Introduction to Maya: Learn the Maya User Interface (UI)
In this series we'll be taking a comprehensive look at all of the basic elements of Maya, starting with the user interface and the general tools. If you're a newcomer to this software, then this series will be an invaluable read!
The following tutorials are currently available:
1. Learn the Maya User Interface (UI)
2. General Tools
3. Polygons, NURBs and Sub-Ds
4. Modeling: Polygonal Modeling Theory
Learn the Maya User Interface (UI)
In this tutorial we're going to get to know Maya's interface. On first opening Maya, things can feel a little daunting, so we're going to break the UI down into chewable chunks.
Along the way we'll take in a few keyboard shortcuts, which can greatly increase your efficiency. It's important to stress that it's always possible to approach a task in a number of ways, so don't be afraid to press a few buttons to see what happens. If the UI blows up, you can always reset your preferences and/or get the kettle on!
Step 1: Maya Interface Breakdown
When first opening Maya, you will be presented with something as illustrated in the image - without the pretty colours, of course.
Here is a quick breakdown of the highlighted regions:
a) Menu bar
b) Status bar
d) Viewport Panel bar
f) Window configuration
g) Channel Box
h) Layer Editor
i) Timeline and Playback Controls
j) Time Range and Character Sets
k) Command Line and Script Editor
n) View Axis
o) World-space Origin
q) Indicates the view you're currently in
As Maya's Interface has been built using the Qt framework, it is very easy to customise. For starters, most of the menus have a dotted line running alongside them; this allows you to cut the menu from its original position and place it somewhere else. You can also take this further by using Qt Designer to create your own custom UI.
Step 2: Menu bar, Status bar and the Hotbox
The Menu bar at the top of the UI will have all your general tools, such as Save and Save As under File, and Undo and Redo under Edit.
Just underneath the Menu bar, you will see a dropdown menu where you can change to working in a different module within Maya. The modules are:
You will find that, depending on what the task is, you will constantly switch between these modules. In doing so, the Menu bar will alter to accommodate the specific tools for that module.
By using the Hotbox, you can access all the menus in one hit. Hold down the keyboard Space bar in any viewport and the Hotbox should pop up. You can then hover the mouse over a particular setting and use the LMB (left mouse button) to select the desired tool.
If you hold the LMB around the four sides of the Hotbox, you will also reveal some extra tools. You can also use the keyboard F2 to F6 keys to switch between the modules.
Step 3: Navigating the Viewports
To get comfortable in any 3D program, you will need to learn how to navigate around the 3D and 2D space. In Maya, it's all about the Alt key with a combination of one of the three mouse keys:
• To 'track' the camera, use Alt + MMB (middle mouse button)
• To 'rotate' the camera, use Alt + LMB (left mouse button)
• To 'zoom' in and out, hold Alt + RMB (right mouse button)
You can also scroll the MMB up and down for a zoom. You'll notice that in the Perspective view, you can use all three types of movement, whilst in the Orthographic views (Top, Side and Front), you are restricted to just track and zoom.
When navigating in windows, such as the Graph Editor or the Hypershade, these navigation settings will also apply. You can also maximise and minimise the viewports by tapping the keyboard Space bar in any of them.
Step 4: Tools of the Trade
Once you're happy navigating in Maya, we will need some tools to play with. The basic tools that you will be using are the selection tools and the transformation tools.
In the top half of the Toolbox, you have the general Select tool (keyboard shortcut: Q) and working downwards, you have the Lasso tool and the Paint Selection tool. Below them, you have the Move, Rotate and Scale tools (keyboard shortcuts: W, E, and R respectively).
Further down, you have the Universal Manipulator, which I find pretty horrible to use (if using Maya 2014, you will find this under Modify > Transformation Tools). You can also double-click any of the tools to bring up the settings for that tool, which is very useful for many reasons, such as switching between working in World or Local mode.
A useful shortcut to these tool settings is to hold down the keyboard shortcut button and the LMB to bring up a small marking menu to edit the settings. For example, holding down W +LMB will allow you to edit the Move tool settings.
Step 5: Attribute Editor Channel Box and the Outliner
You will be spending a lot of time in these three windows so this is a quick breakdown of where to find them and what they do.
To access the Attribute Editor or the Channel Box, you can hit Ctrl + A. This will switch between the two menus unless you customize your scene and have both in view. The Channel Box will allow you edit parameters for a selected object, such as its position, orientation and scale. If you add any custom parameters to an object, they will also pop up here.
The Attribute Editor is similar, but reveals a lot more parameters as well as the object's material properties. The Outliner can be found in the Window Configuration tool set (third icon down) or in the Menu bar under Window > Outliner.
The Outliner reveals what is in your Maya scene file. It's one of many places that allow you to organize your scene as well as perform parenting, renaming and selection tasks. It's very important to keep your scenes clean and this is one of the quickest places to do so.
Top Tip: Use the Hotkeys!
You can use the otherwise pretty horrible Viewcube to navigate within Maya and here I find that it has one redeeming feature: if you are lost within your scene, you can click on the little house icon in the top left corner to go to the default position. Other than this, I urge you to not rely on the Viewcube to navigate around the scene. Learn to use the Alt key and also all the other shortcuts such as Q, W, E, and R, as they will make you more productive and efficient.