Know the Basics: Maya Part 1: Interface
Just learning Maya 2017? Acquire a better knowledge of the basics with Paul Hatton. In part one, get to grips with the interface...
Welcome to the first part of this beginner's guide to Maya 2017. This incredibly powerful piece of software gives you a whole host of modelling, animation and rendering tools right at your fingertips. It has been used in a huge variety of industries including on feature length films, so it really does pack a punch. Throughout this series we're going to be getting to grips with some of the basic elements of the software, and hopefully it'll stand you in good stead for the future. But first things first let's dive into the interface and get comfortable with it.
I want to thank 'Fourth Way' for providing the 3D model of the robotic arm. More of their models can be found on Turbosquid.
Step 1: Menus
If you've ever used a piece of software then you'll be used to menus! In Maya the menus contain both tools and actions for working in your scene. As in most programs the main menu is at the top of the Maya window, and then there are also individual menus for the panels and option windows. You can also access the menus contained within the main menu by using the hotbox. Open this by holding down the space bar in a view panel.
Step 2: Menu sets
Menu sets divide the type of menus available into categories: Modelling, Rigging, Animation, FX, and Rendering. Think of these as context sensitive menus. If you're animating then you see the 'Animation' menu set appear. This will customise the available tools so that you only see what you need. The first seven menus on the main menu are always available, and the remaining menus change depending on the menu set you choose.
Step 3: Shelf
As you get used to using Maya you'll realise that there are a load of common tasks that you have to perform over and over again. It is with regards to this that the Maya Shelf comes into its own. By default the Shelf holds buttons for common tasks which are laid out in tabs based on category. This is super helpful! However, it gets better. You can also create bespoke shelves and insert your own buttons to it for your preferred common tasks. This is really useful for ensuring an efficient workflow.
Step 4: Customise the panels
The next thing to mention is that the interface is incredibly flexible. Some pieces of software limit the customisation options but not Maya. The interface is made up of a series of panels which you can resize and rearrange to ensure an efficient workflow. Simply drag and drop any of the panels until you're happy with the way your interface is set up.
Step 5: Workspace Selector
If you would prefer Maya to decide what denotes an efficient set up of tools then you can use their handy 'Workspace Selector'. Maya will basically customise the interface based on which workspace you have selected. All of the options are contained within a handy dropdown list. This is particular useful for artists who are both generalists because they can flip between interface setups as they move through the stages of a project.
Step 6: Tool Box
The Tool Box is a part of the user interface which contains all the tools for selection and transformation. The selection tools include a straight select, a lasso as well as a paint selection. The Transformation includes move, rotate and scale. To speed up your workflow I would highly recommended using keyboard shortcuts for these though. They are: select tool (Q), Move tool (W), Rotate tool (E), and Scale tool (R), as well as access the last tool used (Y) in the scene.
Step 7: Layer Editor
When you are creating your 3D model you're best to keep everything as organised as possible. This is particularly important if you work in a multi-disciplinary team that will also need access to your file. This is where the 'Layer Editor' comes in handy. For reference, there are two types of layers that are displayed in the Layer Editor. The first are 'Display Layers' which enable you to manage the objects in your scene, such as for setting whether their visible or not. The second is 'Animation Layers' which enable you to blend, lock, or mute multiple levels of animation.
Step 8: View Panel
The 'View Panel' is basically a camera view into your scene. In other pieces of software this is what's known as a viewport. Depending on your requirements you can show several of these panels or just one if you want more of a full screen layout. These panels can also be set to display editors (we'll come to these in a later week). These panels do have their own toolbars which allow you to quickly customise the setup of that particular panel.
Step 9: Time Slider
The Time Slider is used for setting up the animation of your objects over time. It shows you a set of frames as specified by the range slider as well as indicating the current time marker. Once you have animated an object the time slider will display all the key frames for that particular object. The red cursor enables you to move around your timeline and playback any animation you've set up.
Step 10: Playback Controls
Further to the previous step about the 'Time Slider' there are also a set of 'Playback Controls' which you'll no doubt be familiar with from other interfaces such as media players and the like. These controls enable you to move around time and even preview your animation. Please note that it only allows interaction as defined by the Time Slider range.
Top tip: Use the hotbox!
If you hold down the spacebar in a view panel then a context sensitive menu will appear. This enables you to quickly and easily find the tool that you need based on what you're trying to do. This will definitely speed up your workflow.