Modelling with Maya 1

Confronting Maya

Upon first inspection, Maya seems rather scary as there are menus in menus and buttons that jump out at you, or worse, hide, it took me about 45 minutes to get my shelf back (Display>UI Elements >Shelf) on my first Maya encounter.  However after using Maya for 30 minutes or so, the fear comes back twice as strong.  That is the reason I have decided to try to create a basic Maya tutorial, divided into several installments.

Basic Modelling 101

In this tutorial we are going to be creating a model using only the extrude command, which in my humble opinion is the primary tool in modelling anything.  This tool combined with the standard move, resize and rotate tools are the way I do 95% of all my modelling, and although I realise there may be easier or faster ways to do much of what I do, this is the only way I know.  I will be attempting to create a basic jet engine shape for use later on in another model, however the fairly simple shape of this item should provide all the difficulty required to introduce the required tools.

Firstly open Maya and create a Poly Cylinder in the scene like this.

My First Poly Cylinder.

This is a standard Maya Poly Cylinder, made up from the default number of segments (20) however for a smoother model I will be increasing this.

More shapes mean more render time, oh joy.

Firstly go to the attribute editor in the top right of the Maya interface, or via Display> UI Elements> Attribute Editor.  Click on polyCylinder1 (mine shows polyCylinder6) and where it says Subdivision Axis enter the desired amount of polygons which make up you’re shape, as you can see my cylinder is made from 40 Subdivide Axis, 7 Height and 1 Cap. This means the top of cap has only 1 row of shapes while there are 40 making up the circumference and 7 along the height.  Increasing these numbers mean smoother shapes and longer render times.

Edge, Face and Vertex.
If you hover the mouse over a shape and hold right-click, you will see a menu box filled with selection options appear.  This allows you to select an array of polygon editing selectors, the three most useful in my opinion being Edge, Face and Vertex.  As you can see from the three images above, Edge allows the selection of the polygon edges, Face selects the entire of one segment, or the face and Vertex allows the selection of individual corners or Vertex.  Using these three selection methods you can create almost any shape desired from a set of basic shapes, easily ready in Maya. 

Now by selecting the move tool and choosing Edge from the selection menu, I will show how a shape reacts to having one of its edges transformed.

I’ll transform you’re Edge!

By selecting a single Edge and moving it out along the X axis, you can see that by pulling out the Edge other adjacent Edges are also transformed to keep the transformed Edge as part of the original shape.  As you can see in the image this creates a thin point out of the rounded side in the cylinder, which can then be transformed again or left alone.

This next image shows a similar experiment but using the Face selection.

Face transformation – Plastic Surgery for 3D modellers.

By moving a Face along the X axis you can see that Maya does a similar thing with the adjacent Faces to keep the shape whole, however the effect is different as a whole segment is moved.

Finally I will demonstrate the moving of a single Vertex point.

Single Vertex Points. The ultimate in Pyramid construction.

As you can see, the single Vertex creates a point out of the original image which can be transformed in much the same way as Edges and Faces.

Now that selecting a whole or a part of a shape is doable, we will go over the ways in which to modify you’re selections.

Move, Rotate and Scale…what a transformation.

By selecting one of the transform tools down the left side of the user interface, or by using the keyboard short cuts Q,W,E,R,T,Y, we are able to apply various transformations to our selection.  Q accesses the shortcut for the select tool, which allows you to select objects or Faces, Vertex and Edges.  W selects the move tool, which is both valuable to move entire objects or for editing model components via Face, Vertex and Edge selection.  E allows the use of the rotate tool, which controls the rotation of any selections in X,Y or Z axis.  R selects the scale tool, which can be used on any of the selections as well, but this tool resizes you’re selection in any or all of the three axis.  T accesses the Manipulator tool, which is a combination of all three tools in one, however I find it a bit more tricky to work with.  And finally Y is a simple short cut to recreate the last shapes you made in your scene.

Ok so, we have covered the essentials in selection and transformation, however to get under way I feel it necessary to cover one more tool, the Extrude tool.

Oh to Extrude...

The Extrude tool allows us to select a Face, Edge or Vertex and create another shape on top of that selection, but one which is still a part of the original shape.  Extrude also affects different selections differently, and for this reason I have prepared some slides!

Edge, Extrude and Scale.
Extrude, Move and Scale.

It is my personal preference to extrude from a Face, as I find it gives the most freedom with the transformation as there is more segments to modify.  By selecting a group or in this case, a single Face, and by going to Edit Mesh>Extrude, Maya creates another segment on top of the original one, which is connected via more Faces along its sides.  This Face can then be transformed, in this case simply moved out along the Z axis and then scaled down to give a squared off point, which, if desired, could be Extruded from again.

As I have previously said, the Extrude tool works on all three selection methods giving a different result on each one, this next image showing the Edge selection.

This puts me on Edge.

As you can see in this image, extruding from a single Edge creates a 2D extension to the rest of the object, one which, like the Face, can be resized, moved or rotated.

Finally the single Vertex point can also be Extruded likewise.


As you can see by selecting a single point and Extruding Maya creates another extension to its original model, however unlike the other selections, Maya cannot extrude a single point as there would be no way to show a single flat line visually, so Maya automatically adds four Vertices around the selected Vertex to allow a shape to be created.  These Vertex or indeed the newly extruded Vertex can still be edited using the move, rotate and scale tools.

Modellers, Start You’re (Render) Engines

Ok!  So back to the Model at (mouse) hand.  I began this small project by creating a cylinder in the middle of my stage and then changing the amount of segments along the length to 7 and along the width to 40, in the same way discussed previously.

A cylinder with 7 segments. What a transformation.

Next by selecting the selection tool and holding right-click on the object to select the Edge selection method, you can hover the mouse over one of the new edge segments and double-click, which Maya will interpret as you wanting to select the whole ring of edges, as can be seen in the photo above.  You can also do this manually by holding select and clicking each Edge or by using the paint selection tool.

We will be selecting these rings of Edges to give our engine a rough outside shape, in combination with the scale tool.

In this instance, the double-click function saves 280 individual clicks.

By scaling you’re selection down, you can see a very basic shape being to appear, and although this shape belies any significant similarity to a jet engine, the next few steps make this first step crucial.  While using the scale the scale tool to shrink down you’re selected Edges, there is one thing that must be remembered and that is that we are dealing with a 3D shape, and thus there are other dimensions to check after every adjustment that is made.  For example in this instance we have shrunk the Edges of the middle of this shape, however in this next image you will see the shape from the side on.

The Phrase “That is not what I wanted!” may (regularly) pop into mind.

You can see in this image, the end or Cap has a single Vertex point in the middle, which was unaffected by the Edge scaling we have just done, leaving an extended point out of our shape as the rest of the object has been shrunk slightly.  This can be remedied by simply selecting that single Vertex point and moving it back into the rest of the shape, however I would normally recommend doing this with precision but in this exercise we are going to edit both caps of the object anyway so by eye in this instance is fine.

After moving the Caps single Vertex into position we are going to turn of the Face selection method, and use the very useful Extrude tool to shrink the cap into the rest of the object which will eventually give us a hole through the engine.

I’ll paint you’re selection!

After selecting the paint selection tool, which looks like the odd icon floating inside this image, you will see a paint brush with adjustable size, which still allows the basics of selection such as right clicking an object to select Face, Vertex or edge, however after selecting one of these you can literally paint on top of the object and the tool will select any Faces in this instant, that you brushed over, saving more time, be careful however as the tool can (very rarely I’ll admit) get out of control and select random Faces from anywhere on the object if it feels like it.

Scaling a Face, sounds like making a dragon.

After selecting the Caps Face, hit the Extrude command and then without de-selecting, scale the new face down until you have roughly what is shown in the image above.  We will be using the Extrude tool to move the Cap back inside the shape, however doing this without Extruding would take some of the outside with us, and doing this with only one Extrude would mean having no thickness to the edge of the engine.

Crockery like this doesn’t belong on the Antiques Road Show

After extruding again you can then use the move tool to drag the Cap back inside the rest of the shape a way, leaving an edge to the outside.  Also scaling down the Cap gives a slanted look to the inside walls instead of everything being dead straight.

A small resemblance to a jet engine?

The next step is to extrude once more on the same shape and scale it down to be roughly the size shown here, and then move the remainder of the cap almost to the other end of the object.  Next we will look at the other Cap and extrude some more for a slightly different result.

“Tina come get some ham. Gawd!”

After extruding some more in the same way as before, we end up with roughly this shape.  The next step is without de-selecting, press the delete key or the backspace key on a Mac.  This does exactly what it says on the tin and removes the current selection.  The reason we are doing this is so that we can get a hole through the jet engine and then connect up the two sides.  Right now you are probably thinking why not just begin the entire model with a cylinder, and by all rights you could have, it is simply that I did the same model both ways and found this to be easier for me.

The remaining Cap prepares for deletion.

After deleting the Cap, this is what you should end up with.  Crack out the paint selection tool again and paint over the other cap as shown in this image, and then hit delete or backspace again.

I feel empty inside…

The result is this, a hole through your model, however the next step is to fix this by joining the Edges of the two caps together.  Firstly select the edges again using the double-click, or by holding shift and painstakingly selecting every Edge, making sure you don’t accidentally select a random Edge from the other side of the model, and go to Edit Mesh> Bridge.  This will only work if you have selected an equal number of Edges on both ends.

A mad scientist runs at you shouting “I’m going to Bridge my Extrusion from inside that Object!” What do you do?

This technique fixes the hole in the mesh and leaves a nice smooth Bridge between the two Caps.  This Bridge is still editable in any of the ways normal meshes are and for all intents and purposes becomes a part of the original model.

There is probably more detail that I could go into however for the sake of this tutorial I think that this will suffice.  The only thing left to do is look at the handy work and apply a mesh smooth to it.

Front and Back.

This is the final result with no smoothing or tweaking added into the design.  A fairly basic but still recognisable jet engine, in need of texturing admittedly, however that is a job for another time (next week).  These next two images have been edited to be smoother and more believable, as the metal in a jet engine would be smoother than shown in the models above.  I have done this by simply pressing the number 3 on the keyboard whilst having the model selected, which is the subdivDisplaySmoothness tool, with -smoothness 1 for the standard models displayed above, and -smoothness 3 for these models below.

Front end.

I have taken a screen shot of the model on the left and on the right is the mesh.

Rear end. Hur Hur.

As you can see the model is greatly improved by this simple smooth technique.

In my opinion it is difficult to show a 3D model in still images, therefore I have done a small render for your viewing pleasure, a simple rotation of the un-smoothed and smoothed model.  Enjoy.

Perhaps not the worlds most convincing jet engine, but I hope the tutorial has taught you the basics of Maya modeling, though some of my explanations may not be incredible, I have enjoyed making this for myself and for other people who are learning Maya.

(Next week is texturing!)


About opinionatedalex

Less opinionated than one might think.
This entry was posted in 3D Modelling, Digital Media in Practice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Modelling with Maya 1

  1. Amazing post mate! In depth! Respect.

  2. odbr says:

    king tut dude 😉

  3. C & R says:

    Cool layered textures tutorial. Very clever.

    Have a look in the related vids too. Might be something useful.

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