Creating Water Ripple Effects in 3ds Max - Setting the Scene

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  • Film & VFX
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  • 2014
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Skill Level
  • Intermediate
5 min

Creating Water Ripple Effects in 3ds Max - Setting the Scene

In this introductory tutorial, we will go through the steps needed to create such an effect of an animated bouncing object that creates ripples on a water surface. In this first tutorial, you set the basis of the bouncing arrow. Later on, you fine-tune the animation and the general look by adding ripples, materials and proper scene lighting.


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


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In this tutorial, you learn how the movie trailer that precedes every movie on this channel was created.

00:00:13 --> 00:00:17
You will not be using the same assets though but rather starting from scratch.

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This will allow you to work on a simpler scene which always makes learning easier.

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In this first movie, you start with the basic scene setup and then move on to work on the details subsequently.

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Start or reset 3ds Max.

00:00:33 --> 00:00:40
In the Units Setup, make sure the System Units are set to Inches, which is the default.

00:00:41 --> 00:00:46
Set the Display Units to Meters, as it's easier to get a sense of scale that way.

00:00:47 --> 00:00:54
Ultimately, you will be using Mental Ray to render this project, so you may as well set Mental Ray as a rendering engine from the start.

00:00:55 --> 00:01:01
This can be done in the Render dialog, which can be accessed from the main toolbar or by pressing F10.

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In the Assign Renderer section, set Mental Ray as the Production Renderer.

00:01:07 --> 00:01:14
If you are a regular on this channel, then you would know that I favor rendering in the 16x9 HDTV format.

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Set the rendering resolution to HDTV (video).

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Close the dialog when done.

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In order to frame the view better, enable Show Safe Frames in the Perspective view.

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This way, you get a better sense of what's being rendered.

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You are now ready to create the needed components. You'll start with the water surface.

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It's easy enough to place in the scene, use a simple Plane object in the top view.

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Make it 2m x 2m in size,

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and use the Move tool to relocate it to the center of the world, at [0,0,0]

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Name it "Water Surface".

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If you need to, change its wirecolor.

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That's fine for now although you will need to adjust its density later, when you create the animated ripples.

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Next, you'll create the path for the animated arrow.

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Note that there are multiple animated arrows in the trailer, and that each apparent arrow is actually made of two arrows traveling together.

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Since you're only learning the concepts here, you'll focus on creating one arrow and one path.

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Using the Line tool, create a line in Corner/Corner mode, centered on the water surface, only a tad wider.

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You only require two clicks. To ensure the line is straight, hold Shift down after the first click.

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Center the line to the world at [0,0,0]

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and then rename it "Arrow Path".

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Again, change its wirecolor if you need to.

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In the Modify panel, go to Segment mode.

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Select the single segment that makes the line. You need to subdivide it in order to create the bounces.

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Lower in the panel, set the Divide value to 11 and then click the Divide button.

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This adds 11 new vertices to the line that are equidistant.

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Go into vertex mode and select all vertices except verts #4, 6, 8 and 10.

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Move the selected vertices about 0,1m vertically. Keep an eye on the transform type-ins for reference.

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With the upper vertices still selected, right-click and set them to Bezier mode.

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Reset their tangents to ensure a nice, flowing upper trajectory.

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The lower vertices are set to corner to provide a harder bounce as the arrow hits the water.

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Exit sub-object mode when done.

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Adjust the Perspective view to get a better look at the contact points between the path and the water.

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This is where the ripples will eventually take place.

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Here, you will be dealing with just one path but keep in mind that the trailer has many.

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Also, the paths in the trailer are more irregular and zig-zag a little bit.

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That can be achieved by moving vertices horizontally, not just vertically.

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Again, we'll keep it simple for now and leave the path pointing in one direction.

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With the path in place, you next work on the arrow object.

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This is what you do in the next movie.
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