Master hard-surface modeling in Maya
Learn how to create a mighty machine from a technical drawing to a 3D model in
Maya - chapter preview…
The modeling process in Maya can sometimes turn from enthusiasm into a nightmare, especially for beginners.
In this tutorial we will find a way to eliminate all kinds of distractions and potential problems right at the beginning. That includes having a fine-tuned workflow and creating shelves, but also planning out the process that precedes the modeling. So let's get started.
Setting up a Project
We're going to start by creating a new project, so go to the File menu and choose Set Project (Fig.01).
This will bring up a dialog box with a list of all the projects currently in your directory. Choose the project you're working on and click Set. Doing this tells Maya which project folder to save scene files into, and where to look for textures, geometry, scenes, etc. For the purposes of this tutorial, let's call the project "3dcreativetut" (Fig.02).
Speed up the Workflow
Speeding up the workflow you use in Maya is one of the most important aspects when we tackle a project, and having quick access to software tools is undoubtedly the best way to save time.
The tool shelf allows you to access the most commonly used functions within Maya. By default, Maya comes with this pre-set tool shelf (Fig.03).
The Shelf Editor allows you to create new shelves or edit current ones, as well as giving you the option to rename, add/delete, change icons and backgrounds etc. What we want to do right now is simply set up our own custom tool shelf, so that we can quickly access the tools we're going to need to use in this tutorial (Fig.04 – 05).
Click and hold the upside down triangle and choose New Shelf. Maya will ask us the name of the new shelf, so let's call it "3dcreativetut" (Fig.06).
Then add some commonly used functions for modeling. Make sure you have Polygons selected (Fig.07).
To add functions to your custom tool shelf, hold down Ctrl + Shift, go up to any drop down menu and begin selecting functions. They will then begin to appear on your shelf. Add the following functions:
• Create Polygon tool
• Cut Faces tool
• Interactive Split Polygon tool
• Insert Edge Loop tool
• Basic shapes such as sphere, cube, plane
Moving icons on your tool shelf is simple. You can either go to the Shelf Editor, or simply click the middle mouse button whilst on the icon and drag it to a new location on the shelf (Fig.08).
Deleting icons from your tool shelf is simple as well. You can delete them by going to Shelf Editor, or again, clicking the middle button on your mouse and dragging the unwanted icon over to the trash can on the right-hand side (Fig.09).
Many of the functions in Maya have options that allow you to modify how that function behaves. You will notice that a lot of the drop down functions on your Menu list have a square box off to the side. This means that this function has options that you can set, if you choose to (Fig.10).
If you've already placed the function on your tool shelf, you can access the option box by simply double-clicking on the icon from your tool shelf (Fig.11).
Import the Images
The image plane is very useful when you are modeling in Maya. In this example I will use the front view of my vehicle. Then go to View > Image Plane > Import Image (Fig.12).
When the window opens, just browse for the image that you want to import. When you have your image selected, click Open and this will place the image on the view (Fig.13).
On the Attribute Editor we will find imagePlane – this contains the name of our image, in my case "front". If you want to see the image in all views set Display to "in all views"; if you want to see it only in the view that you imported it in set Display to "looking into the camera". This makes sure that if we move the right view of our perspective then the image plane will only be displayed in our front view (Fig.14).
To change the position of your image just scroll down the panel and adjust the parameter (Fig.15).
Another way you can do it is to make a poly plane. Go into your Hypershade and make a Lambert and drop that into it, then plug your file texture into the color of that Lambert (Fig.16).
The best way to start a 3D model is by blocking in shapes, basically making a low poly version of our model. "Won't we waste time?" I hear you ask! The answer is no, because if we work in a low poly version before the final version, we can solve problems of proportion that will be presented in the future, and we will have a clear idea of how the model works in space.
It will also give us the basis to begin modeling our high poly version, and most importantly, it will help us to create a mental guide to understand the three-dimensionality of our 2D concept.
We start by creating the body of our machine from the geometric shape that is closest to our concept, which is obviously the cube.
Click on Create Cube, and then drag the mouse onto our view by pressing the left button (Fig.17).
Once the cube is created, add Loops, with the idea of adding more geometry to our cube. We will use the Insert Edge Loop tool for this.
The Insert Edge Loop tool is probably the single most important item in your modeling tool-set. It allows you to add additional resolution to your mesh by placing an uninterrupted subdivision in any location you specify.
With the cube in object mode, go up to Edit Mesh and select the Insert Edge Loop tool (or select it from your custom shelf) (Fig.18).
Click any edge on your mesh, and a new subdivision will be placed perpendicular to the edge you clicked.
You can add additional subdivisions anywhere on your model by clicking and dragging on any edge (Maya will not drop the new edge loop until you release the left mouse button) (Fig.19).
Then by selecting the vertex selection mode (right mouse button), we can start to move the points following the reference image (Fig.20).
As we did with the body, we will start from a cube for the cab. Most of the process will be the same, but to create the side bars we need use the Extrude tool (Fig.21).
Extrude creates new geometry from a selected component. This selected component can be vertices, edges, or faces; the most commonly used is faces (Fig.22).
The Extrude tool works by Maya creating a node called "polyextrudeface". This node contains all the attributes for the extrusion. These attributes are changed by visually setting them using the manipulator (Fig.23)
When you're using the local mode for the Move tool, the local translation attributes will change. If you're in world space, the normal transform attributes will change.
The various extrude attributes that are available are as follows:
• Translate Attributes: This is the location of
the extrude in world space.
• Polyextrude Curve Attributes: These
attributes will be covered in the extruding
along a curve section later.
• Divisions: This is how many divisions will
be added along the extrusion.
• Offset: An offset value for the local
• Local Translate: This is the location of the
extrude in local space.
• Local Direction: The direction of the local
• Random: Basically makes the extrude
• Smoothing Angle: This is in regard to the
Fig.24 shows the difference between an extrude with Keep Faces Together on and an extrude with it off.
So we select the face that we need to extrude and press Extrude. Then we adjust the position to match the image reference (Fig.25).
In this case we need a cylinder (Fig.26) or circle (Fig.27), but whatever shape you use, it's always the same workflow.
Mirror Geometry specifies the direction you want Maya to mirror the selected polygonal object. By default, the direction is +X. Change these options and click Mirror if you want to mirror the object in another direction; in our case this will be –X (Fig.28).
Once we have finished the blocking, the next step is to select all the geometry to create a new layer called LW. This is so that when we need to hide or lock the objects in the scene, all we need to do is press Create A New Layer and assign the selected object located in the Channel Box (Fig.29).
With this we have finished the first part of the series. We have set up the scene and blocked in shapes, and now we are ready to move on to the high poly modeling. In the next chapter we are going to start detailing the mesh, as well as immersing ourselves in the world of the MEL Script.
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To see more by Renato Gonzalez Aguilante, check out Digital Art Masters: Volume 8
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