MART Term 1, Lecture 1
Starting Maya


The demonstrators' job is to help you. If you have a problem in a lecture, put up your hand and the demonstrator will come and help you.

Out of lectures, our job doesn't change. If you need some help (having consulted the on-line help first), email us with as much detail as you can manage on One of us will get back to you as soon as we can.

Aim of the Course

The aim of MART is not really to teach you to use Maya, it is to teach you the fundamentals of 3D animation. The fact that we use Maya stems simply from the fact that it is the most widely used piece of 3D software in the film industry, and (arguably) the most powerful.

Please ask questions as we're going along. If the answer is too in depth to go into then and there, I'll tell you and you can come and find me afterwards.

At the moment, everyone will be at different levels, so for some of you the lectures may seem slow. Please bare with us, they will speed up as everyone gets to the same level. If you feel that you don't understand what went on in a lecture, come and find me afterwards or in WG09 and I'll try to explain it a bit better.

Start Maya

Let's start Maya. Bring up a terminal [on the Applications → Accessories menu: you're going to be using this a lot in all lectures, so maybe drag a copy onto your desktop or the menu bar]. In this terminal, type


This will bring up Maya, but means that we can't use the terminal for anything else. It's better to type

goMaya &

This also runs Maya from the terminal, but we can now use the terminal to do other things while Maya is still running.

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m61854793]When Maya loads, we are presented with a single view of our scene (which is currently empty). This is a perspective view. Though perspective views are very useful, it's also very useful to have one or more orthographic views. These are like architectural elevations, things do not get smaller the further away they are. Press space.

This leaves the perspective view in the top right, along with three orthographic views: a top view, a front view and a side view. These four areas are known as viewports.


[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m36db4b17]The most important thing to learn in any 3D software package is how to navigate around it in 3D space. In order to get a better idea of what we're navigating around, lets put a cone in there. On the Create menu, go to the NURBS Primitives sub menu, and click off Interactive Creation*. Now, on the same menu, click on Cone.

In Maya, the key to use to navigate around is Alt. Try out the following combinations:

Your cone may go off centre when you move the camera. If you want to get it back, select it (click on it) and press f. This frames the object in the centre of the viewport by moving the camera (not the object). Pressing shift-f frames the object in all viewports.

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_35442b59]But what if you can't see the object to select it? There are many other ways to select an object: one of the most useful is to use the outliner. Click on the third button down of the toolbox (left). If you're unsure, hover over the buttons in turn and click the one marked Persp/Outliner. This bring up a list of all the objects in the scene (currently very short). Click on the cone (called nurbsCone1), then move the mouse into the perspective view and press f. Pressing f will frame the selected object in any viewport, even an outliner. This can be very helpful if you have a long list of objects in your outliner.

Finally, there are several ways to view an object: try using keys 1-3 and 4-5 to try swapping between different modes.


[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_24138ac9]Now that we have placed our cone oh so carefully, let's change it. Maybe we don't want it there, we want it higher up, a bit bigger, and upside down. This is where the transformation tools (right) come in. The three middle buttons in this block are move (or press w), rotate (e) and scale (r). Click on move, then click and drag on one of the three axes (red is x, green is y, blue is z) to move the object in that axis. Alternatively, if you click on the meeting point of the three axes, you can move it in all axes.

If you move something and change your mind, the universal undo key ctrl-z works.

You should be able to see that as you transform the object, one or more of the values on the right hand side of the screen is changing. This area is called the channel box. If we prefer, we can enter values in here directly by simply clicking on the box, typing it in, and pressing enter.

Now play also with the rotate and scale tools. Try changing the size of the manipulators with + and too. Note that when an object is created it has translation and rotation values of 0 in each axis, but a scale of 1 (a scale of 0 is infinitely small).

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m263f7bae]If you want to make your cone the same as it was to start with, you could enter 0 or 1 in all the relevant parts of the channel box. A much easier way, though, is to go to the Modify menu and click Reset Transformations. Do that, and see your cone return to normal. But as with many of Maya's commands, this one has some hidden options. Press ctrl-z to put all the transformations back on to your cone. Now if you click on the ❐ next to Reset Transformations on the menu, you can tell it to only reset particular transformations (e.g., only rotation and scale).

Creating a Simple Scene

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m59187afc]After a short break, we are going to put these new skills to the test and make a "Futurama" style building from primitives (right). The name "primitives" refers to spheres, cones, cubes etc, and stems from the idea that complex objects are built by combining primitive objects.

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m3bdb2801]First, let's create a new scene. Either go to File New Scene, or press ctrl-n, or click on the new scene icon.

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m45623728]We will use the outliner again, but this time we will have it as a floating window. First click on the Four view button (left) in the toolbox. Now go to Window → Outliner. We can now put our outliner wherever we want, we're not restricted to a viewport.

We're going to create a simple building using NURBS primitives. There are other types of primitives which we could have used, these will be discussed in more detail next week.

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_25502010]Since we're going to be using a lot of NURBS primitives, lets make it easier to get at them. Go to the Create menu, and open up the NURBS Primitives submenu (right). Now click on the dotted line at the top of the menu: this will "tear it off" and allow us to use it as a floating window. This is very convenient if you are using several commands on a menu many times.

First we will create the base. Click Torus. Whenever you create an object, it a (very) good idea to rename it to something more meaningful than the default name (in this case nurbsTorus1). There are several ways to rename an object: you can double-click its name in the outliner, or you can click its name in the channel box. We'll call this object "arch".

NB: it is a good general rule not to use spaces or other special characters in object names. Maya simply replaces each of them with an underscore (_), but other programs can have problems that are not immediately obvious.

Now we have to rotate it. Rather than bring up the rotate tool, let's use the channel box (we can only do this because I have already tried it and found out the values that we're going to use). Click on rotate x in the channel box, and type in -90 <enter>.

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_md383333][screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m39d05e26]The object we want is actually half of a torus, not a whole one. If we had clicked the option button (❐) when we created our torus, we could have created a portion of a torus easily. Thankfully, we can still do this. The options that are available when you click the option button remain part of the object's construction history: Maya stores all the commands that have been used to create each object, and allows the user to change them later on. They are stored under INPUTS in the channel box. Click on makeNurbTorus1, and you will see lots of options (left). These are the values we could have changed if we had clicked the option button. Set End Sweep to 180 (degrees) and Height Ratio to 0.3, and you should have something that looks like mine (right).

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_bf26186]We need three of these objects for the base: select the object, and then go to Edit → Duplicate Special ❐. We want two more objects, so set number of copies to 2. We will also get it to transform the objects for us: in the rotate y box (the middle one of the 3 rotate boxes), type 120 (degrees). This rotates each copy by 120 degrees more than the previous one. Use the translate tool (press w) to put the three tori into a triangular formation (left).

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m74b9e209]Now we're going to make a half sphere. This time we're going to change the options before we make the sphere: click the options box of Sphere on the menu that we tore off. Change End Sweep Angle to 180 (degrees), and click Create. This has the same effect as changing the construction history, like we did with the torus. Rename the hemisphere "domeBottom" or something like that.

Now we need to transform it, either using the move, rotate and scale tools (w, e, and q respectively) or using the channel box. If you want to use the channel box, you should translate it up by 3 units, rotate it in x by 90 degrees, and scale it by 2 in all axes. You'll probably still need to tweak it a bit with the move tool afterwards (right).

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m5571d928][screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_690bcaf0]We can make the top of the dome by duplicating the bottom. Click on Edit → Duplicate Special ❐. You'll notice that Maya has remembered the options that we used last time: had we just clicked on duplicate, without going into the options box, it would have implemented these. Open up the edit menu of the options box, and select Reset Settings (left). This will return the dialog box to its default settings. Now set Rotate in x (the first of the three rotate boxes) to 180, and click Duplicate Special. This creates the top of our dome the correct way way up (rename it "domeTop" while we're here, and move it up a little bit). Now open up Edit → Duplicate Special ❐ again, and this time reset it and duplicate the object with the default settings: this is the same as using the menu item Duplicate. Move this second domeTop up, and make it smaller (about 1.0 in all axes: note that it still has the value of 2.0 that we changed it to on domeBottom), like the picture on the right.

Make a spire: get a cone (no need to change any options), scale it so that it's really tall and thin (stretch it in the y axis, shrink it in the x & z axes). Now move it up so that it sticks out of the top of our building.

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m47f37c81]The final thing to do is to put LOTS of tori everywhere. So create a torus with Height Ratio of 0.1 (either use the options box, or the construction history), and move/scale it so that it covers the bottom rim of domeTop (left).

If we duplicate by using Duplicate rather than Duplicate Special, it will make a simple duplicate without rotating, translating etc. Just press ctrl-d, and the object will be duplicated right on top of the old one. Now move this one down, so that it covers the upper rim of domeBottom. You might find it easiest to do this in the front view.

Now add loads more tori to give it that "bubbly" look. I've included a front view, so that you can see more easily where all the tori are.

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m59187afc][screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m71b04a40]The way to learn a software package as complicated as Maya is just to practise. The principles and methods that we have used today are the most important that you will have to use when creating 3D animations. Have a play now or some time before our next lecture and try putting more and more primitives into the scene. Perhaps put a cube in for the ground, or maybe even situate the building on top of a hill made from a sphere. Or you can do what I did, and spend some time making the building a little more elaborate. I duplicated it, added spheres for windows, cylinders for a tunnel, and changed a few little bits here and there.

Now save this file (under File Save Scene As), cos we'll use it next week.

[screenshot: MART_T1L01_html_m47403350]


If you can't figure out how to do something in Maya, your first port of call should be the on-line help. There are a number of books in the library that give a good in-depth introduction to Maya*, including Maya 6: The Complete Reference. A more complete resource is the Learning Maya 6 books by Alias, which give a much deeper insight into all aspects of the software. There are also many web resources to check out:

Post a question in the Maya discussion group on the NCCA forum, and it will get read by lecturers, demonstrators, other students, and lots of people in the industry. A good place to start.

The people that make Maya. Lots of resources on there, including help sheets for people coming from other 3D packages.

A user-driven site, full of useful information for beginners and more advanced people. The forums are invaluable if you are having a specific problem.

Other useful sites include:

*Feel free to have a play with Interactive Creation later: it's new in Maya 8, so us oldies prefer not to use it

*Note that there are no books specific to Maya 8.5. The vast majority of stuff doesn't change from one version of Maya to the next, at least until you get to high-powered dynamics / particles or similar