NAB 2011 - 3ds Max & Smoke Demo - in depth follow up

Posted by Louis Marcoux, 24 May 2011 8:00 pm

Last NAB, i had to create a workflow demo showing 3ds Max and Smoke on the Mac working together. In this post, i revisit this demo in depth to present all the detailed steps of the work i did to prepare the final presentation. If you want to see the original 1 hour presentation from NAB, you can visit the on-demand video section of Area:

Smoke is an all in one finishing package that goes from editing to 3D compositing and includes tons and tons of tools for effects, keying, color correcting, tracking and more. You can find more on Smoke here:

Smoke for Mac

Also, Grant Kay has a blog where he posts a lot of information about Smoke. It's a great resource if you want to learn more about it:

The best way to learn it is to dowload the free trial and use the tutorials that are available on Area:

Smoke for Mac

Now that you know where to find things, let's get into the meat of the presentation and lean about how 3ds Max and Smoke can work together and produce very cool images.

Part 1 - Introduction : Connecting a PC and a MAC & Loading Clips in Smoke

Before starting, we need to learn how to work with 3ds Max on a PC and Smoke on a MAC. Using this simple network technique, transfer of data will be seamless from one platform to the other. Also, see how image sequences and clips can be loaded in Smoke, straight from the networked PC.

Part 2 - Basic Editing

Smoke is an all-in-one finishing package that works from a timeline based workflow. In this video, i use footage from a 3ds Max tutorial ( made by Digital Tutors ( This tutorial has been made to show 3ds Max doing motion graphics and it is quite extensive. It's free and files are provided on the web page. So i receommend you look at it. A lot of great information in that tutorial. With the footage from the tutorial, i show you the basics of editing in Smoke. Smoke is an advanced professinal editor but can also load Edit Lists from all major editing tools out there. So you can finish projects in Smoke and add all sorts of advanced effects.

Part 3 - Planning the Shot from an Exiting Timeline in Smoke

Smoke can have multiple timelines. In this video, you'll see how to copy a timeline to start a new project and how to use paint tools in Smoke to visualy define the goals of the project.

Part 4 - 3ds Max and Adobe Illustrator Workflow

Many logos are provided in the AI format. In this video, you'll see how to import and export AI files and see how they can be used in 3ds Max to create 3D objects.

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT THE MAX TUTORIALS BELOW:  Unfortunately, i recorded these videos on a new system and the recording doesn't show the cursor. This problem will be fixed for later blog posts but this one suffers a bit from this problem. I hope you will be able to follow the flow without it... I am very sorry about that.

Part 5 - 3ds Max Text Tools

Quick overview of the text tools in 3ds Max.

Part 6 - Terrain Modeling

Learn a few techniques to create terrains with modifiers, brushes, boolean operations and conform brushes. The final mesh is prepared to be sent to Mudbox for detailing so there are a few tricks on how to get good topology that will work best in that workflow.

Part 7 - Detailing in Mudbox

Once the terrain is modeled in 3ds Max, you can use Mudbox to add details and paint high resolution images as textures. This video covers the workflow between the 2 applications and shows some of the tools in Mudbox. Craig Barr has a great blog on Mudbox if you want to lean more about it:

Part 8 - Exporting Data Out of Mudbox

In this video, see how to generate the maps from Mudbox that will be used for the material creation in 3ds Max. Details and painting from Mudbox are sent as maps (normal, displacement, ambient occlusion, paint layers) to 3ds Max so that a material can reproduce what was done in Mudbox.

Part 9 - Creating a Material in 3ds Max From Mudbox Maps

Learn how to create a material in 3ds Max that will incorporate all the maps and painting layers that were produced in Mudbox.

Part 10 - Camera Moves

In this video, you'll see 2 ways of creating path & trajectory based camera moves.

Part 11 - The Sky Background

This video covers a few techniques to use gradients and noises to create a night sky background for the shot.

Part 12 - Light Beams

This video shows how to use volumetric lights to create Hollywood light beams. It also shows how to add details in the light beams so that they don't look too clean.

Part 13 - Fireworks with PFlow

First, you'll see how to install the Particle Flow samples on your system. Those samples used to be provided on a second DVD but are now provided as a download link when you purchase 3ds Max. After this setup, you'll see how to create a fireworks effect using PFLow.

NOTE: In this video, i use the folllowing script:userdata/fckdata/4952/PFlowPreset_TXT_Generator.rar

Part 14 - Stadium Collapsing

Here, i show how to fracture objects and then use the new MassFX toolbar to create a collapsing animation.

In this video, i use the mbFracture Script from Martin Breidt that you can find here:

Part 15 - Motion Builder Workflow & Crowd Creation

In this video, i'll show you how to take one of the samples files (from the 3ds Max samples DVD) and send it to Motion Builder in order to get animations on it. Then, you'll see how to point cache the animation and create a few variations. Finally, you'll see how to use the Paint Object functionality to paint a crowd in the stadium.

Part 16 - Flags

Here, you'll see the workflow of starting from a spline and end up with cloth simulation for the flags animations.

Part 17 - Send to Smoke

This is the last step in 3ds Max where you need to define what will be rendered and what will be exported as FBX files. You'll see the thinking behind sending content to Smoke in various formats depending on the final usage of this content.

Part 18 - Assembling the Background Renderer Layers in Action

See how Action in Smoke can be used as a 3D compositor and how you can refine the look of the layers and add 3D lighting effects.

Part 19 - FBX Point Cache Import

The videos shows how to import FBX files with point cache animations in Smoke. Then, you'll see how to change the materials on the objects with footage and images.

Part 20 - Advanced 3D Compositing in Action

This video show how to use 3D locators and camera moves from 3ds Max in order to create a 3D setup in action. This setup will allow to combine 2D static footage into a 3D scene and give the impression that the footage is part of the 3D scene. You will see how the real players will seam to jump above the rendered platform from 3ds Max.

Part 21 - Assembling the Final Result on the Timeline

See how the Smoke timeline can add multiple layers to assemble the final shot. We'll also see how Soft Effects can be used to tweak the look of the layers directly from the timeline.

Part 22 - Versionning

Because of the non destructive workflow of Smoke, this final step shows how you can create multiple versions of the shot by accessing the history of shots. You'll see that it's possible to change the flag logos and the 3D text even after the final timeline is done. You'll see how to create multiple versions very quickly from the record area in Smoke.

I hope you enjoyed this blog entry. I know it's long but i really wanted to share my experience building this demo. It was a lot of fun and i have learned a lot from it. So, i wanted to make sure you could benefit from it.

And, again, sorry for the absence of cursor in my 3ds Max recordings. I have fixed the problem now and it should be fine for my next blog post...



Posted 29 May 2011 12:39 pm

You talk about the course is great, come on!


Posted 29 May 2011 3:08 pm

Louis Great Tutorial! Please keep going creating tutorials for Smoke


Posted 16 January 2012 4:37 am

Is there any way, that I can download those movies or watch them somewhere else? Cause for some reason, the videos don't load (completely). And if they do, I'm still only able to watch a couple of minutes before it jumps back to the beginning....


Posted 9 October 2012 4:37 am

Excellent! Great tuts as always, and it was a pleasure to meet you out at SIGGRAPH, Thank You for the private demo!

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