Learning the Basics: Key Tips for Modeling in Maya
Create a Custom ShelfThe shelf in Maya is a great way to speed up your modeling process. As a modeler there are numerous different tools that you use often, like the Extrude Tool, Bevel, Insert Edge Loop, the list goes on. Having to constantly go back up to your Mesh and Edit Mesh menu to apply these commands takes time out of the modeling process. Sure, selecting these tools doesn't take a huge amount of time, but when you're switching between tools a lot even speeding up your workflow a little bit each time can add up to a lot of time saved in the end. Having easy to access shelf icons is also beneficial especially if you work a lot with both polygonal and NURBS modeling. As you probably know the NURBS and poly tools are in a completely different menu set, so having to switch menu sets to get to the tool you need is an extra step that can be avoided. You can create a brand new modeling shelf by going to the drop down menu to the left of your shelf and selecting New Shelf. Once you name it you can start adding your tools, this is done by Ctrl+Shift+LMB selecting the tools that you want to add from the menu.
Build up DetailAs you begin your model it's smart to not start out at an extremely high resolution. Getting the proper form and silhouette is the most important thing to establish. Whether you're using a box modeling or edge modeling workflow it's always easier to move points and edges around when you're working with a minimal amount. When you find you don't have enough resolution on your model to create the finer details you can then go in and start inserting edge loops and creating more resolution, but try to get the most out of the time you're working in a lower resolution.
Extruding Along CurvesAlong with using curves to create surfaces like vases and other smooth objects they're also great for extruding extra geometry. For example, you can create a curve and extrude a NURBS circle a long that curve to create a cord or any smooth cylindrical object. A great place to utilize this is for creating simple hair for your characters. In the image above a simple curve was created for the shape of the mohawk, and a NURBS circle was extruded to form the hair. This way it's much easier to get smooth curved models without having to tweak and rotate individual vertices, which often can result in unclean meshes.
Use Marking MenusWhen you're working in Maya you've probably had the chance to use marking menus, even if you didn't realize it. For example, by right clicking on an object you have access to things like vertices, edges, faces. But there are also a vast range of different modeling tools that can be accessed from this marking menu or you can even create your own. These specialized marking menus are really beneficial when working with polygon geometry. By holding down Shift+RMB you're a presented with a lot of the most commonly used polygon modeling tools. For example, the Insert Edge Loop tool, and merge vertex, as well as lot of the other commonly used modeling tools like Mirroring, Booleons, and the Crease Tool. Combining custom shelf icons while utilizing these marking menus will drastically speed up your modeling workflow. You can even take this a step further and set up your own custom marking menus. Check out this quick lesson on how to set those up.
Use LatticesLattices are an extremely powerful modeling tool that is sometimes overlooked by beginners. This is probably because they're under the animation menu set, so it might not be your first thought to use them when modeling. If you need to make any large scale changes to a mesh using a lattice is the best way to do it without destroying your model. If you're working with a high resolution mesh, trying to make any changes will be difficult to achieve cleanly because there can be hundreds if not thousands of vertices and edges in a small area. You can find lattices in the animation menu set and by going to Create Deformers>Lattice. If you open up the option box you'll have many different options to create the lattice you want. For instance, you can adjust how many divisions the lattice has, so you can have as much control over the model as you need to.
Use the Crease ToolIf you're familiar at all with Maya, you're probably comfortable with the Insert Edge Loop Tool. The Insert Edge Loop Tool creates a new loop of edges around your mesh; this can be used to create more resolution for your geometry so you have more points to work with in order to get the shape you want. But the Insert Edge Loop Tool is also used for tightening down edges, if you want to create more of a hard surface mesh. For instance, the edges on the corners of a computer monitor. While the Insert Edge Loop tool is great for creating harder edges on your mesh the Crease Tool can do this as well, and it doesn't actually add any extra geometry. You can find the Crease Tool under your Edit Mesh drop down menu. Once you select the Crease Tool you can simply select the edges that you want to tighten up and while holding down the Middle Mouse Button drag left or right in the viewport and you'll see the edges you selected become much sharper.
Next time you’re working on a modeling project in Maya, try out some of these tips and see how they can speed up your workflow. Whether it’s utilizing the Crease Tool to tighten up the edges on your mesh or using marking menus to gain access to commonly used tools you’ll be sure to work more efficiently in Maya. To learn some more helpful modeling tips check out the Modeling Tips and Tricks in Maya tutorial, and continue learning with are hundreds of other modeling tutorials.