The Technical Process:
The process of extracting a 3ds model from a MSFS mdl file is different according to the version of the original mdl:
For native FSX models the process is very easy and straightforward:
Download and install on your computer a copy of Blender 3d – a free open source 3d software, available at http://www.blender.org/download/get-blender/
Blender can directly import FSX mdl file :
File/Import/ FSX mdl/ select your mdl file then press “Import mdl” button
This brings you back to the main screen, displaying the model
Now: Select / All by type / Mesh/ File / Export/ 3DStudio (3ds)
For FS2004 (FS9) mdl files the best is to use the DXReaper freeware capture program, available at http://www.deep-shadows.com/hax/3DRipperDX.htm#Download
You’ll need to have a copy of FS2004 installed on your PC
From the selection panel of FS2004, select the aircraft that interests you, activate the DXreaper capture key – it will save them as 3dr, then import the 3dr in 3dmax (a plugins for 3dmax is included in the download of DXRipper, and its parameters are easy and need to be set only with the first use - a very simple process)
In 3dmax, select File/Import/ 3dr
Select the 3dr file you have just created
In the pop up window that opens, select the recommended values for the FOV 9a submenu opens giving you the choice between 1 to 3 FOV settings – all of them are fine) – do not touch at the rest of the FOV parameters (though i generally select remove double faces with a thought of the coming poly reduction process)
If you work in Gmax, this is more complicated:
You must first select "Also capture wavefront obj file" on the 3dripper menu, as gmax cannot import directly the 3dr files.
This means that you'll need to "stop" the rotation of the aircraft in the FS2004 window in an adequate angle (the best is a strictly aligned frontal view) then "take the capture shot" then open the generated obj file in gmax and...start working on the meshes are they appear "compacted" - if the shot was taken strictly alignes it goes smoothly by expanding the meshes along axis - I found it was useful to have a 3 views plan set under the meshes to check the process.
Then save the model in gmax format.
Gmax obvious advantage is that it is freeware. But recently I got a possibility of access to the computer of a friend who is a designer and works with 3dmax - it changed drastically my vision of things - but also helped me to better understand gmax and how to work effciently on it, as gmax is really a "reduced 3dmax". It may be advisable to download a free trial version to 3dmax to "batch convert" the mdl files you want, for instance from the softpedia site: http://www.softpedia.com/progDownload/3D-Studio-Max-Download-15976.html
For FS2002 and CFS2 mdl files - if the plane is fully compatible with FS2004, the process is identical - DXReaper captures through FS2004. But the quality of these models is often really bad and I won’t recommend using FS2002 models – CFS2 may be another issue, as some models are really stunning.
If the plane for FS2002/CFS2 is not fully compatible with FS2004, 3dconvert.exe is the answer – an utility included in the open source FlightGear simulator - a simple dos program from a command prompt 3dconvert xxxx.mdl xxx.3ds or 3dconvert.exe xxx.mdl to xxx.obj). It is often easier to transform these mdl files into wavefront obj files and import the obj file into 3dmax as a single object then cut in parts according to needs. 3dmax has problems in dealing with huge lots of objects in a single model. If the conversion to 3ds fails, try to copy into the same folder as the mdl file, the texture files and then run once again the 3dconvert. If this also fails, try converting to obj.
If you work on Gmax, you’ll need of course an import plugin for obj and/or 3ds
Earlier versions mdl (CFS1 and Fs98) can generally be transformed by 3dconvert but they are generally of very low quality though some models may serve as a general reference - for instance I have just finished to create a RO37bis 3ds model - not a simple task as documentation is poor - a lot of photos available, but plan drawings are limited and full of mistakes (some photos are really unique for critical details of this plane), as are the existing kits of "the beast". There is an old CFS model of the RO37bis than can be converted by 3dconvert. As a model it is totally useless, the fuselage is gross - no other word fits - windows parts and exhausts are totally absent, gear and cabin are wrong, but it served me as a 3d Reference for proportions.
Sites like Simviation that store freeware aircraft models for the various versions MSFS, require from the creators to include in their model package a readme file with there mail address and with the detailed requirements they may have (or not) for permissions. This enable to make things clear ab initio. We can therefore divide the models in groups:
1) public domain – for instance Ted Simko has created a Loire46 for FS2002/4 (a real beauty for the SCW theater) and very generously put it in the public domain.
2) freeware with limits only concerning a potential commercial use of the files: for instance highly talented and creative AG Scrub use to include these lines:
The project is released as freeware. You may modify it and repaint it. You may upload this file to another website as long as it is not for profit.
You need the written permission of the original authors to use any of these files for commercial purposes, otherwise a simple credit would be nice. Non commercial repaints-remakes are welcome but I would appreciate very much receiving a copy of your model.
This file should not cause any problems with your computer, but I accept no responsibility if you think it does. Remarks and hints are welcome and are being considered.
This is indeed a very generous attitude, shared by quite a number of model creators, and to my humble opinion, the right way of looking at this “business”, and have adopted it myself. It enables other modders to freely use these creations for their own freeware puropses, giving due credits and with a sending of the modified model to the original creator.
And there is a tremendous lot of models falling in thsi category.
3) requirement for a written authorization – well, this is not really a problem. I have contacted by mail a number of modders to get the authorization to extract the 3ds from their creations and import them to Il2 and got a positive answers for every of them in less than 24 hours. You need to emphasize that:
a) you are interested to import this specific model in the Il2 sim
b) the mod will be a totally freeware mod of course, that would be made available through the totally non commercial SAS forum (sas.1946.com).
c) you want to ask for a formal authorization to use the mdl file for this purpose, and that it's the only file you need as the skinning and FM are totally differently managed in Il2.
d) that you will need before exporting to Il2 to reduce the polygons around 5000, to do a new mapping and "dissect" the plane according to the Il2 specific parts
e) that you will of course give you full credits for the model and include the original readme file in the proposed Il2 mod.
The answers of the model creators I contacted (Craigh Richardson -He51, Manuelle Villa -Ba65, Michel Feilden -D372, Francesco Giuli -Z501 & Z506) were very fast and straightforward – they very kindly authorized me to use their models to this purpose. This does not mean that all answers without exception will be positive, but it is an indication that generally it will be so.Sharing Knowledge IS the Key to Knowledge and Creation