How to make a tree in 3ds max

Building a Tree for Games & Animation with 3Ds MAX & Mudbox

This post series was originally written Ben Cowell-Thomas on his website, which you can view here.

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been teaching 3Ds Max on a games design course. The students have been working on a project involving a Tree house and I was looking for a decent workflow for creating hero trees models based on a specific design.

This tutorial is the result of my research and some experimentation and is aimed at animation and games CG artists looking for a way to create bespoke trees in 3D Max and Mudbox. As much of my experience is in pre-rendered CG rather than interactive – I’d not used techniques such as baking and rendering to texture – but I’ve realised they could be extremely useful to animation artists.

There’s a couple of important points to note. Firstly my goal was to create a hyper-real or illustrative style, this is inline with what the student group were hoping to achieve so my example is not quite aiming for photo-realism. However there’s no reason that this approach wouldn’t work if realism was your goal. Secondly I’ve not worked on many games or interactive projects so much of the game specific points are second hand knowledge gleaned from research and the help of others. So if you think I’m doing something stupid please get in touch !

Finally I realise that the tree model I ended up with is far too high resolution for a games engine. But with some simple tweaks the polygon count could be trimmed down significantly. In the last part of the tutorial I’ll share some ideas along with a Maxscript that could help this process.

I’ve arranged the tutorial into a couple of stages so you can jump ahead if you like.

Ok, lets get cracking with a bit of research first.



Photograph by Deb Collins

It’s a good idea to spend a bit of time researching and deciding on the type of tree you want to create. Trees and plants are very complex and it’s easy to just leap into the process and end up with something generic. Therefore spend some time up front researching details such as how leaves are coloured, where they sit on a branch and the shapes that branches can form.

I turned to Flickr and found a number of really useful images. This first one helped me plan how branches should be shaped and how detailed I wanted to go with my model. I decided that I’d model the trunk, branches and secondary branches as one mesh and then the tertiary branches and leaves would be handled by a very simple repeated model.

I sketched out a rough form in Photoshop and then was ready to get on with the modelling. I’ll break this process down in the next part.

Jump to other sections:


Part 1 – Polygon modelling

Part 2 – Mudbox sculpting

Part 3 – UV unwrapping

Part 4 – Texturing in Mudbox

Part 5 – Baking to a low resolution mesh

Part 6 – Adding leaves and finishing up

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3dsMax tips #3 How to make imported tree animation 15 times faster – Changsoo Eun