8 Ultra useful Maya tips for beginners
in Under 4 minutes!

At first glance Autodesk’s Maya can be extremely daunting, the endless options and massive user interface.  Today I’m going to show you 8 workflow tips to help overcome some necessary basics that will help you get started as a 3d modeller or animator.  All you need is 4 minutes of your time!  

Easily pick and choose which tips are most helpful for you with the easy to watch tutorial video I’ve created.  If you need more explanation read below for a written breakdown which goes into more detail, plus a few bonus tips!  You ready? Let’s do this.

Table of contents

click any content below to jump to that tip

TIP 01:  Focus the camera on one area   | Video timecode: 0.05
Finding it difficult to rotate the camera around a small area and stay on it?

TIP 02:  Snapping like a pro    | Video timecode: 0.22
Learning to align one object to another or move a single vertex to another edge is essential

TIP 03:  Move multiple keyframes   | Video timecode: 0.54
Learn here to move multiple keyframes quickly and by an exact amount

TIP 04:  Move the pivot point    | Video timecode: 1.15
Learn here to move multiple keyframes quickly and by an exact amount

TIP 05:  Soft selection   | Video timecode: 1.36
Learn to move a selection of vertices with a soft fall off to get smooth results

TIP 06:  Duplicate special    | Video timecode: 1.53
This is a fun and very useful tool.  Unlike normal duplicate it allows you to add an incremental transform to each duplicate, you can add, a move in any direction, rotation and or scale

TIP 07:  Texture to polys    | Video timecode: 2.24
Convert a solid texture to actual polygon geometry quickly

TIP 08:  Combine two objects & Bridging     | Video timecode: 2.58
A 3d modelling necessity to combine objects here we take i further and create archways with the bridge tool

TIP 01: Focus the camera on a small area

Sometimes when moving the camera around a model it can jump around or the movement be too large, you just want to pinpoint the camera on a certain area and have the view rotate around this.

This is simple by using the “F” key.  Try selecting any object in your scene, then press the “F” key, the camera will zoom straight into that object.  Let’s take this further like in the video.

  1. Right click your model and choose “vertices” or “faces” then select a single or few vertices or faces
  2. hit the “F” key

.. Voila!  The camera jumps to that point and now when you dolly the camera around if stays focused on that area.

right mouse click select vertices

          Right mouse button click your model to bring up the options

TIP 02: Snapping like a pro

Learning the different snapping modes is fundamental to working in 3d.  Snapping is the process of aligning the position of an object or objects vertex to another location.

The controls are:

X keyboard key

Snap to Grid:

C keyboard key

Snap toCurves & Edges

V keyboard key

Snap to Vertex

Snap to Grid

Grid snapping. – The grid in Maya is the plane on the floor, it’s divided into units. Each unit equals one unit of measurement which can be set as millimetres, centimetres or metres which are set in your preferences.  Snapping to the grid is very useful for modelling.

To snap an object to any point on the grid

  1. Select your object
  2. Activate the move tool or use the quick key “W”
  3. HOLD the “X” key then Middle mouse button click any point on the grid and your object will jump to it “Snapping”

Now lets snap a single vertex of your geometry to the grid.

  1. Right middle mouse button on your geometry > then select vertices option (TIP – right clicking on your object is the quick way of choosing whether you want to edit Vertices, Edges or Polygon faces)
  2. Activate the move tool or use the quick key “W”
  3. Middle mouse button click any point on the grid and that single vertex will snap to the grid
snap to the grid step 1

Right mouse button click your model to bring up the options

Snap to Curve / Edges

Edge or Curve snapping –  align / snap any object or vertex to any curve or any geometry edge

  1. Right middle mouse button on your geometry > then select vertices option
  2. Select a vertex you want to move
  3. HOLD the “C” key then middle mouse button click on any edge.  You can click and hold then move around to your leisure whilst being constrained to that edge.

Snap to Vertex

Vert snapping –  align / snap any object or vertex to a curve or any geometry edge

  1. Right middle mouse button on your geometry > then select vertices option
  2. Select a vertex you want to move
  3. HOLD the “V” key then middle mouse button click on any other vertex.  This vertex you are snapping to can be on the same geometry or a completely different object
snap to vertex 1
snap vertices 2

TIP 03: Move multiple Keyframes with ease

Moving multiple keyframes in the time slider can get very tricky,  let me show you a quick tip to move keys easily and quickly and by an exact amount.

  1. Navigate to> Windows >Animation editors >Graph editor
  2. Select the animated geometry or control curves that contain the animation you would like to change timings.  You will see all the animation curves appear in the Curve Editor (TIP – the curve editor is where you can really edit the timings and smoothness of any animation)
  3. Select all the keyframes or just a section of keyframes
Animation controls

The next step involves typing a very short bit of mel script.   Mel is the programming language that Maya runs on.  There is a mel command for everything even when you simply move or rotate an object, that is converted to a mel command.

curve editor keyframes

4)  The final step is to simply type  “+=numberofkeyframes”   so for example  +=50  would move all the keys 50 frames forward, +=203 would move them 203 frames.

You type this is the second input box next to the word “Stats”

graph editor mel to move keys

As you progress you will find mel can help speed up and automate complex processes, but don’t worry you can normally just find plenty of already written mel scripts you just copy and paste

This also works the other way using the minus instead of plus symbol.
So  -=50  would move the keyframes backwards in time by 50 frames

This technique is so quick and useful, once you start using it you will rely on it daily!
An example would be you may want to delay just one arm of a character by 8 frames, select the arm controls then  type +=8 and your done!  And it’s much easier to visualise.

You can see the project I used this on from the video here:  http://fullrotation.com/portfolio/pip-the-squirrel-3d-animated-series/

TIP 04: Move the pivot point

When you create an object it’s default pivot point is in the center, but what if you want to rotate it from its edge or much further away?

move the pivot point illustration
  1. Select the object
  2. Press the “Insert” key and you will see the gismo change modes
  3. Either snap the gismo to the the objects ede, another vert, or just simply move it further away
  4. Press the “Insert” key again
  5. Select rotation mode or hit the quick key “R”  now you can rotate using your new pivot point
use teh insert key to move the pivot point

TIP 05: Soft selection

If you were to select a few vertices then move them it would not be smooth, there would be no “fall off” to your selection.  Using a mode called “Soft Selection” allows this and control the exact amount of fall off you require.

  1. Select a single or bunch of vertices on your model. (remember from before you can just right click and go into the quick marking menu to select vertices mode quickly)
  2. Press the “B” key to enter Soft Selection mode.  You will see the selection change where yellow is the strongest and it falls off to Red which is the weakest, showing you how it well blend and smooth out the selection.
  3. To edit exactly how much “Fall Off” you want simply press and this time HOLD the “B” key, then you can click the middle mouse button and gently drag right ti increase the selection or left to decrease how much is selected.
  4. Now hit the W key for move if you not already in move mode and move the vertices out to see it.

This is great for making quick hills in terrain, organic modelling, like pulling the cheeks or nose out further on a character etc.

soft selection step 1
soft selection step 2
maya soft selection

TIP 06: Duplicate special

Duplicate special is a fun and very useful tool.  Unlike normal duplicate it allows you to add an incremental transform to each duplicate, you can add, a move in any direction, rotation and or scale.

  1. To really see its power move the pivot point of your object away.  In the video I move the object to the left then snap the pivot point (As per tip 02) back to the center grid using the X key
  2. Select the object then navigate to the menu Edit > Duplicate special then hit the little box to the right, this little box opens up the options, this applies to ALL menu items
  3. Ok this is where we have some fun.  The first column is the X plane, the second the Y and third the Z.  Try changing the Y rotation to 15 degrees and slide the number of copies up to approx 25 then hit APPLY

Instantly you will see it makes a ring of your object

Instantly you will see it makes a ring of your object

ring
  1. Undo that by hitting “Control Z” on the keyboard.  Now go back into the Duplicate special menu again and this time add a little height eg 0.5 to the translate Y
  2. Change the number of copies to much more like 70 or 80 and hit APPLY

Now you can see each cube or object you have created gets a little height added creating a big spiral!

spiral

Bonus tip !

Instead of changing the number of copies you can just do it with 1, then after hitting APPLY just repeatedly hit the “D” key and it will just keep repeating with the increments added.

You can use this to create a grid of objects, make many duplicates evenly spread out, spiral staircases, fences, just play with it!

D key

TIP 07: Texture to polys

This is a useful feature not widely know, it allows you to apply an image texture to a plane then simply convert that texture to actual geometry polygons, it can save on modelling complex shapes.

To get started:

  1. Open the hypershade, Windows > Rendering editors > Hypershade, this is where all materials are made and edited, and create a new lambert or blinn material.
  2. If you don’t already know how to apply a texture to a material simply select your texture file (jpeg, png etc)  in windows explorer and drag and drop it onto to your material in the hypershade
  3. Middle mouse button drag the material onto your geometry
texture on a polygon plane
  1. Select your polygon plane, the navigate to:  Modify >  Convert > Texture to polygons click the options box
navigate to texture to poly

2) You can choose here to change the colour of the new material that gets created, you will see it added to the hypershape with the name of your texture file.

select path

3) It’s now been converted to geometry but its flat, a quick way of selecting the correct poly faces is in the hypershade Right mouse button click the new material you will see and choose “Select objects with material”  This is a really useful tip for selecting faces with a certain material instead of one by one

texture to poly 3

4)  Hit the extrude button in the polygons shelf, or a longer way, navigate to Edit mesh > Extrude.

texture to poly 4

5)  This extrude happens but remains in the same place, just use the move tool to move the faces up by dragging the blue axis , and that’s it!

texture to poly 5

Now you have a full polygon model of your texture

texture to poly final model

TIP 08: Combine two objects & Bridging

Very often when modelling you will need to combine two pieces of separate geometry.  Whether you’re joining a head to a body or a leg to a table top it’s essential.   Here are the basics plus a great way of bridging to form perfect arches.

1)  Select both objects and under the “Polygons Menu set” navigate to: Mesh > Combine
This will now combine the objects so they are as one.

2) Right mouse button click and choose “Faces” mode

3)  Select the top two faces and hit the Delete key

4) Right mouse button click again this time enter “Edges” mode

5) Double click one edge and it will automatically select the whole ring of edges.
To select the other sides edges do the same holding down “Shift” to add to the selection

6)  Navigate to Edit Mesh > Bridge

2)  Change the “Curve Type” option to: “Blend  ( Don’t worry if you don’t get this pop up you can make the same changes on the right in the attribute editor) it just means you are not choosing to show the HUD in the show submenu

8)  You will see its flat, that’s because we haven’t set any divisions.  You can click and set this manually but the more intuitive interactive way in Maya is to Middle mouse button click and drag in the divisions window to the right to increase.   Now you will see a perfect archway being formed

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and feel free to have a look round the rest of the site, thanks for visiting.

David Mattock author animator

About the author.  David Mattock is a 3D Artist, Animator and Motion designer working for himself running a small animation company http://fullrotation.com   

David works on a wide range of work from 3d animation, Character animation, 2d motion graphics and compositing for a range of clients whether small startup or big TV channel. Covering everything from Animated explainer videos, corporate films through to TV commercials, and broadcast graphics.

2 replies
  1. d. rice
    d. rice says:

    Very useful stuff. I wish I had seen this a year and a half ago. Being on a Mac though where there is no ‘insert’ key, you can use the ‘home’ key or hold ‘d’ to move the pivot point.

    Reply
    • David Mattock
      David Mattock says:

      Thanks very much ! I’m glad you found it useful it’s my first ever tutorial. Yes I used Maya on a mac once years ago and found it more difficult to use, less user friendly, especially as middle mouse button is needed for maya, I use a wacom tablet and pen for all work now. Many thanks again.
      David

      Reply

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