Note this is an old article I wrote sometime ago in 1999 but rather than discard it I've included it in the tutorials section as there's some good reference links.

Recently I've been working on producing cloud, smoke & dust effects in 3DS Max 2.5 using plug-ins including Afterburn and Pyrocluster. Looking at clouds frequently & thinking about ways to produce them has led me to write my thoughts down, mainly to pass on my wishes to the plug-in developers & to open a discussion about ways of rendering clouds in 3DS Max. So far this article just concentrates on clouds, there are many more wishes for smoke & fire effects.

Cloud/Smoke production in 3DS Max can roughly be divided in to 2 areas

Some ideas for creation

Once the vertex/particle clouds are created in some cases you would need/want to be able to edit the particle cloud, similar to a edit mesh, employing soft selections methods & perhaps some way of painting rotation within the particles as well? Probably an even more basic method of single particle/cloud shape creation would be used as well, holding the left mouse button down left & right movement could control height & width with up & down perhaps controlling rotation, a good/quick interface would be need for this method.


Some ideas for creation of cloud volumes




Relatively large cumulonimbus producing most of the damage associated with severe thunderstorms. It can produce large hail, flash floods, severe wind gusts, wall clouds and tornadoes and has a relatively long life span. Common features include an overshooting bulge through the top of the storm and a long life cycle - typically 2 hours or more. Is also called a mesocyclone if rotation is occurring within the thunderstorm cell.

Cumulonimbus Incus

Cumulonimbus with an anvil typically known as a thunderstorm. Also known as Cumulonimbus Capillatus.

Cumulonimbus Calvus

Cumulonimbus or large cumulus with basically no anvil although the tops may become striated.

Cumulus Congestus

Cumulus clouds which are markedly sprouting and are often of great vertical extent with tops resembling a cauliflower. Their heights exceed the dimensions of their bases.

Cumulus Mediocris

Cumulus clouds of moderate vertical extent, the tops of which show fairly small protuberances. The base is a similar in width to the cloud height.

Cumulus Humilis

Cumulus clouds of only a slight vertical extent. They generally appear flattened. Their bases are much wider than the their heights.


Forms in layers sometimes hundreds of kilometres across. It usually has a ragged upper surface while the base is relatively flat. The most common cloud type.


Stratus clouds form in sheets or layers in the lower parts of the atmosphere. Fog is classified as stratus.


Cumulus in the middle levels of the atmosphere associated with the lifting of a large air mass and instability.


This cloud is found in the middle levels of the atmosphere and is always a sign of the presence of significant amounts of moisture in those layers. It is typically featureless, ranging from a thin, white veil of cloud through which the sun is clearly visible, to a dense grey mantle that may block out the sun completely.


Rain producing cloud which varies in thickness and layers mostly occurring in a widespread sheet.


High level clouds that appear as small rounded puffs arranged in rows or sheets.


Cirrus Fibratus


Ice crystal clouds that appear in the form of extensive sheets that may cover the whole sky.

Cloud definitions & links from Australian Weather Photography web page, please note their Copyright notice.


 The material on this page is copyright Kieron Helsdon 1999.
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