3D Artist

Free 3ds Max tutorial: Abstract art

Tips & Tutorials
The 3D Artist Team

How to create an abstract composition with 3ds Max and the Ghost Trails plug-in

free 3ds max tutorial


Abstract compositions within 3ds Max offers limitless artistic freedom. You can choose from many different tools that the software offers to achieve a nice result. In situations like this, your imagination really is the limit.

In this tutorial we will use Particle Flow tools so we can experiment with the timeline and the changes that appear in the forms through time. Keep in mind that a few minor changes to some of the settings of the elements in the scene will give you a totally different result in the rendering.

It’s also a good idea to create many cameras and test out different angles to find the most interesting one for the final rendr. In doing this you will train your artistic eye and exercise composition skills to take away and apply to other projects.

You will need

• 3ds Max
• GhostTrails plug-in for 3ds Max – download the trial version

Step 1: Particle Flow

3d abstract art step 1

Create a Particle Flow Source 001 with the Emit Start & Stop at 0 and Amount 6000. Set the speed (along the icon arrow) to 300, add a torus knot object (with Radius 1 at 30cm and Radius 2 at 2cm) and then assign it in PF as Position Object. Create two forces to the particles: gravity (Strength 1.7) and wind (Strength 0.15, Decay 5.15, Spherical, Turbulence 3, Frequency 0 and Scale 0.02).

Step 2: GhostTrails setup

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Create a shape (spline with Length 0.5cm) and add the GhostTrails modifier over it. Set it to Moving Trails with Frames to lag at 15, Segments/frame 4, Spline steps 0 and U repeat 1. Check Use Particle Trails and choose the PF Source 001.

The Frames to lag option should be treated carefully at this number of particles as it may slow down your graphics card when redrawing the viewports.

Step 3: Chase the moment and view

free 3ds max tutorial

Experimenting with the time, I chose frame 22 of the timeline to be an interesting moment for some tests to continue with the building of the scene.

It’s a good time to create some testing cameras from different sides to find the most interesting one for the final render. If you intend to use depth of field, it’s better to have the camera closer to the composition forms so the effect is more intense.

Step 4: Display the geometrical elements

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Add a simple torus to the scene (Radius 1 at 5cm, Radius 2 0.7cm) and assign it as Shape Instance in the PF Source 001, keeping the rotation in the particles at Random 3D. Turn the display of the particles to Geometry to see the result of the settings in the viewport, but this may slow down your graphics card due to the high number of particles.

Step 5: Materials lighting setup

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The trails have a very simple white-grey V-Ray material (no reflection and map) and the torus used by the end of the particles has a mapped grey V-Ray material with some mild glossy reflections.

For the lighting I used two coloured plane lights and one light dome for the ambient light – all of them having the Multiplier set to 3 (invisible-subdivision 30). The plain-coloured lights are found facing each other.

Step 6: Background and more elements

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For the background insert a cylinder (with no caps) and include all the elements of the scene inside it. The material of the cylinder is mid-grey, mapped with a concrete texture.

Finally, add one simple PF Source in the scene with 1,000 particles. Set the Shape Instance to have a glass sphere then insert a smaller one with self-illuminated material so there are floating spheres covering the space with small lights inside.


Tutorial author Adam Martinakis

Tutorial originally published in 3D Artist issue 36. Available to buy now, with worldwide delivery, from the official Imagine Publishing online store.



  • thanks a lot for this great tutorial

  • Patricia

    hi! thanks a lot for the tutorial! maybe i’m doing something wrong, but the step with the ghost trails is not working. they are not showing up 🙁

  • WOW !!!!! I gotta try this beautiful looking subject.