Thank you Community A-4E Team

First, thanks go out to the Community A-4E team for their volunteer efforts, and for inspiring me to learn and apply these techniques, which I will now reveal!

Brief Overview

Hello, and welcome. I offer you a comprehensive tutorial on creating and animating bort numbers for use on your DCS aircraft.  These numbers are so cool! When you add a tail number to your aircraft in mission editor, the numbers update automatically!  Also, you can toggle them on/off for different liveries, which means a whole army of different looks!

The following summary outlines the procedures I used to get bort animations working.  I will help you create a texture, link it to a 3ds material, animated the texture, and then apply it to custom locations on your aircraft’s external model. First, let’s look at the built-in animation arguments for displaying the bort numbers.

LOMAC Draw Arguments for Bort Numbers

Here you can see MI-8 Helo model. The bort numbers or tactical numbers get animated on arguments #442, #31, and #32.  Hundreds = #442, Tens = #31, Ones = #32.  We will use those numbers later in our 3ds animation.

mi8-borts

Setting Your 3ds Animation Timescale for DCS Export

The animation needs to run for 201 frames from -100 to 100, at 100frames per second.  This will be the universal timescale setting for all animation work on your external and cockpit model.

Creating the Bort Number Texture Strip

The only thing you need to do is maintain a 10:1 ratio of height to width on your texture strip.  Find the font you want to use, and then squash the characters to a square.  Try to maintain a tight bleed between the edge of the digit and the edge of the texture, and also between digits.  Or you can just use the HoggitDev strip.

10:1 Strip, Squash Digits Square, Tight Bleed Top and Sides

Your texture strip needs to have a height to width ratio of 10:1 on a vertical strip.  You will animate the digits in ten steps.  Each tile, or digit needs to be perfectly square, and have a small (2-4 pixel bleed).  Why? Later when you apply the ‘unwrap uvw’ modifier in 3ds max, it will apply over a square, and stretch to the shape of your bounding box.  You squash your numbers vertically to fit them on the strip, and they expand over a rectangular bounding box in 3ds max later on.

Horizontal vs. Vertical Bort Textures

After getting the animation working with a vertical strip, I discovered many models utilize a horizontal strip for the numbers decal.  Some of these strips use a different sequence, likely owing to slightly different animation techniques.  For my example ‘how to’ we’ll use a strip that numbers from the top down, starting with 0, and ending with 9.  See below left for an example.

vertical-borttactical-numbers

Find the font, and measure the height to width ratio.

Before you head into 3ds Max, go ahead and figure out the height to width ratio of your individual digits.  Look closely at any reference shots, or better yet locate the actual document that describes the characteristics. You can download the Navy and Marine markings in the 218 page pdf below, if you want to lock down the specifics.

PAINT SCHEMES AND EXTERIOR MARKINGS FOR U.S. NAVY AND MARINE CORPS AIRCRAFT

Right click save as.. MIL-STD-2161C(16.050Mb)

This example uses the NAVY bort numbers with 4:3 ratio.  In other words, the width of each character is 75% of the height.  Or, the height is approximately 1.333 times the width.

3ds Max Steps

Creating 3ds Materials and Mapping Your Texture

For now, this tutorial assumes, you are familiar using the Eagle Dynamics modelling tools, and export options. As will all new materials, you’ll have to ‘make cool’ before the object will appear in the model viewer or in-game.

Positioning Boxes For Each Digit

First, create a new layer to store all the objects required called ‘Bort Numbers’ or whatever you want to call it.Create a box(standard

Then, create a box(standard primitive) with the proper ratio of height to width ratio. You can just draw any sized box, and then edit the height, width, and length of the box by entering values by hand.

Tap ‘W’ to translate, and then hold ‘Shift’ while you drag, and copy 2 boxes.  You want a slight space in between the boxes, or the digits won’t have enough space.  Not too wide though, or the gap will appear too large.

You should have three boxes, representing your three places of digits.  We’re going to place these on the fuselage, wing, flaps, tail, rudder, you name it!  If it needs a number, we have to model it.  So, use the translate tool to copy a fresh set of boxes, and then move those instead of the originals.

Navy and Aggressor Nose Numbering

Navy and Aggressor Nose Numbering

Move the three boxes onto the aircraft and then adjust their angle and position until they each completely pierce the surface. Next, we’re going to ‘copy subtract’ the fuselage out of the boxes one by one, until we’re left with a box that perfectly matches the surface we’re trying to label.

Have the box overlap the material some, and then select the box, and ProBoolean it.  I’ll have to make a video for this, but then you delete the portion of the box you don’t need and flip the remaining face. You should copy boxes for each digits you require first, and keep everything tidy. If you slide the faces out just a hair from the surface, they should overlap without interference from the underlying shape.

Animating Bort Rotation in 3ds

We’ll get a video here.  This is tricky as ever.

1)Create and unwrap the rectangle for borts.  Ideally, the rectangle is the same size as the digit w/ surrounding texture.  (illustration here)

2)Assign a connector to the Vertical Offset, use arguments #442, #31, and #32.  If you only need two digits use #31 and #32.

3)Use the Autokey feature to careful align the animation and apply the critical V Offset values to make this animation work. (video example)

 

Notes: Vertical Offset animate in .1 increments, even though it looks should be .5 after you reduce tiling size to .1 (WIP writing here don’t wanna forget this)

-.41, -.31, -.21, -.11, -.01, .09, .19, .29, .39, .49

Exporting the Alpha from 3ds to ED Model Viewer – Material Misc. Opacity: Blend