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gmax has limited import and export capabilities. This means models made with the application, by themselves, have limited usability. To work around this, content made in gmax needs to be exported to one of the available 3D formats the game or project you're making content for can use and understand; *.ase or *.obj would be the typical formats one could expect to use.
However, the limited import/export capabilities of gmax mean that that's not quite as straightforward to do this as it should be. This is especially so where the needed modeled content - characters or objects - is rigged or animated in some fashion, because they will often be needed in a proprietary format that's specific to the project at hand.
Thankfully there is a way to do this and export models from gmax for use elsewhere. The following tutorial relates to and explains how to export models and content from gmax and how to then import those files into 3D Studio Max or other 3D applications for further editing.
When making 3D content for game development or modifications, the problem associated getting models out of gmax and into Max isn't with 3DS Max but rather with gmax. Although gmax is based on an early version of 3DS Max (v4) the program itself was designed with the intention of having limited import and export capabilities which were then to be provided by the installation of additional 'gamepacks' available for various games like 'Quake 3', 'Black & White' and MS 'Flight Simulator'.
As there isn't an 'official' way to export general 3D content from gmax - because of the above mentioned limitations - the problem has to be worked around, using what abilities gmax does have, in this particular instance the MD3 exporter, available from an installed gamepack.
Design Note: Although this tutorial uses the MD3 exporter it should be possible to use any game pack because the basic principle is to simply export the model into a format that will get the object safely out of the gmax environment ready for import into 3DS Max or other 3D applications for further work.
The MD3 export script is not available as part of gmax's default set up, it can only be found as part of the Tempest gamepack - the game pack necessary to create content for Quake 3 using gmax - the plug-in has to be extracted and/or copied from the tempestinstall.exe installation directory. Normally, and once Tempest is installed, gmax is started via the Tempest shortcut which loads up a custom UI tailored to creating maps and models for Quake 3. To get around this, install or extract Tempest to a temporary location and look in the following folder;
[install directory path]\Tempest\plugins\
There should be a file called "Exportmd3.dle", this needs to be copied from the Tempest plug-ins folder to the gmax plug-ins folder, which can be found at;
[install directory path]\gmax\plugins\
Once done, gmax can be started as normal, without the need too use Tempest, with "Export MD3" available from the "File >> Export..." menu - this will allow objects to be built as normal, requiring a little prepping for export and then final output via the MD3 export option.
gmax will export models without UVW maps or materials but it will show an error message informing you that the export process is going to unwrap the object using a default 'spherical' UVW map. If exporting simple static models, when the "Export MD3" interface appears type "1" in "The Following Frames:" text field so gmax knows what and how many frames are to be exported and click "Export Now". Animated objects should have the appropriate 'from/to' frame numbers in the same text input field so the MD3 exporter writes the correct number of baked animation frames.
There are limitations associated with using the MD3 format for this sort of conversion process that must be taken into account, particularly on large or complex models. MD3 models are;
Limited to a 'volume' no greater than 1024 x 1024 units in size (512 units from centre point) - meshes that extend beyond this 'bounding box' of the volume will be 'folded' back into the valid space as if 'tiled' (gmax interprets vertices outside the volume as 'tiling' so will position them relative to the repeat on the inside of the volume, resulting in vertices being on the opposite side of the mesh).
As static map or world objects shouldn't use the MD3 format directly so will need to be converted to another appropriate format; MD3 'as is' tends to be for 'dynamic' objects only (see point above).
Once you've got the model out as an MD3 (or whichever format you have access to) the next thing is to get the file into MAX. There are two ways to do this;
Import directly into max using the Max to MD3 importer.
Import indirectly by converting to a format Max has native support for.
To import directly you need to have installed into your max 'plugins' folder, one of a number of MD3 import / export tools (see resource links above) which will allow you to browse to where the file is and load it into the scene as a workable object. Although the base mesh will import and load you may find animations and the UVW map missing.
To import indirectly you'll need to track down a model format converter. This will allow you to open the model into it and then save it back out as a different format (preferably one that max has native support for, 3DS for example). As with the import info above you will most likely find that animations and UVW map info is lost, this will depend on the quality of the converter you use, most of which only convert mesh data.
It may also be possible to export your *.gmax file to the *.pls (plasma) file format from gmax - support for the *.pls format was added to gmax v1.2 - and again import that into MAX.
In addition to the *.MD3 format mentioned above it's now possible to export gmax to Max by exporting models out to the MD5 format associated with id software "idtech 4"; this permits the creation and export of much more complex models as well as skeletal based rigs and animation's. To do this the MD5 export script for gmax and the MD5 import script for Max are needed; simply export your model from gmax to MD5 and then import that MD5 into Max.
It may also be possible to get gmax files into other 3D applications, like Maya or Blender 3D, but that will depend on either the availability of the MD3 or MD5 scripts or, gmax exported models will need converting into a more generic 3D format such as *.obj or *.dxf - note that doing so may remove animation, skeletons, materials, textures and UVW data; in other words, the file may be stripped of everything except raw mesh data.
Incidentally, if you want to go the other way, from Max to gmax, just export/save the work as "*.3ds", gmax has native support for that and will open that format without too much trouble - be warned, however, that material, UVW and animation data may be stripped from the mesh as a result of using the *.3ds format in this way.
It's also possible, using the gmax2obj export script to save models from gmax as OBJ formatted objects. To learn more about this process read the gmax to obj tutorial here.