Skeletal bones So spooky! in 3D Studio Max can actually be any object. The "bone" object found within the creation tab is simply a useful pre-made object because it allows for a certain amount of customization in appearance, automatic scaling, and automatically is not rendered.

Creating a basic skeleton

To create a new skeletal setup within 3D Stuiod max just follow these steps.

  1. Browse to the "Create" tab and select the "Systems" sub tab. Here you'll find the "Bone" button.
  2. Once enabled the bone tool works like primitive shape tools. You click where you want the origin of the object to be. Notice that a diamond-shaped "bone" is now extending from where you clicked to the mouse.
  3. Move the mouse to where you want the next bone in the chain to begin and click again. Notice that a new bone has been made and is now extending to the mouse position.
  4. Create a chain of bones that form part of the skeleton of your mesh (an entire skeleton will take several "chains").
  5. When you reach the end of the chain you can Right-Click to stop the creation process. Note that one final bone will be created at this point. Take that into account when making your skeleton.
  6. If you need to create a new "branch" of the skeleton then simply repeat the process but begin by clicking on a pre-existing bone. Doing so will start a new bone chain from the bone you clicked on.

Because the bones are created on the world grid by default, depending on your snapping settings, you may want to make just one bone first and move it into place. Then click on it and complete the chain from one of the orthographic views.

Binding the skeleton

Once you have an acceptable skeleton then it's time to bind the skeleton to the model. This begins by applying the "Skin" modifier to your model.

This can either be added from the lengthy modifier list under the modifier tab or by going to "Modifiers > Animation > Skin".

Within the settings window of the skin modifier you'll find an empty box which will contain a list of bones that will contribute to the deformation of the model. Click the "add" button to bring up a list of object within the scene from which you can select your bones (you can select multiple objects at once). Once added the bones should immediately be able to

Let's recap the process in steps.

  1. Within the skin modifier settings windows click "add". The bone selection window will appear.
  2. Within the bone selection window shift-click to select all of the bone items that you wish to use for this model.
  3. Click ok.
  4. Test the skeleton by clicking a bone and rotating it (not moving it). The model should move with the bones.

To move a bone after the skeleton has been bound to the model you thankfully do NOT have to remove and readd the bones to the skin modifier. Just follow these steps...

  1. Go to the "Advanced Parameters" section of the skin modifier and uncheck "Always Deform".
  2. Move the bones as you need.
  3. Click on the "Always Deform" option again to rebind the skeleton.

The only catch to this process is that you need to make sure the timeline is on your zero pose of the model. (Make sure the timeline is on the same frame as "Ref. Frame", listed right next to the "Always Deform" option.)

After a skeleton has been made you'll find that trying to use the translation tool on a specific bone will only result in that bone rotating and not moving. Sometimes, to create better mesh deformation, you *will* need to change the position of individual joints.

By default 3DS Max will lock joint positions so you have to enable editing for the translation tool to work. Thankfully this is a simply command in the main menu.

Animation > Bone Tools and select Bone Edit Mode.

This is also helpful when you are first building a skeleton because you can *not* create bones in multiple viewports at once. If you start a bone chain in the "left" orthographic view then you must continue clicking within the left viewport. This means that you should go ahead and do that and then adjust the positions of the bones from the front viewport with the bone editing mode turned on so that you can tilt a chain both front and back and to the side as is needed to follow a mesh.