3ds Max & AutoCAD Interoperability - Part 1 - Cleaning up the CAD Drawing

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Last modification: 26 Feb, 2018
  • Design Visualization
  • 2012
  • Media Management
  • Building Levels
  • Environment
  • Workflow
  • 3ds Max
Skill Level
  • Intermediate
7 min

3ds Max & AutoCAD Interoperability - Part 1 - Cleaning up the CAD Drawing

You spoke, we listened. For this series, we're bringing the best of Autodesk: AutoCAD and 3ds Max. Through this series, you will learn how to prepare a 2D AutoCAD drawing into 3ds Max so it can leveraged as a blueprint for your design visualization work. We will also explore some modeling techniques and material work as well as tips and tricks. In this first part, you focus on the setup in AutoCAD in preparation for your work in 3ds Max.




  • Recorded in: 3ds Max 2012, AutoCAD 2012
  • This tutorial is intended for use with 3ds Max version 2012 or higher.


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Here's a question I hear on a daily basis:

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How do I export an AutoCAD drawing and turn it into a 3D environment using 3ds Max?

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The answer can be simple or quite complex, depending on your expectations.

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If your goal is to take a 2D CAD drawing into 3ds Max, and then build simple volumes like walls, doors and windows,

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then the process is relatively easy.

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If your goal is to create an ultra-realistic environment complete with materials and accurate lighting,

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then the process is longer, potentially tedious and requires more time and effort.

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Either way, the basic principles remain the same.

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You have to prepare your CAD drawing so that the process of building 3D elements is made easier.

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In this tutorial, you'll explore some basic workflow to bring a CAD drawing into 3ds Max where you give objects volume.

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In this first part, we'll take a look at a typical CAD drawing inside AutoCAD.

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It's a simple drawing showing a condo unit.

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There are all types of entities, as befitting an AutoCAD drawing,

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from axis lines,

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to dimensions,

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blocks etc…

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Actually, a typical AutoCAD drawing is usually more complex than that but we'll use this for clarity purposes.

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Arguably, the most important part of CAD management is a good set of layers.

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You often come across AutoCAD users who do not realize the importance of a good layering system and often pay the price for their oversight.

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There are many layer standards to choose from, the most commonly used is that of the AIA but there are others.

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You may not need one as elaborate as the AIA layer set; you may opt to create your own.

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It is not wrong to use a non-established layering standard as long as you stick by it.

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This means you need to ensure you always draw the proper entities on the proper layers.

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This drawing has fewer than 20 layers, but you'll be adding a few in a moment.

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Typically when you export a CAD drawing to 3ds Max, you are interested in the major components such as walls, doors, windows and staircases if any.

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Other entities such as axis lines, dimensions, even furniture and blocks are not a primary concern.

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Because of that, you can make the drawing easier to read by turning off layers you do not need to see.

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Notice that the white cut lines are on a layer named A-Anno-Misc. Keep that layer visible for now.

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Layer management is the first step in preparing your CAD drawing for export to 3ds Max.

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The next step involves your level expertise in AutoCAD.

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Power users may opt to build their 3D components in AutoCAD directly,

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and then export these 3D entities to 3ds Max for material, rendering and animation work.

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For the average AutoCAD user though, the person who spends every waking moment working on 2D tech drawings,

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then it's often easier to do all 3D work in 3ds Max, as it excels in that area.

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You still can help a bit by creating polylines that 3ds Max can transform into 3D volumes.

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This isn't absolutely necessary as you can use the 2D CAD drawing as it stands right now simply as a blueprint.

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3ds Max has tools for building walls, doors and windows as is shown in another tutorial named "Working with AEC Objects".

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Still, here you take a different approach that consists of creating closed polylines that you can easily turn into 3D objects later.

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In AutoCAD, create three new layers named 3D-Walls-Ext, 3D-Walls-Int, and 3D-Floor.

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Keep in mind you can create all these layers in one sweep, by separating them with commas.

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Change their colors to something that suits you.

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Obviously the "3D" prefix is meant to simplify layer selection and management.

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Set the 3D-Walls-Ext layer to be current.

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Notice that currently, all entities that make the purple exterior walls are made of simple lines.

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That's to be expected in this kind of drawing but you need to make close loops of the wall outlines, if you are to extrude them later.

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You also don't want to mess the existing lines as they have their 2D purpose in the technical drawing.

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This is why you'll create new polylines on separate 3D layers.

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You could create closed polylines by tracing over the existing lines, or you can use the Bpoly command.

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Bpoly stands for Boundary Polyline and is a little gem of a command.

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Simply type it on the keyboard and press Enter. A dialog appears.

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Choose the Pick Points button and then click an area that has boundaries, such as inside the square in the bottom left corner.

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Boundaries are identified and a closed polyline is created as you press Enter.

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You can repeat the command to other areas where you need polylines.

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For this command to work well, the area you click has to have boundaries.

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Try the command on the top right wall.

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Notice the error.

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It's saying that the Bpoly command cannot identify boundaries.

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A closer inspection shows an opening in the wall.

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This was left intentionally to show the kind of problems you can run into if your CAD drawing is less than precise.

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In the case of this other opening in the top left wall, you'd probably want to extend the wall to the cut line before using the Bpoly command.

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So these are issues to address to ensure the Bpoly command works properly.

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Set the 3D-Walls-Int layer current and repeat the Bpoly command on the interior walls.

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Finally, set the 3D-Floor layer current.

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Here you have no choice but creating a polyline the old fashioned way, by tracing over the 2D plan.

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Make sure you use "C" to close the polyline when you reach the last point.

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Actually, create one more layer named 3D-Balcony,

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and create a rectangle for the balcony slab.

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Save your file under a different name, such as 3D-Condo (or Condo-3D). You are ready to make the switch to 3ds Max.

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  • 3ds Max
  • 2012
  • Media Management
  • Building Levels
  • Environment
  • Workflow
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