Two Easy Methods for Rendering Wireframes in 3ds Max
Rendering out wireframes is something that you'll want to accomplish at some point, whether it's for the breakdown in your demo reel or simply to create that unique look a wireframe overlay can have on your model.
The most common reason for rendering a wireframe for your 3D model is to be able to show off the clean topology on your model. This post will walk you through the two most common and easiest ways to render out a wireframe for your 3D model in 3ds Max.
If you're a Maya user and want to learn how to render wireframes you can check out the Rendering Wireframes in Maya article.
The great thing about both of these methods is that they're very easy to accomplish and once you figure out what look you're trying to achieve it's just up to you to decide which will work best.
Rendering Wireframe with Standard material
This first method is the quicker of the two but will require some compositing in an external application like Photoshop to put together the final render.
The first thing you'll want to do is open up the Material Editor by either pressing "M" on your keyboard or clicking the icon in the upper right corner of 3ds Max.
If you want to be able to follow along a little easier make sure you're working in the Compact Material Editor.
Now select one of the default materials in the material window.
Under the Shader Basic Parameters check the Wire box. If you look at the material you'll see that it's now a wireframe.
Select your 3D mesh and the newly created Wire material and select the Assign Material Selection Icon, or you can simply drag the material directly onto the model.
You should now see similar results in the viewport as in the image below.
Next select the Rendered Frame Window button in the upper right corner of 3ds Max. This will open up the rendering dialogue box.
Now press the Render button. And you should see similar results to the image below. With the wireframe material applied to the model it will render just the wireframe.
This best method with this is to only display the Alpha channel. So turn on just the Alpha channel in the render settings. You should now see the wireframe turns complete white.
If you want to have more control over how your wire looks you can go back into the material editor and under Extended Parameters you can lower or raise the thickness of the wireframe.
Once you have your wireframe looking how you want you can save out the image and bring it into a program like Photoshop and finish the compositing there.
The benefit to this method is that you'll have complete control over the wireframe once you bring it into Photoshop. There you can change the color and use any blending mode you like to achieve the look you want.
Rendering Wireframe with Mental Ray
This next method is very similar, but will allow you to do all of it inside of 3ds Max. This is great if you want to do something like an Ambient Occlusion render with a wireframe overlay.
This first thing you must remember with this method is that you need to be using Mental Ray in order for the wireframe to show up properly. So open your Render Setup.
Make sure you're under the Common tab and scroll all the way down until you find the Assign Renderer and open the drop down.
Press the icon to the very right of the Production settings.
Now choose the NVIDIA Mental Ray renderer.
With your render settings now established open up your material editor by pressing the "M" key on your keyboard or clicking the icon in the upper right corner.
Just like you did with the previous method you want to select one of the default materials. But instead of checking the Wire box you want to press the Standard button.
This will open up the Material/Map Browser. Scroll up until you find the Composite material and select it and press OK. The composite material allows you to combine multiple materials together.
When you press OK you should see a dialogue box that says Discard old material? Or Keep old material as sub-material? Either one is fine; in this case we've just discarded the old material.
Under the Composite Basic Parameters drop down in the material editor you should now see you have several materials that can be plugged into this single composite material. Under the Mat. 1: select None. This will open up the Material/Map Browser again. This time you want to scroll down until you find the Standard material.
This will create a Standard material within the Composite material. In the Standard material options open the Blinn Basic Parameters drop down and select the Diffuse color. You can change the color to whatever you like, for this it has been changed to a very dark grey.
Now select Go to Parent. This will bring you back to the Composite material options.
Under the Composite Basic Parameters plug in another Standard material into Mat. 2.
In this new Standard material you can check the Wire box. If you notice the dark grey material you set for the first Standard material is still visible, and the wireframe has now been applied as an overlay.
Apply this new material to your 3D model, you should see similar results as the image below. It appears as if the grey material isn't being displayed, but don't be alarmed it's only that way in the viewport.
Once you render it you should see similar results to the image below, the grey material is applied as the base color for the axe. You can create any lights you want for the scene. You can also experiment with different colors for your wireframe.
While this method doesn't provide the flexibility as the first one, it's a great way to quickly create a nice looking wireframe render without having to bring it into a compositing application.
Both these methods should provide exactly what you need to create a nice looking wireframe render. It really comes down to which method you think will work best for your particular project. If you have any questions or thoughts, share them in the comments below!
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