How to: Scatter an object over a random surface in 3ds Max

A tutorial to show how to scatter an object over a random surface in 3ds max using Scatter Compound Object. All the options are covered within the tutorial.

In this tutorial, you will be learning how to scatter an object over a random surface in 3ds max. I saw many beginners lost when it comes to distribute objects over a random surface. Placing each object manually over the surface and taking time to adjust every object is not a good idea at all.

This tutorial will teach you how to do this in a better way using Scatter compound object with complete usage of Scatter’s other powerful options. So let’s get into it.



Here, I have a normal Plane with bend modifier applied to it and a Box in the scene. We will be using the Plane as the distribution object and a Box as source object.



Let’s select the box and go to Create > Compound Objects > Scatter. Now, under Pick Distribution Object rollout, click on the Pick button and pick the sphere as the distribution object.
Under Source Object Parameters group, set the Duplicates value according to your need.
You can control the size / scale of the duplicate objects by adjusting the Base Value.
Vertex Chaos is just to give some randomness to the vertices of the object.

Step 3


You can choose the distribute type using some options available under Distribution Object Parameter group. I am using Even for this case.

Perpendicular option, when on, orients the duplicate object according to the orientation of the component (vertex, edge or face) of the distribution object.

Use Selected Faces option allows you to distribute objects over the selected faces of the distribution object.

This option scatters the duplicate objects evenly on the entire surface.

This option divides the number of faces in distribution object by the number of duplicate objects and skips the suitable number of faces during the distribution process.

Skip N
It skips the N (whatever number you specify in the spinner) number of faces during the process of distributing duplicate objects.

Random faces
This option distributes the duplicate objects randomly on the distribution object.

Along Edges
This option distributes the duplicate objects randomly on the edges of the distribution object.

All Vertices
This option places the duplicate object on all the vertices of the distribution object.
No matter how many duplicates you are using for distribution, it just covers all the vertices as it doesn’t depends on the Duplicates parameter. You can notice, while using this option, the Duplicates spinner greyed out (disabled).

All Edge Midpoints
This option lets you distribute duplicate objects over the mid-points of the edges of the distribution object.

All Face Centers
This option distributes duplicate objects on the center of the faces of the distribution object.

This option distribute the duplicate objects as per the volume of the distribution object.

Note: All vertices, All Edge Midpoints and All Face Centers options ignore the Duplicates parameter and distribute the duplicate objects according to the number of vertices, edges and faces of the Distribution Object.

Transforming the Duplicates


You can easily Manipulate the transformation of the duplicate objects by making use of Rotate, Translate (move) and Scale group present under Transforms rollout.

Use Maximum Range will constrained all the three axes to the same value, when on.
Lock Aspect Ratio will maintain the aspect ratio of the duplicates during the scaling process.

Using Proxy Objects for better Viewport performance


If the distribution object is highly detailed and you are using thousands of duplicates then it may affect the viewport performance. In order to avoid viewport lagging, you can make use of Proxy option under Display rollout. It will display a low poly proxy object instead of the original object. You can also set the Display percentage to some lower value; let’s say, 50 then it will display the 50% of the total duplicate objects in the viewport.

Scattering the animated Objects

We can easily scatter the animated objects using the same procedure but the animation looks unnatural as the objects move simultaneously. Here is a Cylinder with a simple animation. Take a look how it looks when scattered on a surface.

We can offset the animation of the duplicates using Animation Offset (Scatter object rollout) option in order to make the overall animation more interesting. Now, see the same object with Animation offset value of 12.

Scattering Using Transforms Only.


It is not necessary to use a distribution object for scattering; you can even scatter objects without any distribution object. Under Scatter Objects rollout, just switch to the Use Transforms Only option and use Transforms rollout to move, scale or rotate the duplicate objects.

I hope you enjoyed the tutorial. Your comments and suggestions are welcome. All the best.