How 3ds Max Works with Characters

3ds Max includes a unique set of features for handling characters. This set of features is collectively called Character Studio. These features used to be available as a separate set of plug-ins, but they have recently been added to Max's base package. The key component of these features is a predefined bipedal skeleton system (called a biped in 3ds Max) that you can modify to your character's shape, attach to your character, vertex weigh, and animate. (Of course, you could set up your own skeletal system from scratch, but why bother when someone else has already done it for you?) In fact, this set of features also contains many predefined basic animations that you can apply to your characters. Here's a short list of the main steps you'll take to get the Hicks model running, so to speak:

Caution

Not all game engines will work with Max's biped objects. Some only accept bones. Check with your game engine documentation before using the biped features.

1. Install the biped. This involves adding and modifying a bipedal bones system, which starts off as a template of sorts. The biped is positioned and scaled to the inside of the limbs of the mesh, and finally attached using the Skin modifier. After you've attached the biped, you can deform the mesh around the bones by grabbing them and moving them around.

2. Weight the skin. This is the process of defining the envelopes of influence that the bones have over the neighboring vertices. Put simply, there is a 1:1 bone-to-mesh ratio for deformation. The bones apply themselves directly to the vertices of the mesh. In some cases, however, you must further define preferences that the bones themselves have for moving certain vertices over others. This is called weighting, and it's fun but somewhat tedious. If you don't weight certain areas correctly, like where the upper arm meets the forearm, the movements will look weird, such as seeing the forearm bulge instead of the bicep.

3. Animate the bones. When the skeletal weighting is satisfactory, the next step is to generate individual animation sequences for the bones to follow. You can use presets in Character Studio, or you can define your own. Animation of bones is subject for an entire book, literally, so for now we'll use the default Torque sequences.

4. Export the mesh/animation.

The last steps are to export the mesh (and the individual animations that drive the skeletal system) to the game engine of your choice using that engine's proprietary Max exporter plug-in. In this case, you'll dump out just the mesh with a biped object installed to the Torque engine, without animations. (The game engine's default animations will do the trick and drive the bones of the Hicks model character.) Generally speaking, the game needs a reference mesh—which is just the static, unanimated model—and a series of animation sequences without the mesh that drive the static model. Typically, the static mesh model is referred to as a reference.

These first two steps including installing the biped and weighting the skin will be covered in this chapter, and the final two steps of animating the bones and exporting the mesh to the Torque game engine will be covered in Chapter 8, "Character Animation in 3ds Max."

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