Creating Water Ripple Effects in 3ds Max - Part 3 - Leveraging the Flex Modifier

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  • 2014
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6 min

Creating Water Ripple Effects in 3ds Max - Part 3 - Leveraging the Flex Modifier

In this tutorial, you create a ripple effect animation leveraging the Flex Modifier. The Flex modifier uses a dynamic simulation, which is easier than manually animating ripples using other options like the Ripple modifier.

  • Recorded in: 3ds Max 2014
  • This tutorial is intended for use with 3ds Max version 2014 or higher.


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Continue working on your scene or open the file named flex-ripples.max to continue where the last movie left off.

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In this part 3 movie, you create the ripple effect using the Flex modifier.

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The Flex modifier uses a dynamic simulation to create the ripple effect.

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This is easier to set up and is more accurate than say, manually animating ripple effects using the Ripple modifier.

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Either way, to create convincing ripples, you first need to subdivide the water surface geometry, otherwise, the effect would be quite poor.

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Select the Water surface and make sure the viewport grid is disabled (G hotkey).

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Go to the Modify panel. At this time, the plane has the default 4x4 sub-divisions.

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You will need substantially more than that. Try 60x60 instead.

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This looks better. The more divisions you have the better the solution, but also the longer it would take to process and render.

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Ultimately, you can add a TurboSmooth modifier to smooth the effect further, but we'll get to that later.

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For now, 60x60 divisions should be fairly adequate.

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Add a Flex modifier to the object.

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Before you change any of the parameters, consider the Deflectors section.

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This is where you define collision objects that will affect the surface.

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However, you can only define Deflector "spacewarp" objects in this list, so in order to use the sphere as a deflector, here's what you do:

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From the Create panel, choose Space Warps.

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In the Drop-Down menu choose Deflectors.

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Select the UDeflector and click and drag anywhere in the top view to create an icon. The size of the icon is not important.

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UDeflector stands for Universal Deflector and that means you can select any scene object to act as a deflector, in this case the sphere named Stone.

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At this point, you can select the water surface again and this time, use the Deflector Add button and select the icon you just created in the scene.

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Since UDeflector001 represents the sphere, the sphere is now a collision object.

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The next step is to adjust the Flex values. This is the hardest part as it's an intuitive process that requires quite a bit of trial and error.

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For the ripples in the trailer and for this scene, reduce the Strength and Sway values to simulate liquid.

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Try 0.2 and 0.4 respectively.

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Leave the Stretch value to 5 and set the Stiffness value also to 5.

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These parameters are explained in 3ds Max's help file but I find that trial and error is often necessary as each scene is different.

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One last step to do before running the simulation, expand the Flex modifier and select Weights & Springs.

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Press Ctrl+A to select all the vertices that make the water surface and then enable Absolute Weight with a value of 0.1

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This ensures all vertices are weighed the same way and that there is no falloff in the effect.

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Exit Sub-Object mode.

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Go to frame 0 and run the simulation by clicking Create Simple Soft Body.

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One major hurdle you will get at this point is real-time playback.

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The type of calculation is so complex that it will bring any computer to a crawl.

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To overcome that, make sure you are at frame 0 and add a Point Cache modifier to the list.

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Click the New button to save a new Point Cache file. Choose a folder and name the file: myRipples.

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Click the Record button to capture the vertex animation data and save it to the cache file on disk.

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When it's done, disable the Flex modifier in the stack. You don't need it anymore as the animation is saved down to each individual vertex.

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You can do this directly or by clicking the Disable Modifiers Below button.

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Now you can scrub or playback the animation in real-time.

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The beauty of the Point Cache modifier is that it can be used to enhance the effect without re-running the simulation.

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Try boosting the Strength effect and see the end-result.

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A value of 2 should be fine for this example.

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Add a TurboSmooth modifier to smooth the ripples a bit more.

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This takes care of the animation part of the scene, but what makes this scene stand out is proper materials and lighting.

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In the next movie, you create materials that bring the scene to life.
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