How to Create Ice Cubes in 3ds Max

By   |  Stashed in Design & Drawing


‘Tis the season for snow and ice in the northern hemisphere, so I decided to create some cool ice cubes (please excuse the pun). In this tutorial we will go through the steps needed to create realistic ice cubes inside 3ds Max and add some finishing touches in Photoshop.

Step 1

To begin, open up 3ds Max and create a chamfered box shape with the same dimensions for the length and width, and about two thirds of that for the height. To do this, go to the command panel and under the create tab select extended primitives. The chamfered box enables you to have rounded corners and edges like on a real ice cube. The fillet should be set to around 2.7. Use 6 for the Length, Width and Height segments so there are plenty of vertices to play with.


Step 2

Now we’ll convert the box to an editable poly. Select the box, then right click and find, ‘convert to editable poly’. This allows you to move the separate parts of the box, such as the vertices that make up the points of the shape.


Step 3

In the command panel under the modify tab (with the editable poly selected) highlight vertex, so you can now edit the vertices.


Step 4

Now in the images change the points of the middle and corner vertices to match the shape of an ice cube. You could use a modifier, however I prefer these results as they are more accurate and controllable. Use the move tool (W) on the keyboard to move the vertices along the axis. (The axis gizmo will turn yellow for their respective plane).


Step 5

Keep going until the entire box looks like an ice cube.


Step 6

Now we only have one ice cube but we would like about 4. So, select the chamfered box we just edited, right click, and select clone and choose copy. The copy will be in exactly the same place as the original, so move it into place (W). Select both cubes using CTRL and copy and move them again so you have a total of four cubes.



Step 7

Now we’ll move them into position, use the axis to move them up or down and back and forth. Get them stacked on top of each other so they look more realistic.


Step 8

Now the cubes are all in line, however they still look unnatural so use the rotate tool (E) on the keyboard to rotate them into a position that matches ice cubes. Take your time, I like to spend a decent amount of time getting this correct.


Step 9

So now that the general shape of the ice cubes is finished we can progress. Press F9 to render out a version, as you can see the background is black, but we need white.


To change this go to Rendering and select Environment (8). In the environment and effects tab click color to bring up the colour picker. Drag the slider on the left down to change the color to white.


Press F9 again to render out a version, and now you can see the background is white.


Step 10

To alter the materials to an ice effect we have to change the renderer from the default scanline renderer to Mental Ray. To do this go to rendering and select render setup, scroll down to assign renderer. In the assign renderer tab next to production, click choose renderer and select Mental Ray.


Step 11

Go to rendering material editor (M) to assign a material. Click the standard button and choose Arch & Design (mi) at the top of the list and hit ok.


Step 12

In the BRDF rollout select by IOR, hovering over this you can see this defines how the reflectivity depends on angle known as ‘Fresnel Reflections’, best suited for dielectric materials such as water and ice.


Step 13

In the advanced rendering options rollout uncheck skip reflections, this saves time rendering as these reflections are weak. Check solid, this means light refracts through the object.


Step 14

We’ll now set up the material change, the IOR to 1.33, for water. A good tip here is if you need to look at how settings appear, hover over it and the guide appears; here it is the index of refraction. In the refraction box change the transparency to 0.90 and leave the glossiness at 1.0. Also change the values in the reflection box, the reflectivity 0.7 and glossiness to 0.95. Change the diffuse level to 0 and color to black, it’s always good to set the diffuse color to as dark as possible with materials that have reflections and refractions such as these.


Step 15

Now that the material is setup we can assign it to our ice cubes and render out a copy. Select all the boxes and in the material editor click assign material to selection.


Then hit F9 to render out a copy. Keep rendering and changing the viewport until you find a view that you think works best.


Step 16

Save the image by clicking in the save icon the top left corner, choose to save as a Tiff file and check the store alpha channel. The alpha channel saves a channel around the objects so it’s already cut out when we go to edit it in Photoshop.


Step 17

Now we can begin the finishing touches in Photoshop. Open up the Tiff file in Photoshop and add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer. I set my brightness to –59 and contrast to -2, play around with these settings until you get something that works best.


Step 18

Hit Ctrl + Alt+ C to bring up the Canvas Size dialogue and increase the canvas by 200 pixels for both width and height.


Step 19

Go to the channels palette (if its not visible you may have to go to window in the menu and select channels). Ctrl click the’ Alpha 1’ channel to make a selection around the ice cubes.


Then go back to the layers palette and create a new layer. Inverse the selection with Ctrl + Shift + I.


Then create a gradient from black (#000000) to dark grey (#45494d)  and holding shift drag a gradient from bottom to top.


Step 20

Next well add a gradient fill. Go to the adjustment layers in the layers palette, and select gradient. Start the gradient from a light blue (#2084e2) to transparent at 90 degrees. If this seems too strong, lower the opacity.


Step 21

Now we’ll add some bubbles in the ice. To do so, download these bubble brushes. Once installed, create a new layer, then select black and brush some different sized bubbles on the ice, remember to be subtle with this effect.


Step 22

Now we’ll add the shadow. Create a new layer and select the ice by Ctrl + clicking on the ‘Alpha 1’ channel, fill this selection with black. Press Ctrl + T to free transform the shape, choose distort, and drag from the top down and to the right.


With the shadow in place Ctrl + click the alpha channel again to get a selection of the ice. Inverse the selection and add a layer mask. Then selecting the layer, not the mask, and apply a gaussian blur at 8.2 pixels. Finally lower the opacity of the shadow later to 24%.


Step 23

Now we’ll create the reflection for the ice cubes. Find the original ice layer, select the alpha channel and hit Ctrl + J to copy this selection to a new layer. Select free transform and flip this ice vertically. Then holding shift drag the ice half way down the original ice.


Lower the opacity of this layer to 11%. Add a layer mask to this layer, and with a black to white gradient fade the bottom of the reflection out. Duplicate this layer and apply a gaussian blur of 6.2 to it and finally lower the opacity to 11%.


Step 24

We are nearly finished, all the ice cubes need now is some melting water. So create a new layer and draw out the shape of melting water with the pen tool on an ice cube and fill this path with light grey.


Next bring up the layer styles options and put in these values: select Drop Shadow – change the values to opacity 20%, spread 5 and check anti–aliased.


For the Inner Shadow change opacity to 20% and leave the rest as the defaults.


For the Inner Glow change the color to black, set the blend mode to multiply and lower the opacity to 28%.


Finally add a Bevel and Emboss with depth at 83%, size to 10px, shadow mode to vivid light and colour to white.


Lower the fill to zero, create 3 more melting shapes and copy the layers style by holding alt and dragging to the melt layer.



I hope this tutorial was useful to you, you should have a good handle on materials and how to use some advanced rendering setups to get effective and realistic results. Im sure you definetly know how alpha channels work with 3ds Max now having covered these a lot.

About the Author

Ben Rama is a freelance graphic designer and digital artist . He founded and maintains Digital Art Empire. He is totally passionate about design . Find Ben on Twitter

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  • Laurent Jouvin

    Amazing! I’ve never done 3D work but this is really inspiring.

    • sandy animator

      this is very gorgeous model…..

  • Kyle Kruchok

    This is really cool… potentially more application uses… landscapes, for the modeler, of course, makin’ rivers?

    Anyway, looks good. Consider making the melted ice a little contrastier… looks too smooth to me.

  • oscar

    thanks man!!

  • AJ Troxell

    Great tutorial!

  • Johnny

    Awesome tutorial :)

  • Smashing Share

    Learned basic 3D Studio Max some time back from tutorials but did not got time to continue. Nice tutorial for me to remind of some tools :)

  • Benjamin Rama

    @Laurent im glad its inspired you

    @ it does a bit but melted ice doest melt as gracefully – just a small pudlle – I would love to have used real flow

    @ oscar your welcome

    @ AJ Troxell cheers dude : )

    @ Johnny thanks & nice blog you have

    @ smashing its a great programme b gd for you to continue

  • Michelle

    wow this is cool, I hope you don’t mind but I have shared this tutorial on my twitter and blog :)

  • Yaroshenko Dmytro

    Great Tutorial and easy, but also very helpful. Nice work keep up :D

  • RA Photo Retoucher

    Wow. Thats actually a pretty cool effect. It’s been a while since I’ve used 3D Max

  • Bill

    Great tips, i learned a lot from it.

  • shima

    Thank you.
    I need this tutorial.

  • Aditya

    hey, i was wondering how 2 use vray but reallly taught basic rendering in a good flow…i like it….thanku Ben….

    waiting for further tutorials from u…..

  • Sasha

    Thank you for the nice tutorial

    The material worked for glass too :D :D

  • Rick

    That was great, my first 3d attempt. And your tut really helped!!!

    Thanks ALOT!! Rick

  • spamsam

    Now THAT is a serious Ice-tutorial! Simple to follow, with a little xtra info.
    Thanks a lot :)

  • Ag

    Hey you,
    I’m absolutely new with 3ds Max. Well, it’s a very nice tutorial, but I just can’t understand STEP 4. You see, I just can’t make my ice cube look so natural like here, because the concaves which I’m making aren’t so soft like here – it’s too sharp, really sharp. Got it? Please help me and advice what I’m doing bad?

    • Yaroshenko Dmytro

      He convert the object to Editable Poly, and he select the Vertex and then he change it little bit to to take other shape the all object and be more real, and not be just a “box”.

  • hookah

    great tutorial!

  • Shakir

    Nice Tutorial keep it up…………………

  • Beauchamp Web design

    Great tutorial, what a brilliant end result

  • yulianti

    so brilliant :D

    thanx for sharing

  • utari

    thanks for the tutorial, nice post!!

  • ardhan

    nice tutor, i wanna try it :D

  • Lennart haack

    You r so good in 3ds max!!!
    Love your work:)