3D Mountain in 3ds Max

In this 3ds Max tutorial we’re going to create a simple 3d mountain. The mountain geometry will be created from a simple plane with the displace modifier and it will be textured with a combination of procedural maps. The image will be finalized by strong sidelight and some volumetric clouds. I’m using 3ds Max 2011 but many older versions should work just as well.

Step 1 Mental Ray Renderer

We’re going to render the mountain with the Mental Ray. By default 3ds Max uses the Scanline renderer so we have to change that. Change the renderer to the Mental Ray ( Rendering > Render Setup… > Common tab > Assign Renderer > Production > mental ray Renderer ).

Step 2 3D Mountain Geometry

Create a Plane ( Create panel > Geometry > Standard Primitives > Plane ) in the top viewport . Modify the Plane ( Make a selection > Modify panel ) according to the following parameters :

  • Length: 200
  • Width: 200
  • length Segs: 200
  • Width Segs: 200

Plane object in 3ds Max

( We need a dense (80k faces) mesh because we’re going to deform it with the displace modifier and Gradient Ramp map. )

Step 3 Mountains with the Displace Modifier

Add Displace modifier to the Plane ( Make a selection > Modify panel > Modifier List > Object-Space Modifiers > Displace ) and apply the following parameters:

  • Displacement
    • Strength: 100
  • Image
    • Map: Gradient Ramp

Open Material Editor ( Rendering > Material Editor > Compact Material Editor ). Drag and drop the Gradient Ramp map from the Displace modifier into a material slot in Material Editor and select ‘instance’ when asked. Apply the following parameters to the Gradient Ramp map:

  1. Double click on the Flag #1 and change the color to white
  2. Double click on the Flag #3 and change the color to black
  3. Gradient Type: Radial
  4. Noise: Amount: 0,3
  5. Noise: Size: 6
  6. Noise: Turbulence
  7. Noise: Levels: 10

Displacement map design

Finally go to the ‘Output’ section, click ‘Enable Color Map’ and adjust the color map according to the picture below. ( to adjust a point, right-click on it and change it to ‘Bezier-Corner’ point. )

Color map curve in Gradient Ramp map

Tip: To adjust the small details of the mountain you can change the ‘ Phase’ in the Noise settings.

Step 4 Mountain Material

We’re going to create a snowcapped mountain with snow also at the base. The material will be created from scratch and it will use only procedural maps found in 3ds Max. We’ll utilize Gradient Ramp diffuse map to create color variations and Composite bump map to create lots of small scale details. So let’s select an empty material slot and create the material. You can just copy the settings from the picture or read the explanations below the picture.

Complex mountain material design

  1. Select the mountain and click ‘Assign Material to Selection’
  2. Diffuse Color: Gradient RampFlag #1: Color: RGB 180, 180, 180 Position: 0Flag #2: Color: RGB 180, 180, 180 Position: 15

    Flag #3: Color: RGB 100, 100, 100 Position: 22

    Flag #4: Color: RGB 100, 100, 100 Position: 39

    Flag #5: Color: RGB 180, 180, 180 Position: 49

    Flag #6: Color: RGB 180, 180, 180 Position: 100

    ( Click on the color gradient to add a new flag. Right-click on a flag to modify or delete it. )

    Gradient Type: Radial

    Noise Amount: 0,1

    Noise Type: Turbulence

    Noise Size: 1

    Noise Levels: 10

    ( It’s a good idea to make a test render now to see how the diffuse map looks like )

  3. Bump: Composite ( The Composite map is used to combine several maps together )
  4. Add Smoke map to the first layer of the Composite Map ( large scale details )Size: 5# Iterations: 20
  5. Add second layer to the Composite map. Change the blending mode to Addition and Opacity to 70. Add Speckle map to the second layer ( medium scale details )Size: 4Color #1: white

    Color #2: black

  6. Add third layer to the Composite map. Change the blending mode to Addition and Opacity to 60. Add Speckle map to the third layer ( small scale details )Size: 0,003Color #1: white

    Color #2: black

( We combined three different maps to create large, medium, and small scale details to the bump map. This method produces more realistic bump map than a single map would. )

Make a test render to see how the 3d mountain looks like with the diffuse and bump maps. At the moment there are several problems with the rendered image:

  • The mountain looks really boring and flat
  • Sampling quality isn’t high enough for the small scale details
  • There are some unnaturally sharp edges in the outline of the mountain

Next we’re going to fix these issues.

Flat and boring default rendering

Tip. If you’d like to create vegetation to the base of the mountain you could change the color values of Flags 5 and 6 ( in the Gradient Ramp map) to green.

Step 5 The Lighting

Soon we’re going to create more serious renders so let’s create a camera. Create a Target camera ( Create panel > Cameras > Target ) in the top viewport and place it according to picture below. Right-click on the Perspective view and press C in the keyboard to change it to the Camera view.

We rely heavily on the bump map so we desperately need more interesting illumination for the mountain. Create ‘mr Area Spot’ ( Create panel > Lights > Standard > mr Area Spot ) in the top viewport, place it according to picture below, and apply the following settings to it.

  • General Parameters
    • Shadows: ON
    • Shadows: Ray Traced Shadows
  • Intensity/Color/Attenuation
    • Multiplier: 2,5
    • Color: RGB 255, 248, 221
    • ( These settings create really strong light with warm yellowish color )
  • Spotlight Parameters
    • Hotspot/Beam: 15,2
    • Falloff/Field: 17,2
    • ( Just big enough to cover the mountain. Increase values if needed. )
  • Area Light Parameters
    • Type: Disc
    • Radius: 250
    • ( the higher the value, the softer the shadows. If you do a high resolution render and experience graininess in the shadows you can increase the ‘Samples’ values to fix it )

mr Area spot and camera placement in 3ds max

Render your mountain to see the effect of the Mental Ray area spotlight.

Effect of strong sidelight

Now the left side of the mountain is completely black and it fades into the background. Let’s fix that by adding a fill light. Create ‘Omni’ light and place it to the left side of the mountain and apply the following setting to it:

  • Intensity/Color/Attenuation
    • Multiplier: 0,7

Render a test image to see the effect of the fill light. Move the Omni light if necessary.

Unpolished rendering with low sampling values

Compare this to the render in step 4 to understand the importance of lighting.

Step 6 More Polished Look

Next we’re going to increase the quality of the mountain geometry and adjust the sampling settings to get more polished render. Go to the render setup and increase antialiasing quality by increasing Mental Ray’s sampling values ( Rendering > Render setup… > Renderer > Sampling Quality ):

  • Samples per pixel
    • Minimum: 4
    • Maximum: 64
  • Filter
    • Type: Mitchell ( For most scenes the Mitchell filter gives the best results. )

Select the mountain, go to the modify panel, and add TurboSmooth modifier to smooth out the hard edges of the model. Render your mountain to see the effect of these adjustments.

Polished 3d mountain render

Step 7 Volumetric Clouds Around the Mountain

As a final thing we’re going to add some clouds around the mountain to create more depth and better sense of scale. Create four sphere gizmos ( Create panel > Helpers > Atmospheric Apparatus > SphereGizmo ) in the top viewport. Apply the following settings to the gizmos:

  • SphereGizmo001
    • Radius: 61
    • Hemisphere: YES
  • SphereGizmo002
    • Radius: 47
    • Hemisphere: YES
  • SphereGizmo003
    • Radius: 79
    • Hemisphere: YES
  • SphereGizmo004
    • Radius: 50
    • Hemisphere: YES

Place the gizmos according to the picture below. SphereGizmo001 is on the left and SphereGizmo004 is on the right.

Sphere gizmo placement in top and front viewports

Let’s go to the atmosphere settings ( Rendering > Environment… > Atmosphere ) to add some clouds:

  • Click ‘Add…’ , select ‘Volume Fog’, and click OK.
  • Gizmos:
    • Click ‘Pick Gizmo’ and click on the SphereGizmo001. Repeat for all sphere gizmos.
    • Increase ‘Soften Gizmo Edges’ to 1.
  • Volume:
    • Color: RGB 255, 248, 221 ( The same as in the spotlight )
    • Max Steps: 200 ( Increases the quality of the effect )
  • Noise:
    • Type: Turbulence
    • Size: 40

Just hit render and your 3d mountain image is complete. I made some small adjustments in Photoshop:

  • Smart Sharpen Filter
    • Amount: 40%
    • Radius: 0,5 pixels
  • Contrast
    • +25

Mountain scene rendered in 3ds Max

I hope you enjoyed it! I’d love to hear how the tutorial is working for you!

99 Responses to 3D Mountain in 3ds Max

  1. eric jones says:

    I got lost in step 3. (Compact Material Editor) I put in all the settings, but the result still looked like a plane. I couldn’t apply the material either. (I’m a beginner)

    • polygonblog says:

      I got your email. I’m glad to hear it worked. I made some small adjustments to the tutorial to make it easier to understand.

    • araperez says:

      The same happened to me (still looking like a plane at step 3), I don’t know if you made the same mistake, but in my case, I created the plane on the front view port instead of the top one… ;) hope it helps!

  2. Midge says:


    I just recently discovered your blog and I must say it’s one of the most refreshing ones around with a lot of interesting stuff so far.

    Hoping to see more in the future. :)

    Keep up the good work!

  3. borat says:

    agree, this blog is awesome.Just bookmarked it :p

  4. Gumballcrash says:

    Bookmarked, looking forward to seeing what’s next!

  5. Infaas says:

    COOL ! Bookmarked !
    Thank you for this blog :)

  6. Nacken says:

    I like your last 3 tutorials.
    Your blog is some of the good ones.

  7. Eric Jones says:

    Great Tutorial, Just Newbie error on my part… please keep them coming.

  8. ariez says:

    Nice work! I was wondering, can this “mountain” be placed in a scene where it sees as a far far away object? like if we saw something big in a far distance? And how we combine it with our “place/environment” scene, is it we have to make the “mountain” so big or what? Or is it when we saw a mountain in the animation movie its just an image?

  9. bromat says:

    A mountain of thanks for your tutorial

  10. THall says:

    The time involved in all the screen captures/cropping, and then organizing it all into a tutorial must be immense.

    Thanks for the mountain tutorial, I wanted to try extended matte paintings in Nuke and a few camera mapped mountains will really help me out. Great job.

  11. Naveen says:

    Hi, for a fly through mountains kind of animation, would you suggest building them this way? or use a simple plane with a displacement modifier? Wonder how it can be lighted and textured though

  12. morph says:

    great modeling

  13. Hannah Chan says:

    Thanks for the tutorial! it’s so cool! <3

  14. Chandana says:

    Nice tutorial
    great level of detail…

  15. John says:

    Very nice ! Thanks for this good tutorial :)

  16. CoffeeJay says:

    Amazing site, amazing tutorials, and beautiful logo! haha I love your website, by the ways, i’m a beginner to 3ds max, got an good learning sugestions? and did you render your logo in ambient oculsion?

  17. Kashak says:

    Never before made procedural mountain of any sort in max. Cool tutorial! You have a good grasp in max. Very effective tutorial, not hard to follow. The only thing is to below max2011 (and 2010 too, I guess) users – composite material works in little bit different way than described here which is for max2011. I use max2008. One workaround could be using mix maps in composite material slots on older versions. Something like that. But even roughly following this tutorial gives very interesting results, at least for me it worked.

    • polygonblog says:

      Thanks for your insightful feedback! You are right about the composite material, it sure is different in older versions. If I remember correctly, in 3ds Max 2008 there is no blending modes nor opacity control at all. However, you can still combine maps, like Kashak mentioned, by using Mix maps. You can also combine several Mix maps inside a Composite map by varying their ‘Output Amount’ values.

  18. k.Satish says:

    Nice tutorial, Good information.Thank you.

  19. Isanka says:

    great man..easy to understand…..good detail levels.,,keep it up !!

  20. Donald says:

    Thanks for the tutorial! it’s so cool!

  21. Grif3d says:

    Thanks a lot from Perú!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Toni says:

    Dude you,re a beast! how did you find out how to do all this stuff on 3ds max?!

  23. riya says:

    great tutorial…

  24. austin dodge says:

    this is excelent this tutorial just saved my grade in my 3d animation class. CHEERS!!

  25. Gustavo says:

    awesome, thanks so much for this tutorial

  26. Stephen says:

    Doing a spoof of the Paramount Open and this saved me a ton of time. Pretty good looking results. I will try to post once I’m done.

  27. Vincent lemarie says:

    Wonderfull thank you guy!

  28. HTCK88 says:

    that’s great!

  29. An Ordinary Joe says:

    This is really cool. A very hands-on and easy to follow tutorial that actually brings some new tools to the table for me. I am a student who is getting into game development and anything I can learn that yields these types of results in a relatively short amount of time adds to my arsenal of techniques. Thanks!

    I will try to refer as many of my fellow students to your site for your tuts.

  30. Philippe Verdoni says:

    Thank you very much for this tutorial. I have a question dealing with the rendering. I have added to the scenery two texts which are moving separately alongside the timeline (300 frames). It turns out that the use of the Mental Ray increases dramaticaly the rendering time which amounts to 55 hours.
    I have used your settings i.e.:
    Mental Ray’s sampling values :

    * Samples per pixel
    o Minimum: 4
    o Maximum: 64
    * Filter
    o Type: Mitchell
    Could you be so kind as to let me know if there is a method to reduce this rendering duration. My computer as an AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600+ Dual core processor with 4 GBytes RAM. I have the Windows 7 32 bits operating system.
    Thank you very much for your assistance

    • polygonblog says:

      I suggest you use the following sampling values:
      Samples per pixel
      – Minimum: 1
      – Maximum: 16
      – Type: Box

      This should speed up the rendering. Additionally, I suggest you save the rendered pictures as image files instead of a video file. This allows you to render the whole thing in many parts (for example little every night). Images are then combined into a video file in Video Post in 3ds Max or in some video editing software.

  31. shadow says:

    amazing tutorial, very well explained and detailed. thanks

  32. Philippe Verdoni says:

    Thank you for your answer giving alternate settings to speed up the rendering. They effectively have enabled me to perform the whole process in only 1 night. I am not aware of the Video Post feature which is not very clearly explained in the 3dsMax documentation. Is there any benefit to render the pictures as image files instead of movie files since the use of a video editing software makes it also possible to assemble several movies into a single one (I am currently editing my movies in Adobe Premiere)?
    Incidentally are you aware of a good tutorial related to Video Post available on the net?
    Thank you again.

    • polygonblog says:

      Nice to hear you managed to render the whole thing. The real benefit of saving as picture files is the possibility to stop and continue rendering process and the possibility to render with several computers. Additionally some image file formats can store some extra information ( alpha, depth ) that might be useful in post processing.

      I don’t know any viseo post tutorials. If you use viseo editing software I guess you might not need video post.

  33. 3alisha says:

    Great tutorial, as always :)

    I have 1 comment, i think 100 for the displacement is not enough, i used 350 for it to look more like a mountain, not a hill.

    Cheers, keep them coming :)

  34. Ken says:

    Thanks!! Your tutorials are great, and have really helped me improve my skills in 3D. If possible, I’d request that you please publish something on The Human Head/Body Modeling and Lighting for vehicles… THANKS.

  35. RRamesh says:

    Very nice and superb tutorials

  36. Lucas says:

    face these tutorials is exelentes, even though I can understand in English, by the way I am Brazilian and here are the tutorials on very old versions of 3ds Max, I always update the versions with my company and it is difficult to follow with older versions, and how do you use the same version as I always do my tutorials to the letter, congratulations on excellent blog, I hope you post more tutorials always a big hug Bill Gates … Luke joke

  37. Mihdi says:

    This tutorial is great! and is not that difficult to understand.
    Looking forward to seeing more of this from Uruguay!

  38. sawyer says:

    I cant find the mountain gradient ramp for the displacement map.. help? Its not under sceneassets in max2010 when i look for it, or anywhere else.. any suggestions?


  39. I am just starting to learn 3ds max, and i must say that the tutorials you have on this are amazing, and easy to fallow, i have done the ocean one and volumetric light, i am going to do this one next.
    I might try and make this one except some how change it to a mountain range.
    I hope to see some more tutorials on here soon, i love how good quality they are.

  40. n1fd3l says:

    nice tuts thanks for sharing your skills!!!!

  41. Quik says:

    I think the “modelling” of this mountain is very interesting, however, the fact that the end result is in grayscale, and the “texture” of the mountain seems just to be a noise filter to be honest with some booring lightning makes it rather booring to look at…
    Don’t get me wrong though, the lightning part is very interesting and each of your tutorials teaches me something new! i just find this one, rather booring =/
    Keep up the great tutorials! i am eager to learn more! =D

  42. justan says:

    Hey, i was just wondering why my mountain is flat? haha I’m at step 5 and yours looks all 3d and stuff, and mines just flat.
    I’m a beginner.

    this site looks great and very helpful.


  43. sujeet says:

    GR8 !!! thanks a lot

  44. Gede says:

    Nice job, I liked that mountain , you can also create a crater or even a volcano by editing few things :) Well , however there would be , I need an advice, if you can write me to my email , I would be fully apresheated, becouse I am not going to write everything here :)

  45. steph says:

    The clouds you place at the end of a lovely touch. However, I’d like to be able to do something like this with them:


    Is it possible using the sphere gizmos or would I have to grab a plugin?

  46. 3darch says:

    I just discover this webpage. its great!!! Im in love xD, nice tutorials the best tutorials I ever seen!! thanks!

  47. Djghost1133 says:

    Thanks for the tutorial man. Really helped a lot. You should make a similar tutorial on how to create an island.

  48. euqid says:

    Nice tutorial :) I suggest adding a gradient map in environment map with black and the semi-white you use in your light for colors. Adding noise to this gives a dark clouded BG wich further enhances the mountain feel ;) Thnx :)

  49. Durgesh says:

    Hello sir! you have done fantastic job. Newbies like us are able to learn such great softwares bcoz of great people like you only. Thank you so much!

  50. bluerube says:

    How do you extend this to creating a mountain range? I’ve been thinking of placing a flat plane underneath the mountain and then applying some noise, reposition the mountains artificially so that it looks like it’s part of the base terrain. But I don’t think this will work out too well.

    Any ideas?

    • bluerube says:

      Sorry, I’m using Max on my laptop, so it’s a tad slow. So what I do is try to visualize what to do first. Bear with me!

      I tried tilting the mountains to match the base terrain, but it looks too weird. The whole mountain tilts, so it looks unnatural.

      Now I’m thinking of attaching the base plane to the mountains. But the individual mountains have thousands of side vertices and the base mesh will have a lot too (after the noise was applied). How would you tie these together?

      Or, I could create a flat plane, attach the mountains to different areas on the plane. Then I would apply noise to areas that are not part of the mountain, creating a hilly base for the mountains. Will this work? Same problem though, how would I attach all those vertices from the mountain to a few points on the base plane?

      Thanks again!

      • polygonblog says:

        I would try it with two displace modifiers. With first displace modifier you create the hilly base that covers the whole plane. In the second displace modifier you create the mountain like in the tutorial but you just scale it smaller and position it where you want it (by scaling and movie the gizmo in the displace modifier).

  51. WifiRex says:

    Keep them coming man. Need more lighting tutorials badly. When I made the mountain, I thought the daylight system would work well on a sky background, but once I changed it my mountain became a sillouette! Even with the daylight system removed! So I started again…

  52. Kammeron says:

    Excellent Tutorial!

  53. Dave says:

    Just getting a giant wedge shape and confused what type of units your using.

  54. Azmy says:

    LOL Your website is like a science lab..
    Soooooooooo ClEAN….

  55. Little Laura says:

    Great Tutorials btw
    just a quick question i have combined two of your tutorials to create larger scene (this one and the one with the ocean) to produce a scene, and when i have created the clouds from this tutorial into the scene they come out black, and i am unable to change the colour of them can you think of any reason why?


  56. Kura says:

    A very,very nice Tutorial!

  57. Kush Kumar says:

    Facing some problems with material editor (Step 4)
    if someone could elaborate
    I would appreciate it.

    and also follow me on twitter @thenameiskush

  58. Ganesh Srivastav says:

    Great. Thanks a lot. It has worked perfectly and i would try changing the light settings.

  59. zzff says:

    awesome! works like a charm
    thank you for the lessons

  60. Noname says:

    We’re using this tutorial in our class!

  61. ANURAGZ says:


  62. Bladelock says:


    How do you make these stuff?

    This looks complex! Don’t you ever forget how you make such models?

    How do you keep remembering how to make these stuff to the point of posting this in your blog?


  63. Aquila says:

    Very inspirational! Thanks for a good and very easy to follow tutorial!

  64. Thomas Braithwaite says:

    Great tut. Can’t quite get the clouds the way I would like to get them though, they look to glowy, and bright, less cloudy, more..urm..yeah! haha Great tutorial though, need more :)

  65. mohit soni says:

    thank you for sharing. nicely explain step by step thankyou one again

  66. soupz_vicky says:

    awesome tutorial it really came in handy 4r me….

    thanks a lot :D

  67. Chris Clark says:

    How can I use this approach to create a mountain that is 10,000 feed high and 5,000 feed wide?

  68. sam says:

    I it fantastic and very clear. thank you very much. please also make a of break brick wall……………

  69. ravi says:

    great tutorial but needed hand made. any way it gave some idea
    its good

  70. babak says:

    tnx very very good

  71. Tanveer says:

    i think u should put something in the scene behind the mountain to make it more relevant rest of all is fine…

  72. Dewmal says:

    Thankx , nice tute and i learned more.

  73. Resident says:

    Hey buddy. I’m loving this site more and more, your tutorials are brilliant. Well Done.

    Anyways, I’m having an issue with the Mountain’s surface; it kinda looks to smooth and has nowhere near as much detail and jaggedness as yours seems to have.

    Also, the clouds look terrible in mine, I tried fiddling with the density but this is the best I could get (Which looks kind of terrible): http://residentgaming.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/mountainrange1.png

    Any idea how I’d solve these issues?

    Again, thanks for having such an awesome site! ^-^

  74. noor says:

    very nice sharing sir! may u keep smiling ever!

  75. nitin pasbola says:


  76. rait yuki says:

    you are always best thank you thatwas really nice good luck for next works


  77. Livi says:

    My mountain looks all grainy and stuff and also, where’s the pick Gizmo …plz help.

  78. Hiren Vaghela says:

    its a great,,,very nice toturial…

  79. hiren says:

    wowwww,just in 7 step..amazing

  80. christos says:


  81. Alexei says:

    the modelling metod is very fast to anothers that i see. thanks. really.

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