Getting Started in Maya

Getting Started in Maya

We are now ready to load Maya and prepare it so we can begin modeling. But first let's have a look at Maya itself. In case you don't have Maya, you'll find Maya's Personal Learning Edition on the CD.

Maya's Learning Movies and Tutorials

When you start Maya for the first time, you will be presented with the Learning Movies window seen in Figure 2.5. These one-minute movies cover some of the very basic elements in Maya, from moving and manipulating objects, to simple keyframe animation.

Figure 2.5. Maya's helpful Learning Movies take only a minute each.

I recommend that you watch these movies before you proceed in this chapter. If you have already skipped past the Learning Movies window, you can reopen it by going to Help > Learning Movies.

If you have time, I also recommend looking at Maya's built-in tutorials (Help > Tutorials). These cover every aspect of Maya and go beyond the fundamentals in the Learning Movies to show more advanced areas such as expressions and MEL (Maya Embedded Language).

Navigating with Menu Sets, Marking Menus, and The Hotbox

There are various ways to navigate the menus in Maya. Each person has their own preference, but you will no doubt use every method at some point in your work with Maya.

Across the top of Maya's user interface is the main menu bar. This menu can be changed, depending on what area of Maya you are working in, by using the menu sets. The menu sets are located at the left of the status bar (Figure 2.6). You can change among the Animation (F2), Modeling (F3), Dynamics (F4), and Rendering (F5) menu sets. Each group opens up new tools specific to that job.

Figure 2.6. Menu sets

Right-clicking an object will open up a marking menu, Maya's term for a contextual menu (Figure 2.7). These menus give quicker access to some of the tools you will commonly use with that objectfor example, component selection.

Figure 2.7. Right-click an object to see its marking menu.

The third method is the hotbox, which contains every menu and menu item available in Maya and is fully customizable to suit your needs. When you want quick access to any menu without having to change menu sets, or if the menu you require is hidden, simply hold down the spacebar to open up the hotbox (Figure 2.8). To the right of the hotbox are the Hotbox Controls, where you can customize the appearance and contents of the hotbox.

Figure 2.8. The hotbox

Now that you have some basic knowledge of Maya and its user interface, we will see how to make sure Maya is configured correctly, before we begin to model.

Setting up Maya Preferences

Although the majority of Maya's default preferences are fine for most of what we're doing we will alter a few now to help us later. It's important to follow these steps so we're all working the same way.


Go to Window > Settings/Preferences > Preferences to open the Preferences window (Figure 2.9). This screen contains all the global preference settings in Maya.

Figure 2.9. Setting Maya preferences

The first important setting to establish is the choice of units you are using (the scale you will be modeling to). It's important to make sure that everyone on the project is using the same units; differing scales can cause major problems down the line, especially when rigging and animation are involved.


In the Categories panel on the left, select Settings and see what the working units are currently set to. In Figure 2.9, you can see that we will be working in meters and animating at 30 frames per second. Of course, these settings may vary depending on the project you are working on.


For this book we will be using meters, but feel free to work in whatever units you are comfortable with. Just remember to make the appropriate corresponding adjustments to any of the measurements or values you use from the book.


While in the Preferences window, select the Interface category. Make sure Open Attribute Editor on the right is set to In Separate Window. This setting will ensure that we are working in the same environment for the discussions in this book; otherwise, some sections may be confusing.


Once you have finished setting up all your global Maya configurations, click Save.


Then go to Display > Grid in the main menu and click the options box to open the Grid Options (Figure 2.10). In the Size section, setting the Grid Lines Every and Subdivisions to 1 will set each square on the grid to represent 1 meter (or whichever unit you are working in). Length and Width dictate how far your grid expands across your virtual world.

Figure 2.10. Grid Options setup

The Maya environment is now configured for our project. Remember that your settings should be the same as everyone else's on the project.

Next, you must tell Maya where you wish to work. You can do this by using Maya's projects. In Maya, you can work in a variety of file types and formats. By creating a project, you create subdirectories under a parent directory in which to store everything. This is Maya's way of combining in one place all the files relevant to the current scene.


You can, if you like, ask Maya to create a directory structure and a new project for you by going to File > Project > New (Figure 2.11).

Figure 2.11. Creating a new project.

Here you can specify a name and a location for the project. Clicking Use Defaults at the bottom will automatically fill in the rest of the New Project window with names for the corresponding directories. If you do not want all the directories created, you can simply leave them blank and Maya will ignore them. Once you are happy with the project structure, click Accept. Maya will build the specified directories for you and set the new project to be the current one.

If your directory structure is already in place, as it should be, another way to set the current project is by going to File > Project > Set (Figure 2.12). Here you simply point to the directory you wish to work in, and it's set.

Figure 2.12. Point to a project to make it the current one.


The final work environment option to set is found in the Polygons > Tool Options menu. In that menu, make sure Keep Faces Together is activated.

As we progress through the book, we will perform operations that would otherwise involve our having to set this manually afterward. Setting it here means it is now set globally, saving us work later.

Importing to Maya

The final part of our preparation for modeling is to import the images we scanned and cropped earlier, bringing them into Maya's panels so we can use them as guides.


To import an image into the front view, at the top of the panel, select View > Image Plane, and click Import Image to open up the browser. You have already set your project, so the browser will automatically open in the correct base directory, enabling you to select the images we created earlier. For this view we will use the file KilaFront.jpg (or you can use KilaFront.tga), which is in the Scans directory.


To switch views simply go to the Panels menu item in the current view panel and select the appropriate camera.

As you can see from Figure 2.13 the image plane is quite large. We know that each grid square is equal to one meter, so at this setting Kila would be 30 meters tall. We know from the character details we gathered earlier that she is 1.7 meters tall, so let's change her size.

Figure 2.13. The image imported into our front view, 30 meters tall


If you have not selected anything else at this stage, the image's attributes will be available in the Channel Box under a heading of imagePlane1. Otherwise, if you need to make the attributes available, select View > Image Plane again. Notice that a new option is available, Image Plane Attributes. Move your mouse over this to reveal the current panel's image planes. At the moment, you should have only one, called imagePlane1; select this. A new window opens, holding the options available for this image plane; you should also see it available in your Channel Box.


Set the Width and Height attributes to 1.7, and she will scale down to the size we need.


Now do the same for the side view. Import the image called KilaSide.jpg (or use KilaSide.tga) and resize it to 1.7. When you're done, switch to the perspective view (Figure 2.14) to see how things look so far.

Figure 2.14. The front and side image planes, seen from the perspective view


Looking through the perspective view now, things might seem a little confusing, but this can be fixed. We simply need to move the two images so that they do not intersect.

Select the side image by dragging the mouse over a corner of the image plane. Look in the Channel Box, which now shows the attributes available for the side view (Figure 2.15). At the bottom, under the heading Inputs, you can see the image plane, named imagePlane2.

Figure 2.15. Side view attributes


Click imagePlane2 to reveal the image plane's options. Select Center X and set it to 0.35, which will move the image slightly to the left. Type -0.2 into the Center Z input box, which will move the image forward.

Play around with these settings for both images until you are happy with their positions. You should end up with something resembling Figure 2.16, with the images no longer intersecting.

Figure 2.16. Adjust the image plane positions so the images don't intersect.

Working with the Layer Editor

Before we finish this section, we will place the image planes into a layer. This will keep the scene tidy, as well as prevent the image planes from accidentally being selected and moved. You'll find the Layer Editor in the bottom-right corner of the Maya interface, under the Channel Box (Figure 2.17).


First create a new layer by going to Layers > Create Layer, or click the Create Layer button on the Layer Editor's toolbar (to the right and just under the menu).


A new layer is created, called layer1. Double-click this to bring up the Edit Layer options.


In the Edit Layer window, rename the layer to ImagePlanes. Set Display Type to Reference. This means whatever is in this layer will be visible but not selectable. Also, pick a color to represent the layer.

You can quickly hide everything in the layer by clicking on the V to the left of the layer name in the Layer Editor. This controls the visibility. The next indicator to the right, the R, represents the display type; you can click on this to cycle between Reference, Template, and Normal.


Select both the image planes, then highlight the ImagePlanes layer. With the layer highlighted, go to Layers > Add Selected Objects to Current Layer. The image planes will now be in the layer.


Save the file, calling it Kila_Start.mb.

Figure 2.17. The Layer Editor

Our preparation is now complete; we are ready to start building the Kila character.