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3D Tornado in 3DS MAX

27.01.2008 Category: 3D (Animation)
Tornado animation

Picture 1. Animated 3D tornado

In this tutorial I cover the creation of a simple tornado in 3D Studio MAX. The tornado is created by forcing particles to follow a path and adding motion blur to them. You need some experience with 3DS MAX to be able to follow this tutorial.

Helix Path

A Helix shape in 3DS MAX

Picture 2. The helix is the path that particles will follow.

First create a path for the particles to follow. Create a Helix Shape in the Top view (Create > Shapes > Helix). Use the following settings in the Helix:

Rotate the Helix 180 degrees so that the first vertex of the helix is on top (picture 2).

Snow Particle System

Helix shape and Snow particle system in 3DS MAX

Picture 3. Create a Snow particle system.

Next you need some particles. Create a Snow particle system (Create > Particles > Snow) with the following settings (picture 3):

The speed of the particles won't have any effect in the final system and orientation of the Snow emitter has only a very little effect.

Path Follow Space Warp

Path Follow space warp

Picture 4. Create a Path Follow space warp and bind the Snow particle system to it.

A Path Follow space warp is used to force the particles to follow the path. Create a Path Follow space warp (Create > Space Warps > Forces > Path Follow) with the following settings:

(The Particle Motion parameters add some chaos to the flow of the particles.)

Bind to space warp Bind the Snow particle system to the Path Follow space warp (picture 4).

Test the Animation

Particles following a path

Picture 5. Particles are following the path.

Test the animation. The particles should now roughly follow the helix shape (picture 5). It takes 100 frames (Travel time) for the particles to go through the path.

Wave modifier to the Tornado

Particle tornado in 3DS MAX

Picture 6. A wave modifier makes the tornado more alive.

At the moment the tornado is boring. Add a Wave modifier to the helix to make the tornado more interesting. Use the following settings in the Wave modifier (you probably have to also rotate the Gizmo of the Wave modifier 90 degrees):

The tornado should now look like in picture 6. At the moment the tornado does wave motion only along one axis which means that it looks good only when looked at from certain angles. If you are going to render an animation I suggest you to animate two Wave modifiers with 90 degree separation to make the wave motion appear from any view angle.

Tornado Material

Material basic parameters

Picture 7. Basic parameters of the tornado material.

Gradient Ramp parameters

Picture 8. Gradient Ramp parameters.

Create a material for the tornado with the following settings:

Basic parameters (picture 7):

Gradient Ramp Parameters (picture 8):

Render an Test Image

Tornado rendering in 3DS MAX

Picture 9. First rendering of the tornado.

Render an image to test the material of the tornado. The rendered image should look like in picture 9. (For my rendering I added a plane object with Matte/Shadow material under the tornado and an Omni light with shadows on top of the tornado.) It doesn't look much of a tornado yet. Next you'll add motion blur to enhance the realism of the rendering.

Motion Blur to the Tornado

Tornado in 3D Studio MAX

Picture 10. The final rendering of the tornado in 3DS MAX.

Add motion blur to the tornado. Right click on the Snow Particle System and select Object Properties... from the pop-up menu. Enable Object Motion Blur.

Go to the render settings and Apply Object Motion Blur with the following settings:

Render the tornado again. Now the rendering takes a few minutes longer because of the motion blur. The rendered image should look like in picture 10.

At the moment the tornado uses a Snow particle system. There are many other particle systems in 3DS MAX and you could also try this with any of them.