Working from reference images is important with pretty much any model you're creating. The reference image acts as your guide, and allows you to work much more easily and accurately. Every 3D application has different methods for creating image planes or reference images that you can bring directly into the 3D application. 3ds Max is a little bit different in that it doesn't have an actual method for setting up an image plane similar to what you see in a program like Maya. However, you can still create reference images, you'll just have to do it a little differently. In this article, you'll learn how to import reference images in 3ds Max.
The method for setting up reference images in 3ds Max is done by applying a texture to geometry, the texture being the actual reference image. This method does take a bit longer than if you were to have an option like Maya's that allows you to import an image plane directly into each view that you need. The most important factor that you need to ensure when you are setting up reference images in 3ds Max is that the dimensions of the geometry is close to the pixel width and height of the image you are importing.
The first thing you need to do is examine the size of the image. For this particular article, the size of the images are 1024 x 1024. That means it is 1:1 ratio. This is important to keep in mind when you open up 3ds Max and begin importing your reference images. If the reference you are working with isn't 1:1 ratio, then it's probably easier in the long run to crop your image, if you have room, to be 1:1 ratio.
Once you're in 3ds Max, the first thing you'll need to do is open the camera view that you need. So select camera drop down at the top left of the viewport and select "Front" or press "F" on your keyboard. We will be first uploading the front reference image, so it makes sense to be in the front view. If your reference image is in any other orthographic view, then select the view that matches that.
Next step is to drop in a Plane. This is what you will be applying the reference image to. To create a plane, go to Create > Standard Primitives > Plane. Click and drag it into the viewport. The size isn't really important at the moment, since you'll be adjusting it later.
Once you have the plane created, make sure it's selected, and open the Modify panel on the left of the viewport. This will let you adjust some of the parameters of the Plane. Depending on your settings, the Plane should have a few length and width segments. Since this plane is just going to act as a place to apply an image to, you really don't need any resolution. Change the length and width segments to 1.
Previously we mentioned that the image we are importing is 1:1 ratio, meaning the width and height of the pixels in the image are going to match, so make sure it's something like 500 x 500, or 256 x 256.
Right now, the length and width of the Plane doesn't really match this, so we can change these to parameters to match. Both the length and width of the Plane has been set to 256. You can set yours to whatever you like, depending on how large you want the Plane to be in your viewport may require you to lower or raise this number. However, as long as the Plane is set to a 1:1 ratio, there should be no distortion happening on the image itself.
Next you need to apply the reference image to the Plane. Open up the material editor by going to Rendering > Material Editor > Compact Material Editor.
With the Material Editor opened, select one of the default materials, and under the Blinn Basic Parameters select the box next to the Diffuse color. This will let you apply a new texture to the diffuse color.
You should see the Material/Map Browser window open up, under the Standard maps. Select Bitmap and navigate to where you saved your reference image and then click Open.
This will apply the reference image to the basic Blinn material. Select the Plane in your scene, and in the Material Editor choose Assign Material to Selection.
If you don't see anything happen right away, it's likely because you don't have shaded materials shown in the viewport. To enable this, select the little checkered box in the Material Editor.
So there you go! You've successfully setup a reference image inside of 3ds Max. You could leave it like this, and start modeling, or you could take a few extra steps to add the plane to a layer. The reason for this is so that as you're modeling, you don't select the Plane and move it unintentionally.
Select the Plane and select the Mange Layers box at the top of the viewport. This will open up the Layers menu.
With the Plane still selected, press the Create New Layer Tab. This will create a new layer for the Plane. Enabling the "Freeze" option on the layer will make it so you can't move or select the Plane.
However, if you enable the Freeze option, you should see the image disappear. To fix this, unfreeze the Plane, and with it selected choose the Display panel. Under the Display Properties uncheck Show Frozen in Gray. Now when you freeze the layer, the image should still stay visible.
While 3ds Max may not have a true image plane, like you might find in Maya, using this method is still a viable and easy way to setup your reference images. If you want to grow your skills further visit the Digital-Tutors library for more 3ds Max tutorials.