3ds Max 2018 - MAXtoA Plugin - Part 1 - Arnold Rendering Basics

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11 min

3ds Max 2018 - MAXtoA Plugin - Part 1 - Arnold Rendering Basics

In this multi-part tutorial, you learn about the new MaxtoA (Arnold renderer) plugin and what it brings to 3ds Max 2018. This Part 1 movie introduces you to the basic set up for Arnold renderer.


  • Recorded in: 3ds Max 2018
  • This tutorial is intended for use with 3ds Max version 2018 or higher.

Learning resources


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Starting in 3ds Max 2018, you will discover a rather important change to the rendering engines.

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Mental Ray, a well-established fixture of 3ds Max for many years, has been replaced by the new kid on the block.

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Arnold,the rendering engine that's been the go-to solution in movie productions is now available in 3ds Max.

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When you install 3ds Max 2018, you automatically get a free license of the Arnold Renderer from Solid Angle, the developers of Arnold.

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This free license for MAXtoA as it's called (in reference to the "MAX to Arnold" plugin) is good for front-end rendering.

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This means it is set for single machine rendering through the GUI. You would need additional commercial licenses for background renderings and render farms.

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Plugin updates and other goodies such as Scene Converter scripts and sample files are available on the Solid Angle Arnold downloads page.

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This multi-part tutorial will guide in your first steps experimenting with Arnold.

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The integration to the 3ds Max UI is effortless, which means you set up the rendering engine much like any other, using the Render Setup dialog.

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Some tabs change and some remain the same. The Arnold Renderer tab gives you access to Render Settings which we will explore later.

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But what happens to legacy scenes and projects?

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What happens to scenes saved in other rendering engines, or that use legacy or specific types of materials, maps and lights?

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Let's explore this together. The scene you will be using is simple yet useful for the purposes of this tutorial.

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It shows a dining set, with a table, four chairs and a few additional props.

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When opened in 3ds Max 2017, note that it uses Mental Ray as a rendering engine.

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It is also using legacy Standard materials for the most part but also one or two materials based on Mental Ray's Arch and Design material.

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There are also six photometric lights illuminating the scene.

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To download this file, a download link is available in the Description section of this movie.

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Open this scenein 3ds Max 2018.

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The first indication that something has fundamentally changed is the Obsolete File warning prompting you to resave the file to a new format.

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Click OK to dismiss the warning, and another warning appears.

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This one warns you that since the file contains mental ray legacy assets, something needs to be done to make them compatible with 3ds Max 2018.

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If you click OK, any missing legacy assets will be removed.

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You also have the option to open the Scene Converter to make additional adjustments.

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Click OK for now. The scene loads in 3ds Max 2018 without any further problems.

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If you were to check the Material Editor, you'll note that the Arch & Design material has been automatically converted to a Physical Material.

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This is good news as the Physical Material is easily the go-to material in 3ds Max moving forward.

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It's powerful, easy to use and compatible with most rendering engines including Arnold.

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Still, because we haven't manually run any conversions, the scene loads using the Scanline renderer by default.

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In a way, it is still using some legacy features such as the Standard Material.

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Even though some legacy features work or can be made to work with Arnold, it is better to help the process a little bit.

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Close all dialog boxes.

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Typically, with older scenes, you want to use Scene Converter to update them to better and more modern standards.

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Go to the Scene Converter dialog accessible from the Rendering menu.

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By default, the ART preset is chosen.

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This is significant because although other Arnold presets and scripts are made available by Solid Angle, the ART preset may well be the only thing you need.

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If you expand the conversion rules, you will see that this preset gives you all you need to ensure 100% compatibility.

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Materials will be converted to Physical Materials, lights converted to Photometric lights which are fully compatible with Arnold,

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mr Sun and Sky converted to Sun Positioner, which again is compatible with Arnold,

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even cameras and Exposure Control are set to give you optimum results when converted.

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Basically, the only option you might want to change here is in the Editor tab, whereas you ask for the renderer to be switched to Arnold instead of ART.

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As you convert the scene, you're effectively making it Arnold-ready.

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If you so choose, you can even save the preset changes under a new name, such as MyArnold.

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Dismiss Scene Converter when done.

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The materials may have disappeared from the viewport but you can bring them back using Views > Show Materials in Viewport As > Shaded Materials with Maps.

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Select the camera in the scene. You will find it is indeed a Physical Camera now and you can therefore set it to use Exposure Control in the Modify panel.

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This ought to make the camera viewport shading a bit better.

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Check the Render Settings dialog to confirm that Arnold is indeed the chosen rendering engine.

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Check the Material Editor to see that all Standard Materials have been converted to Physical Materials.

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Interestingly, you do get a red warning about a Noise map being not supported.

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You can in fact still use some of these old 3ds Max map types in Arnold.

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All you need is to go to the System tab in the Render Setup dialog and enable the Legacy 3ds Max Support option.

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This should take care of the Arnold warning and you can dismiss that dialog.

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Render the camera view to get a feel for the scene. It renders okay but could use a bit of fine-tuning.

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Even though the materials were converted to Physical materials, they are still based on old and obsolete material definitions.

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For example, the plates and utensils rely on bitmaps to convey reflections. This is hardly accurate and should be addressed.

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Using the Material Editor, sample the material applied on the utensils.

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Delete the bitmap associated with the material; you won't need it anymore.

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As for the material itself, one of the perks of using Physical Materials is that you can choose material properties from a list of presets.

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In this case, I will use the Silver preset from the Metals group.

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For the plates, I will choose a Glazed Ceramic preset, while perhaps giving the base color a touch of beige.

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By duplicating the last render, and comparing it to a new one, you can already see the differences these small changes introduced.

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You can continue experimenting with this.

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For example, setting the wine glasses to a Satin Silver preset, while retaining the old bitmap in the color and bump channels.

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The wine bottles can use some help, mostly for the glass part.

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They have similar material definitions, the white wine bottle has green glass, so you can use a Solid Glass preset for it.

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Just make the transparency color a mid to light green.

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The same applies for the red wine bottle with a slightly darker red to reduce transparency.

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Finally, you can fine-tune the wood and metal textures on the table and chairs by sampling the material from one of the chairs.

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Give the wood a coat of varnish, and set the metal to a Polished Aluminum finish.

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Just make sure the base color is very dark, almost black.

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Compare your last render to the original and you'll notice a significant improvement that comes strictly from Physical Material adjustments.

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As you can see, the Physical Material is 100% compatible with Arnold. It is easy to use and you're probably already familiar with it.

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If you prefer, you can use Arnold-specific materials and shaders, and there are many.

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If you right-click in the material Editor, you'll note a full Arnold category under Materials.

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That is in turn subdivided into more options as you delve deeper into what Arnold has to offer.

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The same is true under the Maps category where you will see quite a few additions there as well.

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If this starts to get confusing, you can indeed stick with the Physical Material workflow and that in itself will take you a long way.

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This said, if you want to experiment with Arnold-specific materials and shaders, then a good place to start would be the Standard Surface material.

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This Arnold material is the closest you get to Max's Physical Material.

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The parameter groups are roughly the same, with options for clearcoat, base color, reflections, transparency here called transmission, SSS

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There are no clear-cut benefits to choose between 3ds Max's Physical Material and Arnold's Standard Surface Material,

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except maybe the available presets that are part of the Physical Material.

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With the materials now in place, we will look at lighting next.

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At this time, the scene is lit by six photometric lights that are fully compatible with Arnold.

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Indeed you can keep on using Photometric lights in your future projects or you can elect to use Arnold lights to light a scene.

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This requires a bit of workflow re-thinking but you might find it worth your while. This is what we will explore in the next movie.?
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| 3 years ago
Eager to expand your knowledge? Get answers and share your expertise at the 3ds Max forums | http://autode.sk/3dsmaxforums
| 3 years ago
Eager to expand your knowledge? Get answers and share your expertise at the 3ds Max Forums | http://autode.sk/3dsMaxForums
| 3 years ago
Thank you, very clear!