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          1. Fundamentals
          2. Keyboard Shortcuts
          3. Interface
          4. Tools
          5. Tutorial #1: Pre-modeling
          6. Tutorial #2: 3D Modeling
          7. Tutorial #3: Unwrap & Texturing



  Everything in Maya is built on building blocks of code called Nodes.
  Each node has Attributes which may be altered. Complex creations
  in Maya include multiple nodes connected to each other by their
  attributes through Dependencies (connections). The result is a
  network of nodes and dependencies called a Dependency Graph.

  For example, a basic polygonal box is a dependency of four nodes:
  one each for selection, creation (input), shape, and shading.
  The creation node has attributes for initial size and segments.
  If this box was copied without the creation node, the box still would
  exist but the user would lose the ability to alter the segments and
  could only alter the size through the Scale transformation tool.

Polygon: the fundamental building block for all polygonal modeling. Represented as a triangle so a quadrilateral = 2 triangular polygons.
"Quads" and "Tris" are shorthand for quadrilateral and triangular polygons, respectively. In Maya the surface modeling component is called a Face and can contain multiple polygons.

Normal: The direction the surface faces. In the Maya Workspace every polygon appears to face both directions for convenience.

Orthographic: Flat, face-on views which are ideal for modeling because they do not show the distortion of real space.
Perspective: The camera view which accurately show the distortion of real space (best for viewing the results of modeling, and for rendering).

Save the file often. Like many 3D applications Maya will crash unexpectedly, often from something as seemingly innocuous as hitting undo. Certainly save before doing any major tool operation, like Boolean.

While setting work in a Project is not critical for just modeling, Maya files work best if set in a Project when doing anything more complicated such as texturing or rendering animations.

Getting lost? Here are a few main places to go to find your work.

1. The Outliner allows the user to view a list of all the objects in the current scene. It is particularly good for viewing hierarchies. It can be opened by clicking on the left toolbar for a vertically split screen (or through the menu Window/ Outliner). Selecting an item in the Outliner selects it in the scene.

2. The Hypergraph displays object dependency graphs showing the connections between nodes and allows the user to break or create dependencies (connections).

3. The Channel Box and the Attribute Editor, found on the right side of the interface, are the easiest ways to access information and settings about any selected object. The user switches between the Channel Box and Attribute Editor by hitting [Ctrl]+[a].

The Channel Box contains basic transforms and creation settings, such as size and segments.

The Attribute Editor contains detailed settings on the properties of the Nodes for the selected object.


Work in Maya is divided into four areas: Animation, Modeling, Dynamics, and Rendering. These are the four main Work Modules. Maya users are encouraged to think of their work in these categories as very separate tasks, and so many of the tools to accomplish work in each of these areas are only visible when Maya is told to activate that module. The modeling Module, for example, includes Edit Polygon on the Menu Bar, but this is replaced with something different in the other modules. NOTE In later versions of Maya, the Modeling module is called Polygons.
To return to the modeling module, hit [F3].

Tools are available in the menu bar and the shelves and along the left side bar. Many tools have option boxes which may be opened for expanded features. Most tools add a node to the dependency graph when applied to the object and take up some active memory.

To collapse the effect of a tool into the base nodes and clear the memory, hit Edit/ Delete by Type/ History.
If this is not done on a regular basis, the History will take up too much memory in Maya and the user risks crashing the program.

Transforms (move, rotate, and scale) are recorded in the objectís Attributes, and should be frozen back to zero at the end of the modeling process to preserve the modeling transforms against errors in the animation process.
Hit Modify/ Freeze Transformations.

In most production environments the History should be deleted and the Transforms frozen before a model is handed off to the next stage in production.


A clean (hygienic) model is one that is Modular, i.e., that does not have any geometry which breaks the surface of the model inside or out. Examples of Non-modular geometry include:

  1. T-Geometry: Faces which intersect without being joined at an edge, or edges which intersect without being joined at a vertex. This can be fixed by using Split Poly to create new divisions at the intersections and then merging vertices.
  2. Interior Geometry: Faces which are not part of the modular hull, usually found connecting inside the model. These must be deleted.
  3. Doubled vertices: Two or more vertices occupying the same space without being merged (Frequently caused by using extrude without first turning on Polygon/Tool Options/ Keep Faces Together).
  4. Abutting Faces: Two faces with opposite normals which occupy the same space (Frequently caused by using extrude without first turning on Polygon/Tool Options/ Keep Faces Together).

Maintaining modular geometry is important in the final model for good shader display (particularly movement of light over the surface) and mesh deformation in animation. Some tools require clean models in order to function, particularly Append Poly and Boolean.

Flipped Normals:
While not as insidious as the non-modular examples above, shading problems will result if one surface normal is flipped the opposite direction from all of its neighbors. This can be fixed by selecting all the polygons in the model and hitting Edit Polygons/Normals/Conform.

Quad Modeling:
The number of sides on a face is important for character creation. All plain polygonal models should consist of quads (four-sided shapes). Less than four sides (tris) or more than four sides (n-gons) tend to result in problems with shaders and animation deformation.

Some Subdivision Surface modelers, however, allow for triangular and five-sided (but no more) geometry in their polygonal base meshes provided all vertices have exactly four edges emerging from them. The reason is that this will lead to perfect quads once the model is subdivided (converted from a Polygonal model to a SubDivsion Surface model).

NOTE: Occasionally odd shading will gather in bad vertex normals, and this can be fixed by selecting all polygons (yes, polygons, not vertices), opening the Edit Polygon/ Normal/ Set Vertex Normal options box, hitting Unlock Normals | Normalize Normal | Apply, and then Lock Normals | Normalize Normal | Apply.

Introduction to Maya Interface, Modeling, and Texturing:

1. Fundamentals   |   2. Keyboard Shortcuts   |   3. Interface   |   4. Tools
5. Tutorial #1: Pre-modeling   |   6. Tutorial #2: 3D Modeling   |   7. Tutorial #3: Unwrap & Texturing

These materials were created for a 2005 class at Pixar University, to teach the basics of Maya modeling, texturing, and animation to the Layout team.
The version of Maya at the time was Maya 5, but most of these notes should apply to all versions of the program.