3ds Max 2018 - Motion Paths

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10 min

3ds Max 2018 - Motion Paths

In this tutorial, learn how to use Motion Paths and Bezier handles to control your animation without reverting back to the Curve Editor. New for 3ds Max 2018, you can display Motion Paths in the viewport and edit keyframes and Bezier handles interactively.


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


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Starting with 3ds Max 2018, you can do quite a bit of animation fine-tuning directly in the viewport, without going to the Curve Editor.

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Let's take a look at those improvements.

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Open the scene named mpaths_start.max that you downloaded for this tutorial.

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A download link is available in the description section of this tutorial.

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The scene shows a Blackhawk helicopter landing on what appears to be a section of an aircraft carrier.

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A camera tracks that motion and that was achieved by placing and linking the camera target to the chopper.

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All in all, it is a rather simple scene and if you select the chopper, you can see position keyframes on the timeline.

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The chopper approaches the carrier between frames 0 and 300,

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slows down and lands between frames 300 and 450.

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It stays there between 450 and 600 while the doors open to unload crew members…

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then it takes off again slowly between frames 600 and 750, and moves away further by the end of the animation, picking up speed in the process.

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Prior to 3ds Max 2018, you could display the trajectory followed by the animated helicopter in order to better gauge its path.

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In fact, I will take a second here and show you the same scene opened in 3ds Max 2017.

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With the chopper selected, I can access the object's properties with a right-click.

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I can enable Trajectory in this dialog, or an alternative would be to do so in the Motion Panel.

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This displays a red trajectory showing the chopper's path and timing in the form of white ticks.

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It also shows you the position keyframes that define that motion.

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You could even go into sub-object mode and edit those keyframes placements but you are limited to simply moving them around.

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Now let's go back to 3ds Max 2018 and take a second look at this same scene.

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Whether you look into the object's properties dialog or the Motion Panel, the label Trajectory has been replaced by Motion Paths.

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More importantly, you can now do further editing on the position keyframes. Aside from moving them around, you can also control Bezier handles.

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In the left view, zoom in around the keyframes where the helicopter is landing.

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In fact, given the scale of the scene, it might not be a bad idea to duplicate the left view in another viewport where you can view the entire path.

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This way you can work on the detail while also seeing the big picture.

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In sub-object mode, you can certainly manipulate and reposition keyframes like you did in prior versions.

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However, you can also adjust a keyframe's Bezier handle so you can alter the path and the timing.

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This can be very useful to smooth out a path for example.

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We'll take a look at additional options in the Motion Panel in a minute.

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First, let's animate the camera in order to have more than just one animated object in the scene.

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We'll simply animate the camera to swoop around the helicopter as it lands.

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Select the camera in the scene. It's probably easiest to use Scene Explorer to that effect.

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Enable Auto Key mode.

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Let's leave the camera static for a few seconds, so go to frame 150, and right-click the animation slider.

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When asked to create a key, uncheck Rotation and Scale. You only need a position keyframe.

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Doing so prevents the camera from moving before frame 150.

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Next go to frame 450 and reposition the camera so that it's looking at the front of the helicopter.

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Scrub the animation to study the motion. Note the straight line path which is expected of an object moving between two points.

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Go to frame 600 and again reposition the camera so that it's looking at the left side of the helicopter.

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Finally, at frame 800, reposition the camera so that it's looking at the helicopter slightly from behind.

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With the camera path now displayed, you can plainly see in the top view that the motion is not very fluid.

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There are some sharp angles around the defined keyframes.

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Set the top view to display in two viewports, as you did earlier with the left view.

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Again, this enables you to work on detail in one view and see the general scope of the project in another.

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Switching to Sub-Object mode, adjust the handles at frames 450 and 600 to get a smoother motion.

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Take a look at the first keyframe representing frame 150; the one that defines the start of the camera motion.

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There is in fact a Bezier handle there but you don't see it because it's sitting on top of the keyframe.

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Make sure you are in Sub-Object mode and that the Move tool is selected.

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By clicking and dragging on the keyframe, you can in fact manipulate the Bezier tangent, as its selection takes precedence over the keyframe itself.

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If you need to break a tangent, you can do so by selecting it and using the appropriately-named "Break Tangents" button.

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The "Unify Tangents" button does the opposite and locks the two handles together, even if they are not rectilinear.

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You can make them rectilinear again using the "Set Tangents to Auto" button.

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Let's explore the functionality of Motion Paths a bit further.

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If you look at the Motion Paths panel, you'll see four rollouts.

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Only one of these, the Conversion Tools rollout, was present prior to 3ds Max 2018.

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The other three rollouts, Visibility, Key Controls and Display are new to this version.

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We've already looked at the Key Controls rollout where you manipulate keys and tangents. Let's examine the other two.

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The Visibility rollout lets you decide when a motion path is displayed.

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By default, a Motion Path is only displayed on the selected object in the scene to prevent viewport clutter.

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If you alternate selecting the camera and the helicopter, the motion path is only shown on that selected object.

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If you enable the Always Show Motion Path option, the path displays at all times, regardless if the object is selected or not.

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It doesn't display in full though, just a faint line, again in order to minimize viewport clutter.

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You may find this option useful, depending on the project you're working on.

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The Display rollout has even more options. The Show Key Times option does what is intended, displaying the frame number in the viewport.

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Incidentally, when you make a change in the Motion Paths panel, you sometimes need a screen refresh to view the results.

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I made it a habit of moving the mouse across the viewports to force a refresh after changing any Display state.

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You can also force a refresh by pressing the Tilde shortcut key.

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You can also choose different path coloring schemes but in order to study this better, let's review some of the other options first.

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By default, all Bezier handles show on a motion path but if you decide against this, you can turn this option off.

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When off, only the handles on the selected key are displayed. Again, use your personal preference as to which mode suits you best.

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Ticks are the small little white dots that display on the path to give you an idea of the animation timing.

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Again, you can choose to display these ticks or simply turn them off.

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If you do turn them off, notice how the path is displayed in gradient form, with yellow defining the start of the animation and red defining its end.

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You can also choose to display the path based on the object's wirecolor, or in Uniform mode which basically reverts you to the old red color you used to have in 3ds Max 2017 and earlier.

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Arguably the most interesting option is the Velocity mode.

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It intuitively tells you when an animated object is moving fast (red) and when it slows down (blue).

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All these modes can be useful depending on your personal preference and the project at hand, although they are difficult to see if ticks are enabled.

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This is why there is an option to draw gradient ticks in order to have the better of two worlds.

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Finally, you can also trim the path in case you don't need to see it in its entirety.

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You can do so based on a frame range that would remain unchanged as you scrub the animation,

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or on a Frame Offset value that shows you a "before and after" path display.

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By specifying a number of offset frames, say 100 in this case, then the path displays 100 frames before and 100 frames after the current frame.

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The path display is updated live as you scrub the animation.

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This about covers what you need to know about this new feature. I hope you can put it to good use.

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| 4 years ago
Eager to expand your knowledge? Get answers and share your expertise at the 3ds Max Forums | http://autode.sk/3dsmaxforums
| 2 years ago
I noticed that the display of trajectories changed but without realizing how much it did. Quiet an impressive amount of well thought improvements on that one. Thanks for explaining in detail the way it works !