Mr. Barnes asked me if 3D Studio Max was capable of creating a realistic looking candy apple finish like his prototype. While Max 2.5 has a fairly robust rendering engine, it was not capable of creating the result he was seeking. After receiving the Max 3.1 upgrade, I proceeded to use the new Shellac and Multi-layer tools to achieve the required look. With the Shellac tool, you have several layers available to play with, including bump, reflection, specular, etc. The second layer can be equivalent to a clear coat of paint. In this case, the first layer was used to create the defuse bitmap for the cab's red pin stripe and numbers. For the bump, we added noise with a setting of about 200. This emulated the fine particles of the candy apple metallic.


Pink specular color was used to achieve the candy apple look.

Specular was set to about 150, using a pink candy color. The second layer was the clear coat. Raytracing was applied with a high Glossy setting. Specular pink bumps came out appropriately through a smooth final finish. For more realism, slight noise bumps on the clear layer could have been added for orange peel imperfections, but we decided against that. With Multi-layer, 3D Studio Max artists now have the choice of two Glossy and Specular settings on a single object. This works very well for semi scratchy surfaces, such as aluminum or some plastics. It came in handy for those areas on the SimCab.

Once modeling was completed, it was easy to create other versions, such as the Stealth model, painted in dark camouflage with glowing missiles at its side.


Now I want an arcade.

After displaying data sheets from the rendered shots at the Fun Expo 2000 in Las Vegas, SimulTainment Corporation. consultants proposed a SimArcade™, the arcade center shown at the top of the page. I used Max to design the kiosks that circle the SimCab, appropriately called SimStations™.


Populate it with people.

At this point, we wanted an arcade filled with people, so we turned to Poser 4 for stock characters. Exporting to Alias Wavefront's .obj, Polytrans was used to import the file back into Max. Character Studio's Physique modifier was then applied to each character. Poser will allow you to export to .3ds (3D Studio DOS), but the UV and material properties are lost. A character recycled from my Cest animation was used for the girl on the right.

Character Studio's Physique modifier is quite memory intensive. With 256 Mb of memory, we find that after merging 5 characters, the program will crash. In this case, each character was rendered separately with mat objects for shadow casting. Using the 3D Studio Max Video Post, these scenes could later be composited together.


Let there be light.

High polygons were not a problem for our dual Pentium OpenGL NT workstation. But when I began adding lights, the hard drive started to page. Some lights were added only to include the rear of the SimCab for the appropriate effect. Only 2 of the lights in the scene are set to cast shadows, each with a 1024 shadow map, sampling set to 8 and a bias set to .01.


Working smart.

The secret of conquering complex scenes is to work smart. You need to plan ahead and work in a logical order. With Character Studio, you can pose and animate low poly bipeds, then apply their animation properties to complex scene characters. The 3D Studio's mat material is also an excellent way for compositing, insuring that upper layers appear behind objects and that they cast shadows. With more advanced tool sets provided in 3D Studio Max and other such rendering packages, artists can now achieve a quality of realism that was once prohibited on desktop systems.


Ready for TAKEOFF! Replay Magazine's March 2001 issue features AeroBall.