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An introduction to 3ds Max and Skyrim

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I just started making a video that covers a bit of information about 3ds Max and how to setup a skeleton for animation. I'll admit its pretty bare right now, but it includes a ton of information. I plan on releasing more tutorials, but this is what I think I'll have overall:

1. Setting up a rig for Skyrim animation in 3ds Max - includes navigating around in the viewports, some technical information about the skeletons, animation helpers, and importer plugin issues.

2. A tutorial that covers making an animation from scratch without having to convert ones that already do exist. I will mention how to reuse animations briefly, but I would like to teach using nothing but the rig and Havok's Content Tools.

3. Creating a character animation that includes an AnimObject. Most AnimObjects are stationary and are linked to an existing bone, but I think I found a way to actually animate one without having it be welded to a bone.

4. Creating a(n) clothing/armor model without using any existing clothing/armor, save for adding the correct material branches in Nifskope, and using a base body. I will make this as easy as possible, so even someone who can't model can make a simple piece of clothing work ingame.

I will try to keep these brief and simple, so it encourages more people to try using 3ds Max. The only thing I haven't been able to do is morph work, but I'm not too worried about that right now.

Anyway here's a link to my first tutorial:

An introduction to 3ds Max and Skyrim: Navigation basics and setting up a character rig

This one has no audio, but has annotations describing what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and how things work. It is more a less a reference, but you can easily follow what I'm doing if your interested. I recommend watching it atleast one time before actually doing it though.

My new tutorials will include audio though because I am experimenting with video compression and audio for my slow internet connection.


Second tutorial:

Making hair for Skyrim using 3ds Max


Third misc tutorial

Skyrim: Havok and custom skeletons


Fourth misc tutorial

Skyrim: Rescaling HCT rigid bodies


Fourth misc tutorial

Skyrim: Adding bounce to character animations


Fifth tutorial

Skyrim: Creating a custom mesh for a base body


Sixth tutorial

Creating an idle animation for Skyrim using 3ds max






HDTPhysics Basic setup with hinges and ragdoll constraints


HDTPhysics setting up spring constraints


HDTPhysics rigging hair for Skyrim


Links of interest:


HDT development/Maxscripts


Newer scripts

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I'd love to do this, but I downloaded 3DS Max 2013 and there's no .Nif plugin availible for it, And I'm not downloading it again... :(

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@Blargh you can find plugins on Nexus.



Nice tutorial' date='thanks for sharing :)



Not for 2013... :/

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Is it possible to make one for hair meshes too? I'm trying for days now to convert a hairstyle from Oblivion to Skyrim but honestly I have no idea what I'm doing :(

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I'll try to add hair but I can't be certain it will work. Right now I'm unsure if Max can even be used to add hair, unless the .tri/.egm files are optional.

Actually there's already a tutorial made. It's in Spanish though, but I'll translate it later.


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We will need a "boned" penis skeleton in order to improve sex animations in Skyrim. These takes modelling skills.

If anybody can help me how to attach bones to the TES skeletons and how to attach meshes to the bones ill do the rest.

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You can also look at Nightasy's tutorials on Utube ,There for making armor but good for getting your feet wet with 3ds.

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I have a question for you, would really appreciate the help! i've modified a 1st person attack animation, but when the animation carries out, it does not do the little tilting and moving of the camera when attacking (like it does in the original animation). Do you know where that information is stored?

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I've added my second tutorial today. This tutorial shows you how to take a model and get it ready for use as hair, including vertex coloring, uv layout and configuring nif shaders. It's kind of long but it has audio this time.


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i have a weird.. 'issue'.
When I paint weights in 3ds Max the body kinda shrinks where I paint, it's really weird. The even weirder thing is, that in Skyrim the body looks normal and the weights are applied as intended.


Any ideas?


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Turn off blending when you paint otherwise it will collapse the mesh. I'm still not sure why it does that, but it's likely to do with the way the skeleton is imported.

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Uhm, sorry to sound stupid, but where do I do this? (problem is, my 3ds max is in german, which is plain stupid but yeahh..)

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Right next to the paint weights button is a ... button after you open that click the check box next to blending.

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Gonna follow this and maybe try. Although I had 3DSMax and Blender installed, along with the required files, I once attempted to create custom armor, or modify existing ones, but I felt I got it wrong and didn't tried again because of the complexity involved and the apparent lack of a coherent and comprehensive instruction manual (tried to find such a manual but in vain), most of which were based on older versions of those modeling programs.

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I'll be getting around to the armor tutorial near the end of the week and have it finished by Sunday atleast if I don't get bombed with overtime. I think I will just make something like a swimsuit to keep it simple, but you can just use that as a base to start off of if you are interested in making something more complex later on.

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"You must specify at least one bone node." -- This message pops up when attempting to export to NIF. Am I missing something here? Or does it mean that I have to have at least the skeleton to go with the mesh?


EDIT: I got it. I should include the skeleton.nif when importing or exporting. I want to take a pair of school shoes and turn them into an independent model in order to complement anano's school uniform set.

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Added a tutorial for custom character skeletons. I'll have the havok rig up hopefully by the end of this week. 


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Hi Canderes,


Thanks for the tutorials.


I would like to know what is important to recreate the skeleton in 3d Max... I mean the bones need to be in the same position as the original, but do I need to keep them with the same pivot rotation? Is there something else that must be done? How do I do the skeleton txt file to export using havok?

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Yeah the pivot must be the same as in the original. The skeleton txt should have all the bones listed in the order of the original skeleton. If you have the xml version of whatever skeleton you want to reconstruct for or animate for just open it up and look at the first few bones listed. For the human skeleton its probably around 99 bones for vanilla and above 200 if your using something like the xp or dragonfly skeleton. I'll just post what I have now so you can understand what I mean. Look at the beginning of the xmls in wordpad and look at the skeletons you want to use in the havok preview tool. Use hkxcmd to get an xml version from the originals. My constraints are different, but it doesn't matter because the only thing we are interested in is copying new bones over to the vanilla or custom skeleton you want to add to.


The video I have for the custom skeleton thing isn't everything I thought it should be so I am going to add a part 2 where we paste the new data to the old one so the constraints aren't ruined. I have noticed no difference from mine and the original other than those weird roots you find in the resource containter, and have had no crashes, but to be safe I want to add the other part of the video so we can paste to the original file and not have to worry anyway. I have yet to add bones to the beast skeletons, but if my hunch is correct all that it requires is that you add your bones to the skeletonbeast.nif.


There are two skeleton txts, one for creating the skeleton hkx, and the other for when you create an animation. The one for animation has the hkvis and hkfades removed, which are only used by the skeleton.hkx and not the animation to load and unload tracks, the ragdoll txt is in there for the rigid bodies to be in the same order as in the vanilla skeleton, and last there is a skeleton to ragdoll map for the skeleton to ragdoll mapping filter. If your only adding bones you can skip the blue paragraph below.


You shouldn't need to change anything on the skeleton to ragdoll map unless you are adding a rigid body; I haven't done that yet, but you would need to add a rigid body (bhkcapsule) to your skeleton.nif using the nif exporter, a (havok ragdoll capsule) rigid body to the max scene, the new rigid body name to the ragdoll txt (at the end obviously to keep the order preserved) and a havok constraint to connect your new rigid body to whatever rigid body it needs as a parent in max. After that you need to add a constraint to your new skeleton.nif in nifskope. I wouldn't recommend adding rigid bodies because there's tons of nifskope related stuff I am having trouble understanding (constraints) and it seems like no one has done it yet.


This for me was a trial and error process so go ahead and toy with it but be aware that it can get really confusing and cause crashes if you don't know what you are doing. The max file I have included is from the x64 2011 version. You can add bones it is doable; I added penis bones to the non beast skeletons, but didn't bother to show anything since its a real pain in the ass to reconstruct things, but its likely that all I had to do is add the same bones to the skeletonbeast.nif.


Use this skeleton if you want to mess with the vanilla humanoids (nonbeast). It took hours to get this damn thing remade and the hierarchy must be the same as in your old nif, so you would have com linked to root and the pelvis and spine linked to com and so on.


I think I may add another video showing how to reconstruct and add a bone to chickens or something to keep this simple because there is a ton of information that needs to be pulled off the nif, the hkx, and the xml version of the skeleton. One thing I neglected to do was get the original mass for the rigid bodies; obviously if things are too heavy it will be difficult to drag them around in the game.

havok stuff.zip

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Let's see if I understand, so to get those txt files I need to:

1. Export the skeleton.hkx, skeleton.nif and skeletonbeast.nif
2. Convert the skeleton.hkx to xml, and from this xml I would be able to write the txt file for the bones from this "bones" tag hkparam starting from NPC Root and ending in Camera Control for the vanilla skeleton, for a custom skeleton like xpms the last bone would be whatever comes before the hkparam "referencePose":


<hkparam name="bones" numelements="99">
		<hkparam name="name">NPC Root [Root]</hkparam>
		<hkparam name="name">Camera Control</hkparam>
		<hkparam name="lockTranslation">true</hkparam>
<hkparam name="referencePose" numelements="99">

And I would have the skeletonwhatever(hkx).txt like this:

NPC Root [Root]
x_NPC LookNode [Look]
Camera3rd [Cam3]
Camera Control

3. If I only want to do animations I would save it as skeletonwhatever(anim).txt and be done with it, otherwise to export the new skeleton with new bones I need to add the floats to this file, from this piece of the xml file:


<hkparam name="floatSlots" numelements="8">
	<hkcstring>hkVis:NPC L MagicNode [LMag]</hkcstring>
	<hkcstring>hkVis:NPC R MagicNode [RMag]</hkcstring>

So after the last line of the skeletonwhatever(hkx).txt I would add:

hkVis:NPC L MagicNode [LMag]
hkvis:NPC R MagicNode [RMag]

And save it.


4. Create the txt file for the ragdoll using the skeleton.xml from this hkparam "bones" starting in Ragdoll_NPC COM [COM ] and Ragdoll_NPC R Hand [RHnd] for the vanilla, again for custom skeleton the last bone would be whatever comes before the hkparam "referencePose":

<hkparam name="bones" numelements="18">
		<hkparam name="name">Ragdoll_NPC COM [COM ]</hkparam>
		<hkparam name="name">Ragdoll_NPC R Hand [RHnd]</hkparam>
		<hkparam name="lockTranslation">true</hkparam>	
<hkparam name="referencePose" numelements="18">

So my skeletonwhatever(ragdoll).txt would be like this:


Ragdoll_NPC COM [COM ]
Ragdoll_NPC L Thigh [LThg]
Ragdoll_NPC L Hand [LHnd]
Ragdoll_NPC R Hand [RHnd]

Save it.


5. Import skeleton.nif or skeletonbeast.nif into 3DMax, and check the Cameras, Collision and Import Skeleton. Is there any difference between skeleton and skeleton_female?

6. Recreate the skeleton... you say I don't need the constrains since we will copy only the new bones to the vanilla, do I need to add constrains at all, are those exported?

7. Recreate the ragdoll capsules (following your tutorial for the ragdoll one)... but I guess there are much more to it than it is shown in the tutorial. :P

8. Now the Ragdoll Mapping .txt, is it created in 3DMax using Havok using the Create Mapping filter, right? And you say I shouldn't change it unless I am adding rigid body, so if I have the xpms skeleton and want to add rigid body to the wings then I would need to do all you mention on the blue paragraph and in this case I need a different mapping file, not only that but a lot of other things I am not sure I understand right now.


Thank you very much for the files and explanation... I will play with your skeleton and try to recreate the beast one, because I haven't crashed my  Skyrim enough, yet. :D

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Yeah everything up to 5 is correct, but remember to increase the numelements by however many number of bones you have added to the rig if your pasting to your old file. If you don't want to paste to the old file then you have nothing to worry about and can just use your new skeleton.hkx for test purposes. I haven't had any issues with mine even though those secondary nodes aren't indexed (those were never actually there to begin with anyway (numelements=0), likely just placeholders for things they didn't want to leave in the final build of the game).


6. The constraints are already finished in my file unless you plan on adding a rigid body.


7. There's another tutorial there that shows how to get the right scale from a havok rigid body to the bhk rigid bodies imported by the nif plugin. If you are recreating everything from scratch after the list of bone names in the xml form of the skeleton it also gives the name and order of the rigid bodies, usually starting with Ragdoll NPC COM.


8, 5. I haven't noticed any differences between the female and male skeleton, but I haven't bothered to check, if anything scale of the skeleton (height) may be slightly different although I doubt it. If we are copying the bones from the new hkx to the old hkx, something I have yet to do, we shouldn't need to change the constraints. This is one thing I have noticed though: the constraints in the nif file are the ones the game uses, so the ragdoll would more or less act like the vanilla one. I use ragdoll constraints in some places on the skeleton.hkx where the nif would use a hinge. All the constraints are ready in that max file, but if you were going to add a rigid body you would need to add the constraints for that. What I have noticed is that the game looks at the constraints in the nif file and not those in the vanilla or custom skeleton.hkx you generate. When I recreated the ragdoll capsules I ignored the mass they had because it was 5.0 or something so things were light enough to drag around. You can probably pull the exact mass off the vanilla skeleton in xml form or look at the weight that the bhkcapsules have when you import the vanilla skeletion.nif with collisions (those red capsules).


If you were going to add a rigid body to the wings you would have to map atleast one bone to each rigid body. If you want to do that I would recommend looking at the dragon skeleton the game uses; it doesn't use a huge capsule to enclose the wing, it just uses one that has a similar thickness to the dragons forearm and probably a hinge constraint to keep the rest of the model from twisting or bending through the ground. So yeah, you for the minimum amount of work to the mapping would have to add two bones from the skeleton and then map them to whatever rigid bodies you have added. Those rigid bodies would have to be parented probably the spine rigid body (spine 2?) right below the neck. You would have to add the havok constraints then go and recreate the rigid bodies for the nif version, and add those weird constraints that nifskope uses too.


Look at this too if you have crashing issues with some of the elf races. The creation kit tries to use third person models with the first person skeletion; shit crashes because the first person skeleton (vanilla bones only) is usually trying to use a third person model  with new bones (no one bothers to add the new third person bones to the vanilla first person skeleton so there's nothing to skin to and it crashes). I think the first person skeleton is really easy to build, but I haven't tried it yet; its probably just bones and cameras so no constraints or rigid body stuff is required, but you would still need to rebuild the skeleton (bones and cameras) from scratch.



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Added another tutorial for custom meshes. I make some simple clothes in this video on a UNP body and get them to show up in game.


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