Messing around in 3D Studio R4: Rendering a couple of the sample files

I couldn’t find video footage of any of the DOS-era versions of 3D Studio on YouTube anywhere, so I figure I’d upload a few “time capsule” type clips. Nothing too interesting, but it’s kind of neat to see how rigid the interface was of this early-90s suite compared to the more fluid and natural 3D software that’s on the market we have available today.

The pre-MAX 3D Studios were rather weak tools for modeling; you could create basic shapes, and you could Loft 2D shapes. But it did not include modeling capabilities we take for granted today such as subdivision modeling or sculpting. And yet somehow there were talented artists back then who had the patience to put up with the very limited modeling feature set (the Lofting editor was about as complex as it got, which is primitive by today’s standards) and create shapes that went very well beyond the primitive ones!

In this video I render the two example files included on the product’s CD that have always been my favorites: CHAPEL.3DS was a scene from the Trilobyte game The 7th Guest, which was rendered almost entirely in 3D Studio (if it was also modeled entirely in 3D Studio, then that’s truly amazing). PCACITY.3DS is the scene of the Chrysler building surrounded by some other buildings, used on the box art for 3D Studio Release 3; but I am unsure who exactly created that scene.

The chances are unlikely, but if anyone might happen upon this video who was a professional 3D artist back in the early 90s and had to model in this program, I’m curious to hear how you made extremely intricate shapes (intricate by this program’s standards) out of the rather limited feature set in 3D Studio’s modeling tool repertoire. Or, as I might be guessing, was 3D Studio always looked at as, literally, a “studio” more than a “workbench”, and you used other software to do the modeling?

In the near or distant future — whenever I find the time — I will also be uploading footage of the 2D Shape Editor and Lofter, the Keyframer, the Materials Editor, and other curiosities.

33 replies
  1. valcaron
    valcaron says:

    @LanternWorkshop Not too young — my parents bought me 3DS when I was 13. They also got me Animator Pro, which I still have somewhere back at their house. I’d be surprised, though, if the floppy disks still function ;_;

    I was a fool, though. The moment they bought me a modem about half a year later, I completely lost interest in teaching myself 3D modeling, and instead spent all my time on BBSes, playing door games, and hacking my local library system’s dialup system to get on the Internet.

  2. valcaron
    valcaron says:

    I would upload entire demo reel videos (I have the Autodesk 1994 SIGGRAPH demo reel, and the 1995 one), but I don’t have video capture equipment on my computer at the moment.

    I’ve been meaning to capture gameplay videos of some of the lesser-known, obscure games from the Gamecube and PS2, so it’s likely I’ll buy such equipment sooner or later.

  3. valcaron
    valcaron says:

    Oh yes, the oldschool 3D Studio was used in a few major movies. An old Siggraph demo reel by Autodesk I have shows a few clips from films like Johnny Mnemonic and The Craft (the butterfly scene), and a couple others I don’t remember.

    One thing I disliked was how one year the demo reel was mostly animations of individuals’ creative projects, short stories, cool architecture, music videos, etc… and the next years’ SIGGRAPH demo reel was like 85% advertisements and "cliche chrome" logos.

  4. valcaron
    valcaron says:

    Thanks for reminding me! I was going to make videos of those parts of the program, too, but as usual I get distracted by my vidya games.

    I’ll be making one and putting it up sometime in the next day or two.

  5. Lawrence D’Oliveiro
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

    Those old .3ds files have a well-understood format (unlike, say, 3DS MAX). That means you should be able to import them into a more modern program like, say, Blender.

    Have you tried seeing how they would look rendered in newer software?

  6. tkeshet
    tkeshet says:

    I started with R2 on a 80386 CPU with a Q387 math emulator so drawing a sphere actually took some time to watch the segments get drawn.

    These were the days! 🙂

  7. mrjustin5
    mrjustin5 says:

    I cant believe how DESTRUCTIVE time really is. I got 2 Demo Reel VHS tapes from 3D Studio Autodesk company and I watched them over and over when I was in early high school.

    3D Studio Ver 4.0 was really a breakthrough. I remember arguing with Dean about Lightwave vs 3D studio and of course, VideoToaster.

    I ran Vistrapro 3.0 (a Terrain Gen. 1993) on a AMD 64 3500+ CPU (2.2GHz DDR400) and it ran about 4,000x faster. What took HOURS to render on my 486, rendered in a blink of an eye on the AMD64.

  8. UncleFeedle
    UncleFeedle says:

    Oh, the memories. If you wanted to render a single image containing any raytraced reflections, you had to put the time aside for it. In 1993, I recall rendering a chrome robot guy (my first 3D character) at 640×480 and it taking about four hours. Think I went to the pub.

    MAX was such a breakthrough when it came out on Win NT. You mean it can display viewport images in realtime!? Wow!!!

    I’d love to see a plugin renderer for MAX which simulates the old 3DS look. Modern modelling tools with a retro feel.

  9. valcaron
    valcaron says:

    I don’t think it’s posssible. I used to run it decently under Windows 98, before Blender was an option, since Win98 was, like Win 3.1, run on top of DOS.

  10. Jyargurinsk Minicyzk Kopian Menias The Un-Beholden Son Of Deberiah Yrundheitl Massuvius Krasserr
    Jyargurinsk Minicyzk Kopian Menias The Un-Beholden Son Of Deberiah Yrundheitl Massuvius Krasserr says:

    …I actually like the shaders used in this program. Reminds me of the ol’ PS1 cutscenes.

    Any idea if we can nab shaders like that fer the modern version of 3DS?

  11. clubpenguin1help
    clubpenguin1help says:

    It runs perfectly on MS-DOS 6.22. And MS-DOS 6.22 runs perfectly on my PC too. Though i don’t think it will be much faster as it does not use the GPU for the rendering. But the CPU.

  12. Saulo Silva
    Saulo Silva says:

    Those wonderful days. 🙂
    BTW, what video setting do you use when running on DOSBox? In those days I used the native ATI Mach32 option for the card, but how does it handle new cards on emulated environment? Stuck with the 256 colors?!

  13. Y di que te lo dijo un loco
    Y di que te lo dijo un loco says:

    from a time to the date i wanted to use any really old 3D software to make a pair of scenes… this one looks nice!

  14. valcaron
    valcaron says:

    I just rendered a couple of sample files that came with the CD-ROM (actually it was the sample CD-ROM that came with 3DSR3, which is what I actually own, but comes on floppy disks of which some aren’t readable anymore… why they didn’t include the software product on the CD is beyond me).

    The video is of 3DS4 (DOS only) which isn’t much different from 3DS3 (the UI is practically the same) but introduced bug fixes, added Inverse Kinematics to the animation suite, and new Materials options.

  15. OneWorld4us
    OneWorld4us says:

    WOW !!…. I remember I didn´t move to MAX because of the windows environment and I thought it was so intimidating .. I felt so confortable with the DOS version … ha ha ha .. what a days !!…

  16. rob M.
    rob M. says:

    thanx *mucho* for ULoading this…brings back memories. I worked as an animator/modeler for videogames /production studios back in the late 80s to 90s, primarily using 3ds. It was amazing just how powerful it was given 1) at only 3k, it was the cheapest serious/pro 3d app in those days [well most of us bootlegged it ;-), 2) it ran on 386s & 486s with only 4 megs ram yet could handle large models +great quality rendering, w/ lots of plug-ins added every year.

  17. valcaron
    valcaron says:

    Actually it might’ve been my fault.

    Looks like memsize was set to 16mb in dosbox. My old 486 had 32MB of RAM (though I did use 3D Studio when it had only 8MB) and even then it spent most of the time swapping.

    Which reminds me, if you had the MS-DOS smartdrv.exe utility resident and running while running 3D Studio and 3D Studio ever did any virtual memory swapping, you ended up with a wrecked file system.

    I wonder if I can replicate that, and if DOSBOX would damage my actual filesystem…

  18. Prabhjot Singh
    Prabhjot Singh says:

    Where Can I download from..? Even I have worked in 3DS those early days.. My PC used to have 4 mb of Ram and the processor was Intel 486 dx2 clocked at 66 mhz. It was amazing how those softwares used to run in just 4 mb of ram.

  19. mrjustin5
    mrjustin5 says:

    valcaron – If you could upload those old Demo reel VHS tapes that would be awesome. I lost all of those and it would really be nostalgic to watch those again. Maybe re-kindle my passion for CGI as well as others. There seems to be something magic about this old 3D Studio stuff. You can always go to WorstBuy (BESTBUY) and "try" one of their video capture hardware & return it.

    You should fire up a true DOS program and not an emulator and you should get REAL performance not 486-era on that 3GHz.

  20. Hartono Rajageboy
    Hartono Rajageboy says:

    Oh My… those menus brought me back to the good old days. Up till now 3D Studio DOS still a rocket science for me cause of It’s limitation tools comparing to It’s predecessesors ( I’m a 3DS Max user for so long). It still amazes me of how they made such awesome models with this software at those times with very limited systems, my hat off to them.
    thanks for uploading this video 🙂

  21. valcaron
    valcaron says:

    Not sure, because abandonware sites tend to just host games. I installed this from an actual boxed copy; I own both 3DS2 and 3DS3, now sitting around in some storage garage somewhere.

  22. AMGTEC
    AMGTEC says:

    interesting, i have an ibm double xeon 3.6 ghz w/xp pro, i formatted a diskete in dos, i reboted the unit from diskete and guess what? I can run 3ds4 (w/vibrant drivers) and my 3ds recognize 2 gb of ram (from total of 4) is this a miracle? I have no idea seems microsoft applied some patches, about 2010 I believe you are not 100 percent right, between 3ds4 and 2010 are 15 years of evolution….


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