3D Rendering Tips #2 – Building the 3D model

alpine_2aHere I am going to be talking about building a 3D CAD model of the exterior of a building. Typically I will receive AutoCAD drawings of the building. I use these plans and elevations as reference drawings to build the 3D computer model.

Tip: Don’t put in more detail than needed.

If you won’t be able to see it, there is no need to model it. For the exterior of a building this means that you should not need to model anything smaller than one inch. If it is smaller than 2 inches you probably don’t need to show it. Think of it as if you were building a 1/8″=1′-0″ cardboard model.


I find it best to create a new empty drawing to build my 3D model in. I can copy what I need from a drawing that I receive and past into the new drawing. I keep the original drawings for reference. I take the floor plan that I receive and remove everything that I don’t need, like dimensions, notes and hatch patterns. Everything that is left I move to a single layer and color. The cardboard model is a good analogy. You are going to be building your model on top of this plan. Do the same thing for each of the other floors and the roof plan if you have one (these are very useful). With each floor plan on a separate layer and a different color, place them on top of each other. Move them vertically to their relative distance apart. If many of the floors are the same, at least on the outside, you only need a single copy.

Tip: Move the floor plan so that the approximate center of the plan is at 0,0.

This will make your life easier when you import the 3D model into MAX, trust me.


Put each of the elevations on its own layer. Rotate them around until they are vertical and aligned with the plan. It’s like building a house with playing cards. Here is where you are likely to discover that they are not all drawn perfectly and everything may not line up precisely. The better they are drawn, the easier your job will be from here. You will be using these as reference while building the model.


Tip: Save often.

This is always good advice but it is even more important when working on a complicated 3D model. I recommend saving each time you finish a portion. Or whenever you have done something that you are proud of, save. That way you can return to that point if you later screw things up.

Depending on the complexity of the building there are a lot of ways to proceed from this point. If it is a complex building shape, I sometimes find it useful to first draw a 3D outline of the building just using lines. I’ll put this on a layer called outline. As a mater of fact, anytime you are having trouble deciding how to model any part of the building, you can always draw a 3D outline with lines and then just place surfaces on this wire frame by sapping to the ends of the lines.

That’s all for now.


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