Category Archives: 3D Tutorials

Alpha Mapping to Create Realistic Leaves

Alpha mapping is a technique in 3D computer graphics where an image is mapped (assigned) to a 3D object, and designates certain areas of the object to be transparent or translucent. The transparency can vary in strength, based on the image texture, which can be greyscale, or the alpha channel of an RGBA image texture.

1-Hello everyone, in this lesson we will talk about alpha maps, alpha maps are really important cause they are helpfull to create very detailed or photo realistic result in 3d from leaves for a plant or tree to character’s hair for video games.

So basically there is one rule that says  : White is visible – Black is invisible (transparent).

We will start with a leave image in photoshop to understand an Alpha map, simply search google to find any of your choice:

2 – Lets press F7 on keyboard  to open up layers window and double click on our image (name background) and press Ok; this will convert that to a layer.

3- Select magic wand tool and change the tolerance to 25, click on white area and press Delete key on your keyboard. Select magic wand tool again and click out of the screen to deselect that area.

4- So now we have a transparent leaf image in photoshop, its time to make the background green, so if any pixel fails in our alpha map, that will have the same color of our leaf and its not going to be noticable . Create a new layer, select eye dropper tool, click anywhere off leaf, then select paint bucket tool and fill that layer by clicking in our image. Don’t forget to drag our green layer under the leaf layer.

5- Select move tool, Press control-T on your keyboard and rotate the leaf a bit to get a better direction. When you are done, press enter on your keyboard.

6- Press filter menu and click in sharpen—> sharpen mask and change the values as follows, this will help us to made our leaf image sharper and better in quality to prevent blur (you can change the values as its based on your image, so play with the percentages).

7- Now its time to save our image as a jpg file. A quality of 10 would have a balance of quality and file size. Also save a PSD file just in case you want to edit something later.

8- Select the green background, select a black color and fill the background layer using paint bucket tool.

9- Select the leaf layer, click on FX icon and click color overlay.

10- Select a pure white color and click OK .

11- Now save this image as our alpha-map, also click on image—>image size and remember to write the size of our image in pixels.

12- Open your 3d software, in our case its 3ds max, and create a plane the same size as your image size. Dont worry if it looks too big, you can always scale it down.

13- Now press M to open material editor, select a material, add the leaf image we created in photoshop as diffuse and add the alpha image as opacity. Also check two sided box.

14- Make sure the plane is selected then press “assign material to selection” and “show standard map in viewport”.

15. Now we simply finished to get a working alpha map in our 3ds max software. By adding more segments to our plan and moving them around or adding a bend modifier, we can create a good result that we can use on our models.

I hope you enjoyed using this method, please dont hesitate to ask if you have any other questions.  Don’t forget to check out the other tutorials in our Texturing section, and if you’d like more information on this technique have a look at our older alpha map tutorial.

Happy alpha mapping!

Ambient Occlusion Combined with Toon Shader Tutorial

(Editors note: Hey folks, this is the last post we’ll be seeing on here until January sometime – I’m entering a heavy development phase and I can’t maintain this as well. I will be back though, promise. For now, over to Prantic)

Hey there back with another Maya rendering tutorial and this time its on Render Composites of Maya’s Mental Ray Ambient Occlusion Texture and ToonShader.
With the combination of these two shader networks we can create a very cool composite that can be used for any CG stylized animation or commercial product rendering.
Here we’ll learn about different techniques to render out AO pass and then combine them with the Maya TS.

The video training can be categorized into:

  1. Ambient Occusion Through manuel object Plugin
  2. AO through layer compositing
  3. Toon Shader techniques
  4. Compositing the render scenes in Photoshop


Ambient Occlusion and ToonShader Render Composite Tutorial from Heather Craik on Vimeo.

Or watch it on Prantic’s Channel.

Mental Ray Caustics Tutorial (Maya)

Alright, after so much anticipation in creating a lighting tutorial in Maya, I’m back with a proper, easily understood, video lesson regarding Caustics. The Video lesson is about 20 minutes and focuses on Maya’s Mental Ray system shaders and lighting techniques. Caustic effect is an important and a remarkable effect which occurs in nature and is very much required in creating a realistic looking glass lighting effect.  As this is a more advanced tutorial beginners may have a little trouble initially; don’t worry, I’m available if you’ve any questions.

The Topics in the video can be categorized as follows:

  1.  Intro: Discussing “what is caustics?” with examples
  2. Creating basic caustic effect using Maya’s own default material nodes
  3. Discussing about Photon transmission, GI/Caustics
  4. Creating Caustics with Mental Ray materials
  5. Ways and Tips to make Renders times faster
  6. Conclusion: Showing mental ray renders with properties and Photon Map Visualizer.

So, grab a pack of something (I’d recommend chips) and let’s get started!

Maya Mental Ray Caustics Tutorial from Heather Craik on Vimeo.

Alternatively, you can watch it on Prantic’s Youtube channel.

3D Burning Paper Tutorial (FumeFX)

3D Burning Paper Effect (Ian Steve) from Heather Craik on Vimeo.

Hello everyone, I’m Ian Steve, welcome to another 3d tutorial. In this tutorial we are going to  to create a nice 3d burning paper effect with FumeFx plugin in 3DS Max. Ok.. let’s get started.

The first step, let’s create a simple plane on perspective view. Size or color doesn’t matter.

Open up material editor, select ‘Get Material’ and apply Gradient Ramp on the first slot.

Now, we can add 2 keys on the Gradient Ramp color until we get a white thin line like picture below. Set the noise amount to 0.1 and size to 2.

Now, let’s create texture for the paper. Drag the first slot material to the diffuse color on the second slot and choose ‘instance’. Rename it to ‘Paper’. Then apply it to the paper on stage.

Apply UVW Map modifier to the paper. Rotate the gizmo 900 and scale it up little bit.

Let’s scale up the timeline to 400 or 450. Go to the first slot of your material editor then turn on Auto Key. Animate the 3 middle keys from left to right. Then, turn off the Auto Key.


Go to second slot, drag/copy the diffuse map to opacity map, and clear its diffuse map.

Go to gradient ramp parameters delete the second keys and edit the color like picture below. Don’t move or delete the other keys.

We can now create the temperature map. Copy the opacity map to the new slot then rename it to ‘Temperature’, select ‘output’ and choose ‘invert’.

Edit the gradient color of the temperature map like below.

Now, let’s apply the FumeFx grid to the whole paper. Select FumeFx Helpers, choose ‘Object src’ and draw this outside the grid. Choose ‘pick object’ and click the paper.

Select the Object Src, set the Fuel, Temperature, and Smoke map to ‘Source from Intensity’. Chose instance for all map.

Open FumeFx UI, go to General Tab and set the Spacing to 1 . Then go to Simulation tab set the parameters like below :

–          Quality : 3 (depends on your computer spec)

–          Bouyancy : 0.65

–          Burn rate : 12.5

–          Dissipation strength : 5

–          Check Fire Creates Smoke.

Go to Obj/Src tab and choose ‘pick object’. Then click the src helper on stage. You can also change the fuel or smoke color from Rendering tab. Let’s start the simulation. And here is what I got on output preview.

Finally, render the scene as video and see the final result. Happy 3d ^^

How to Animate a Dodgeball Throw in Maya

Today we’ve got Prantic’s first video tutorial; How to throw a dodgeball (no, not a volleyball – that was my bad) in Maya. Now I don’t use Maya very often personally, but it’s Prantic’s main software and he uses it well. Tutorial is really good, though not short so be sure to grab a cup of something before you sit down to watch.

Here’s a quick overview of what will be covered:

  • Working from a storyboard
  • The Primary Animation of a Dodgeball Throw
  • Secondary Animation to make it all look a lot more believable
  • Constraining the ball to the character’s hand then releasing at the right time
  • Various animation timing tweaks

How to Animate a Dodgeball Throw from Heather Craik on Vimeo. Or head over to Prantic’s version on Youtube.

Don’t forget to comment and let him know what you think!

Tutorials from the Past

When I was just starting out in 3D (properly, I don’t count the year while I was still on a programming course) I would surf more tutorial sites than I care to count, looking for some quick, fun things to make. Fortunately, a little into this time I had the foresight (read: dumb luck) to stumble onto Delicious. As a result, some of the oldest ‘beginning’ tutorials I followed are still there.

What follows are some of the best ones. – Particle Forming into Logo

One of the first tests I did was using this tutorial.  It’s simple enough to follow, though you’ll have to adapt it a bit for the newer versions of 3Ds Max (or whatever other software you’re using)…  I like particles, what can I say?  Actually, I still have the renders I was testing from this on my Youtube channel.

3D Total – Particle Fire

Beautiful, simple, and using methods I hadn’t even considered beforehand.  This tutorial got passed around class a lot too, particularly in second year.  Naturally, I have test renders of it in a whole variety of colours – again some of which happen to still be on my Youtube.

3DM3 – Subdivision Body Model

I’ll admit, I never actually finished making this one (short attention span, and as I quickly discovered I’m not a modeller) – it’s simple and easy to follow though.  Made a lovely torso and the beginnings of legs this way and the principles were extremely useful with the rest of the characters I made.

Skymedias – Making Low Poly Game Hair

I was really bad at this at the time.  The concept is simple, and unfortunately simple concepts require lots of work to get right.  Lack of patience, abandoned it for good ol’ hair and fur.  Still useful, and I may look into it again at some point down the line.

Parting Message

Are there any tutorials that you particularly enjoyed working on?  I have a ton more, though some of them have disappeared, and others were never bookmarked in the first place (organised, very).  When I find them I’ll post them up!

Just a quick reminder as well that the competition from last week is still available – extending the deadline to next week while I go rustle up some people (ie. you).  Have a quick look at the prizes if you’re interested.

Alpha Maps: Control what other people see with textures

[Originally posted on 10th February 2010]
Today’s tip will teach you the ancient art of deception; at least as it relates to 3D Texturing.  Following this post won’t make you a super-ninja right away, but it’ll give you the tools you need to direct the eyes of your viewers.  Doesn’t that sound appealing?

Using this method you’ll be able to hide the things you don’t want people to see and highlight the things you do want people to see.  Even if they’re a part of the same object, without messing around with complex modelling where it’s not strictly necessary.  When combined with Mix Maps it opens a lot of doors for you that had possibly been slammed shut before due to time constraints or complexity.

This tutorial doesn’t show you how to use it within a project; I’ll leave that to you!  It will tell you how to use alphas and opacity to your advantage.

What is an Alpha Map?

An alpha map lets you use one material to hide and/or show different areas of an object; to create holes in your objects by texturing for example.  Changing the Alpha or ‘Opacity’ settings determine how visible the texture (and the object it’s applied to) is.  This is determined by how white or black the map is; the darker the grey the less opaque the object.

Scene Description

To demonstrate this technique I’ve already set up a scene with a sphere, a cube, and a plane; each is going to show a different use of alphas.  There aren’t any lights here, and all the materials assigned to the objects are using the default settings.

Background Alphas; Using Presets

We’re going to work on the sphere first; inside your material editor click the button next to ‘Opacity’.  From this menu you can select any type you like, but for this example we’re going to use ‘Smoke’. [Fig. 1]

As you can see from the image, parts of the sphere have disappeared.  Changing the colours will alter which parts of the object are visible.  This is a very basic alpha map and most often used for less detailed objects. [Fig. 2]

Fig. 1 - Applying Smoke to the Opacity Map Channel

Fig. 2 - Altering the Opacity and Final Results

Coping with Repetition; Patterned Alphas

Now we’re going to work on the cube; inside its material select the same button next to opacity.  This time click on ‘Bitmap’ and select a pre-prepared file.  [Fig. 1] I won’t show you how to create these this time, but any black and white pattern image would do (you’re able to use any graphics package to make your own).  Let’s use a rough brick texture. [Fig 2]

Even though it uses the same method as the last type of alpha we get a different result. Using patterned bitmaps makes it easy to tile the texture for large areas; especially useful with environments and objects requiring lots of repetition. [Fig 3]

Fig. 1 - Brick Material Used

Fig. 2 - Selecting your Bitmap

Fig. 3 - Patterned Alphas End Result

Using Detailed Maps; Think of the possibilities!

Adapting the method again slightly, we can use any black and white image to create the illusion of form.  I’ve already UVW mapped the plane and taken it into Photoshop.  There I copied a black and white leaf onto it with the white part being the body of the leaf. [Fig 1] When we apply it, the plane appears to take the shape of the leaf while remaining the same object. [Fig 2]

I use this method the most; it lends itself to more detailed work, and also to working with particle systems.  The opportunities are virtually endless; results are determined by how you use them, and how much time you’re willing to take on your maps.

Fig. 1 - Leaf Alpha Map

Fig. 2 - Results of Detailed Map

Go Forth and Create!

After following through this tutorial and playing with the techniques, can you see the opportunities for making detail without complex and time consuming modelling? For things like leaves, signs, or even graffiti on a wall you can use alpha maps to determine the shape instead.  You also now have a tool that you can use in conjunction with other effects to bring down your render time and reduce lag in the program (By not modelling the entire shape).

As an aside; you can also animate Alpha Maps – just use a movie instead of a bitmap, or animate a gradient (I’ll show you how sometime if you’re uncertain).  Imagine the possibilities!

Hope you enjoyed this quick trick; let me know what you thought in the comments and subscribe if you want to see more articles like this one.

Dishes? Pfft. Use Lathe to Set the Table


Today I’m going to show you quickly how to use the Lathe modifier in 3D Studio Max.  When used with splines you can create all sorts of cylindrical objects; glasses, bottles, plates, bowls, and so on.  They won’t be the best modelled objects however its a good way to get a base set up for altering and creating more complex objects.

How to use Lathe in 3Ds Max from Heather Craik on Vimeo.

Bump Maps: Here’s what to do

No hilarity here; I already let it out over on James’ site with ‘How to derive a blog post on blogging‘ – check that out for your Lolz!

For the rest of you, lets do something serious today.  Tutorial time!

How to use Bump Maps in 3Ds Max from Heather Craik on Vimeo.

Video covers:
– The way Bump Maps work in 3D Studio Max
– Attaching Bump Maps

Hope you enjoyed! Let me know what you thought in the comments below.

If you’re going to cheat with Turbosmooth…

At least do it properly.  I’ve seen a few people over the last couple of months just plain using it wrong and having their computers crash, lag, and run off to join the revolution as a result.  We can do better than that!

In this video I’ll show you what Turbosmooth does, how you lag your computer in under five seconds (possibly without a demonstration dependent on video quality), and how to get the same results without making your workstation freeze every time you click a button.  Please note, I don’t suggest using Turbosmooth for everything and its far from being a miracle modifier, but for quick, dirty and easy smoothing there’s a lot to be said for it.

How to Cheat Turbosmooth Effectively from Heather Craik on Vimeo.


When using Turbosmooth as a quick and easy smoothing option for high detail keep the following in mind:

  • Ramping up the number of iterations will slow your computer down to the point of being unmanageable.
  • You can achieve the same effect by adding the iterations at render time.
  • It’s still cheating! (But in a smarter way)

Hope this has helped someone, have fun playing with 3D!  If it’s been useful don’t forget to comment below and let me know (or even if it hasn’t for that matter).