A simple building in GMAX

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This is a quick, sharp introduction to modelling in GMAX. The goal of this tutorial is to show that there are usually many ways to arrive at a particular result. Knowing more than one technique allows you to adapt whatever is the most appropriate to new design goals.

I do not intend to teach anyone to use GMAX. For instance, you won't find any steps which say 'now save your GMAX file'. I don't intend to teach you how to save your file, or anything which isn't specific to flightsim modelling. Yes, you'll need to save often, and you should check the options available in GMAX to help you here -- for instance, incremental backups, and auto backups. But if you get to the end of the tutorial and lose your work because you forgot to save, then don't blame me:)

NOTE: the GMAX screenshots have been saved as reduced-palette GIFs, which is a good method to keep them sharp but retain relatively small file sizes. This does introduce some anomolies, such as colour banding and colour shifting, so please take this into account when comparing the screenshots with your own GMAX experience.

What we want here is a simple rectangular buiding with a peaked roof. I'll show three different ways to arrive at the same shape.

Ultimately, we will be making this building:

There is no particular reason why I chose this building, except that I have already modeled it for an existing scenery, and I had the texture handy. It is very simple, but has some interesting modelling features. It is also quite distinctive, which means that you will be encouraged to make your own textures, rather than use mine:)

I don't intend to show you how to use GMAX here. I have to assume that you have at least an introductory knowledge of the basic primitives available. If you haven't yet played around with GMAX, then you really should do that first.

For each of these three methods we need to create a box.
Here we use the Box primitive.

Tip: GMAX allows us to create a primitive by either dragging the shape with the mouse, or by keyboard input. By habit I use keyboard input, as this allows me to get the size right straight away, rather than fiddle around with dimensions. You can use either method, of course, as long as you have a consistent method of arriving at the correct size.

We'll start with a box 5.2 metres long by 3.3 metres wide by 2.1 metres high. 'Long' and 'high' are non-technical terms here:) In GMAX these are called Length, Width & Height. Length and Width can represent any side of our building -- for practical purposes I normally like the Width to represent the front of the building, and the Length to represent the depth. These terms are somewhat fluid, so don't get too hung up on which is which. The secret is to pick whatever works for you and stick with it.

Why these dimensions? Well, that's the size of the real building. Determining the actual size of the building you are working on can be tricky -- normally we don't start from accurate plans, but from photographs. How you determine the size is up to you -- you may measure the object when you photograph it, or use the Measure tool in Google Earth, or some other method. The idea is to get the dimensions accurate from the start.

Information: There is more than one way to set up your workspace in GMAX. This is explained in the Help system. My own preference is to use the default setup, but you should refine the workspace over time to suit your own requirements.

However, for this tutorial, and when designing in general, I do turn 'Edged Faces' display on sometimes to make this a bit clearer. This is what makes the face edges visible in the second screenshot below. You can turn this on in Viewport Configuration, or it's quicker to right-click on the viewport name (the bit in the top left corner which says 'Perspective' or 'Top' or whatever, and choose 'Edged Faces'.

I tend to use the Panels for much of my work with GMAX. For those who have yet to get acquainted with GMAX, Panels are normally located in the right-hand part of the screen. If you don't know what a Panel is, then it's time to press 'F1' within GMAX.

So, using whichever method you are comfortable with, create a box of 5.2 x 3.3 x 2.1 metres.

Now we want to divide it into two width segments. Use the Modify Panel for this, as shown here:

Now we have a box with two segments, but to manipulate these segments we need to convert the box into something which we can play with. In this case we want to convert it to an Editable Poly. Right-click on the box, and choose Convert to... Editable Poly.

Now it doesn't remember that it started life as a box, so we can't access the box parameters again. Therefore it is important to plan ahead, and make sure our box has the right number of segments before we convert -- this'll make life easier down the track.

Tip: using the Transform Gizmo. As I said, I don't intend to teach the basics of GMAX, but for this tutorial you really need to be on good terms with the Transform Gizmo. That's the 3 dimensional arrow which shows up when you select an object, or sub-object (such as vertices) with one of the transform tools, such as 'Select and move'. It normally shows a red, blue and green arrow head for the 3 dimensions. When moving any object or sub-object, I only ever start with the cursor over the arrow head. This constrains the transform to that single dimension. Choosing any other part gives unpredictable results.

(If you don't see the Transform Gizmo, it may be turned off. Pressing 'x' on the keyboard will toggle the gismo display.)

Now, again using the Modify Panel, we can select 'Vertex', select the two top centre vertices, and drag them up to make a peaked roof. We could instead choose 'Edge' and drag the single edge upwards -- see, plenty of choices of how to do things.

One drawback with this method is that it does introduce smoothing problems -- GMAX will apply smoothing if you do this. To fix this, choose 'Polygon', select all the polygons, scroll down the the Smoothing Groups box and press 'Clear All'.

So here we have a simple building with a peaked roof. As I said, this is simply one way to make this shape.

Here's method number two. We are going to start with the same box (hey, it is a different colour though!), but instead of using two Width segments, we'll start with two Height segments. This time, we are going to change the Height to 3.2. This is because in the previous building, the original height represented the height of the eaves -- the pitched roof was raised up further. In this case, the height needs to represent the total height of the building, including the pitched roof.

Now we'll convert to Editable Poly again. Now we want to select the Top Right two vertices, and Collapse them.

Then do the same with the Top Left two vertices.

Using this method we won't need to remove the smoothing. However note that the side of the building is different this time -- rather than two symetrical sides, it has a rectangular face and a triangular face.

One more method, for luck. We'll start with a simple box again, this time with just one width and height segment. Now, though, we use our original height of 2.1.

Convert it to an Editable Poly. Now we want to choose a 'Polygon'. We select the top polygon, and click on 'Extrude'. Now we can drag the poly up to extrude it, or type a value into the Extrusion box. We want to extrude it 1.2 metres.

Now we can collapse the vertices as before, to end up with the same shape.

So why have I shown three different methods here if one would do the trick? Well, each method introduces another technique which gives you another useful modelling tool. You can move vertices, edges, or polygons to change geometry, you can start with a multi-segmented box and move elements around to make a complex building, and we can extrude polygons to add geometry. Starting with a good set of vertices, moving them around, extruding polys to add geometry, and collapsing vertices are all good basic techniques which we can combine into very complex buildings.

Here's a building which is almost exclusively made up of these techniques:

Much of it started life as a single box.

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