3ds Max is an immensely powerful program with a myriad of features and capabilities that require time and practice to master. However, it is intuitive enough for one to grasp the basics relatively early on, and the possibilities of creation are truly fantastic. Part of the beauty of the design process, of course, is that there is always room to improve the way you work and scrutinize what you create.
To render large scenes, such as cities, try to divide the scene into different areas that save individually in a different 3ds Max file, then render them all together at the end. Use the Xref object to bring them together so you can work in each area without losing any performance when dealing with scenes with lots of geometry.
When modeling in 3ds Max or dealing with geometry, always use a 1:1 scale and give elements logical names. It will be far easier to identify “Coffee Table” than “Box 095” in a complex scene. Use layers and the Group function to group multiple elements together, and when making repetitions of the same thing, create instances instead of outright copies. That way, when you make a geometry or material change on one item, all of the instances will also change accordingly.
Use 3ds Max’s populate feature to place large groups of people in your scene from the built-in library. They are pre-animated for slight body movement when standing still or walking motions if placed along paths and are fully textured. Model only what you need.
You will get better lighting and light falloff in your renders with a linear workflow. Leave the Gamma/LUT Correction checked and do not use the Vray Color mapping to Gamma Correction and 2.2 Gamma. Also, in the New Job page you will need to check the setting.
Move your camera around inside 3ds Max to select desirable points of view and frame shots prior to going into detailed modeling. This way, you will only need to model what the camera can see and will save enormous amounts of time. This will also help to avoid the temptation of wanting to show off all of your painstaking modeling in one unrealistically wide-angled image that attempts to capture the entire scene. Instead, try using narrower-angle lenses, and if you do need to include more of the scene, pull the camera back and use the clipping plane to clip foreground elements from view. Try to use low-resolution models as a base to test your lighting. High-res models will slow down your rendering time, so don’t set too much light in your scene. Use just one light, then carefully add more lights one by one, depending on what you see in test renders to avoid messing up your lighting effect.
Rendering software allows endless tweaking of camera and environment settings to bypass real-world photographic constraints in order to curate a very specific image, but doing this will invariably result in a distinctly CGI look. If you adopt the philosophy of attempting to replicate real photography, your images will begin to take on a photographic quality.
When rendering for illustrations, make the most of render elements. Z-Depth is great for creating atmosphere in Photoshop. I’ll use 3ds Max and generate Z-Depth with Photoshop’s Color Picker to select areas behind the buildings. This allows me to paint clouds and fog to add atmosphere. It’s possible to use 3ds Max’s Volume Fog to achieve similar atmospheres.
Look to the world around you for clues of how different materials and surfaces behave under varying light conditions. You would rarely find completely pure blacks or whites in the natural world, so avoid using the pure black RGB value of 0, which will absorb all of the light that hits it, and the pure white RGB value of 255, which will reflect all of the light.
Likewise you will rarely find a physical object with sharp edges. Smooth 90-degree edges allow an object to behave more realistically under its light source. Smooth sharp-angled edges
Base your lighting setup on real-world environments and your material texture and color will appear far more convincing. Take a photograph in an environment similar to that which you are rendering in automatic mode and note the shutter speed, aperture and ISO speed that the camera uses. Apply these values to the Physical Camera inside 3ds Max and tweak your light-source (for example, your HDRI or Sun) intensity until the resultant render’s lighting levels resemble those in the real photograph. Now you have essentially established a lighting setup that uses real-world values, and you can adjust the Physical Camera’s settings to control the lighting as you would do to take the real photograph.
You may still need to add fill-lights around the scene to highlight certain elements, but their intensity will now have a realistic basis, and you will avoid heavily blown-out areas and over-the-top reflections. Remember that the more light sources and reflective materials you have in your scene, the longer the render will take to complete.
Always save your renders as 32-bit TIFF files and never JPEG. JPEG is a compressed format and will restrict the amount of information you can deal with in postproduction. A 32-bit TIFF is an uncompressed file and will allow you far greater control over postproduction lighting and exposure adjustment.
It is essential to organize your project files. 3ds Max has got a built-in tool that allows you to manage the project’s content. Reset your scene and manage the new location of your project. This way all paths including the export of meshes, previews or textures will be in the correct place in a newly created set of properly named folders. Make sure to work with UNC file system (go to Preferences>Files and check Convert File Paths To UNC).
3ds Max is a very complex program. Regularly check for the latest service pack to ensure any updates and bug fixes are implemented. Due to this complexity, 3ds Max is also prone to crashing unexpectedly. Always save before making any major change or starting a render. You should also save incrementally to ensure that you have backup files to revert to if your current save becomes corrupt. 3ds Max has an incremental save feature (file > save as > click the + button), which will add a numbered suffix to your filename each time you save.