|Effective and efficient work is the foundation on which Ted Boardmans philosophy of learning and working is based upon. In his book, 3dsMax Fundamentals, he helps you put your arms around what, for me, has been a complex program to understand.
Ted begins the book by discussing and explaining core concepts of 2d design and layout. He doesn't let the reader forget that although you are working in 3d, you are still presenting your work in a 2d format. By understanding the principals of layout and of color and form, you can only improve your 3d work and the presentation of that work. The refresher course that this book offers in the first chapter alone is worth the price of admission.
I know that the GUI of 3ds Max is not the most intimidating in the world, but for an artist coming from the 2d world of Photoshop and Quark, it can be pretty confusing. By breaking down the interface into manageable bites and explaining the way that tells you how the tools fit into the big picture is a big help. The workflow of 3ds Max is also different than other 3d programs. Since efficient workflow is at the core of Teds methodology it is important to understand how the program works so that you can use this knowledge to your advantage throughout your experience with 3ds Max.
On a personal note, I am a hands-on learner and appreciate the project-centric approach of this book. By understanding how the various processes work in an integrated project helps me to learn how to apply the knowledge in my day-to-day work.
Following a building on accumulated knowledge approach, Ted begins by explaining 2d modeling and how 2d shapes work in 3ds Max. After completely wrapping your arms around the way that 2d shapes work, you begin to work with 3d objects and understanding how 3d objects are based on 2d shapes. Teds explanations are clear and the book makes use of a generous amount of images that illustrate the steps in modeling objects. My only complaint is that once in a while, the image for a particular step appears on a different page, which makes you have to flip back and forth. With a program as complex as 3ds Max, I feel this is probably a necessary evil.
After modeling, Ted introduces you to Materials. Materials have always confused me. Coming from a 2d background, 3ds Maxs materials interface is full of tiny buttons that aren't the most intuitive. Ted takes his time and explains many of these buttons, what they do, why they are there, and how to use them.
The chapter on lights is straightforward and spends a great deal of time explaining the different lights in 3ds Max. Creating lights is not hard, but knowing how to use them and which lights to use makes the difference in creating scenes that look realistic. Ted explains this well and uses plenty of illustrations to visually explain the concepts of lighting. After understanding Modeling, Materials and lighting, the concept of the Camera is introduced and explained.
Animation is the next step for this book. I had always thought that animation in 3ds max was tough. This was mostly due to the fact that I had never paid much attention to learning how to do it, nor had I realized the potential that 3ds Max has for animation. Again, Ted explains 3ds Maxs animation capabilities and how to begin to use them.
Rendering is probably the most important part of any 3d application. It is, after all how you get your image from the program into the hands (and eyes) of the viewer, or client. Throughout the chapter focus is placed on maximizing efficiency within 3ds Max. The first exercise completely blew my mind and made me a true believer in the method of working outlined in this chapter alone. Ted discusses rendering and file formats as well as methods for rendering that speed workflow and reduce the amount of time wasted on unnecessary renders and mistakes. Rendering still images, video and video post are discussed and examined in this chapter.
The key to profitable work is speed. Some of that speed comes from a fast machine supped up with a ton of RAM, another often overlooked aspect is productivity and efficiency. The chapter on enhancing productivity is probably worth the price of admission alone. I know from my personal experience with Photoshop, as soon as I let go of the menus and began to use the keyboard shortcuts, I was working at more than double speed. The same is true for 3ds Max. This chapter definitely shows you how.
Animation and inverse Kinematics is the topic of the next chapter. For character animation, this beats the pants off of key framing joints and the new IK system in 3ds Max is really good. And again, by understanding the underlying design principles in 3ds Max, you can use these new tools to your advantage.
The final chapter is on Interactivity and layering and focuses on productivity enhancements that can be brought into your workflow to speed up rendering and updating images as well as shortcuts to enhance your rendered images.
The book remains true to its title and gives the reader a solid foundation to stand on as they grow and progress as an artist and reach for (and model, light, materialize, and render) the stars.
I give it 4 cows.
In conclusion, 3ds Max 4 Fundamentals allows you to get your arms around a fairly complex and daunting program. The book gives you a great deal of ammunition to be an effective and productive 3d artist. Ted really understands the way that the program thinks and when he can help you to see that way and to think that way, you will inevitably become a better artist. The book is really well written and clear. And makes no pretenses that it will cover all aspects of the program, nor will it make you an instant master.