Rendering Wireframes in Maya - 3 Methods to Make Your Models Stand Out


Rendering wireframes for your 3D models is a must when you want to present your work in a professional way by allowing the viewer to see both the textures for the model as well as the topology. Including a wireframe overlay for your 3D models is especially important when creating work for a demo reel, because recruiters like to not only see your 3D models but they want to see that you paid close attention to the edge flow and topology and if your work can hold up to clean deformations if animated.

Luckily there are many different ways you can render out wireframes for your 3D models in Maya so you can bring them into an editing application like Photoshop to composite the different render passes together to create the final look. This article will go over the most common ways of rendering out wireframes in Maya as well as some of the benefits and draw backs of each method so you can decide which will work best for your needs.

Setting up Wireframe with Maya Vector

The first method of rendering out a wireframe for your model is to use the Maya Vector rendering option. This is probably the easiest method to set up and get pretty decent looking results fairly quickly. Let's go over the process of setting this up for your models in Maya. The first thing you should do when creating any separate rendering passes like this is to create a new render layer that is dedicated to this wireframe render pass. You can do this by selecting your entire model or just selecting what you want to be rendered as a wireframe and switching your layers panel to render, and adding a new render layer by selecting Create new layer and assign selected objects. You can name it whatever you like, and you'll want to ensure that you have this new render layer selected when rendering out the wireframe. Vector1v2 Once you have a new render layer created open up the render settings window and under the Render Using drop down menu select Maya Vector. Vector2 Now select the Maya Vector tab within the render settings window, this will allow you to adjust how you want your line pass to look. At the very top of the Maya Vector rendering settings you'll see the Fill Options tab. Go ahead and uncheck the Fill objects box. This will make it so that when you render it will just be the wireframe, and not the underlying geometry. Vector3 Scroll down toward the bottom until you see Edge Options and check the Include edges box. Vector4 With the Include edge box checked change the Edge weight preset to 1.0 pt Vector5 Now you'll need to switch the Edge style to Entire Mesh. If you keep it as an outline it will only render out the outline of your 3D model. Vector6 Lastly you'll want to change the Edge color. You can change it to whatever color you like, as long as it's not completely black because the default background color when rendered will be black so the wireframe won't show up. So, in this case the Edge color has been changed to white. Vector7 Once you render it you should see similar results to the image below. You can save this wireframe pass out as something like a PNG and bring it into your favorite photo editing application and overlay it onto the render for the model. Vector8 After you bring the wireframe render into a program like Photoshop you can change the color of the wireframe to anything you like, here the color has been changed from white to black once it was brought into Photoshop. Maya Vector2 Now, the biggest downside to this method is that get a very dense wireframe, and that's because Maya Vector triangulates all of the quads on your model. So, while this method is very easy and quick to set up, you might not get the exact results you were wanting. Just keep that in mind if you're planning on using the Maya Vector method to create your wireframe render.

Setting up Wireframes With Toon Render

This next method is done by using a Toon Render. While it's a bit more complicated than the first method it does produce more accurate results. So let's go over how to set up a wireframe for your models using a Toon Render. You'll want to do the same thing you did for the first method and that is to set up a separate render layer for your wireframe pass if you haven't already. Toon1 Once you've done that make sure you're under the Rendering menu set by opening the menu set drop down. Toon2 Now with your entire mesh selected go to Toon>Assign Outline>Add New Toon Outline. Toon3 You should see a faint outline of your mesh, like in the image below. Now go into your attribute editor and make sure you're under the pfcToonShape node. Toon4 Scroll down till you see the Crease Lines tab and dial down Crease Break Angle and Crease Angle Max to a value of 0. And uncheck the Hard Creases Only box. Your values should be the same as in the image, and you should now see the wireframe covers the entire mesh. Toon5 For this the Crease Line Width and the Border Line Width have both been upped to a value of 2 just so the wireframe is a little bit thicker. Toon6 Now you'll need to select the actual geometry underneath the wireframe, and go to Toon>Assign Fill Shader>Solid Color. You should see that now the geometry underneath is completely white, which is what you want. Toon7 In order for the wireframe to come out correctly you'll need to change the background color for your camera, so select your camera which will open up the attributes for it. Toon8 Once in the camera attributes scroll down till you find the Environment tab, and open it up and change the background color to completely white. Toon9 The last thing you need to do is go into the rendering settings and change the Render Using to Maya Software Toon10 In the Maya Software tab go to Quality>Production quality. This will ensure that your wireframe is smooth. Toon11 When you bring the wireframe render pass into an editing software like Photoshop make sure that you set the blending mode to multiply. This will display just the wire, and not the white fill color that you had to add to the 3D mesh. Toon_render You can see that using the Toon Render method produces much smoother and more of an accurate representation of the wireframe without triangulating the quads on your model. The downside to this method is that you'll have to change the color of the wireframe in the attributes of the pfcToonShape node, but that shouldn't be a very big issue.

Setting up a Wireframe with a Ramp Texture

This last method may seem a little strange to you, but using a ramp shader is actually a pretty good way to set up a wireframe render if you're looking for an alternative to the first two methods. Let's go over the process for setting up a wireframe rendering using a ramp. Again, when setting up a wireframe render pass make sure you select your geometry and create another render layer just like you did in the previous methods. Ramp1 Now select your entire 3D mesh, and right click and go to Assign Favorite Material>Surface Shader. Ramp2 In order for a ramp wireframe to work you need to unitize your UVs. So make sure you're under your Polygons menu set and open up the UV texture editor. Ramp3 With your entire mesh select go to Polygons>Unitize in your UV Texture Editor. This will take the UVs and snap them to the border points of the zero to one UV space. Ramp4 Now navigate to the surfaceShader node in your attribute editor and select the checkered box next to the Out Color property. Ramp5 Now plug in a ramp texture into the Out Color. Ramp6 You can see from the image below the results you should have on your mesh. Ramp7 This isn't really producing the proper results for a wireframe render so you'll need to switch the Type from V Ramp to Box Ramp. Ramp8 You'll also need to change the Interpolation type to None. You can start to see that the results are getting closer to looking like a proper wireframe. Ramp9 You only need two colors for the ramp to get the proper results, so take the blue color and remove it by selecting the X to the right of the color. Ramp10 Now you can take the green color on the ramp and start to raise it up. As you do that you'll notice that the wireframe thickness starts to decrease so you can adjust this as needed to get your wireframe looking how you want. Ramp11v2 With your thickness set you can change the red color to white, and just like you did with the toon render method you want to make sure your camera's environment color is set to white as well. Ramp12 In this case the wireframe is going to be set to black so set the green color to black or to whatever color you'd like. Ramp13 Before you render you want to make sure under your Render Settings you're using Maya Software and you have the quality set to Production to get the best results. Ramp14 As you can probably tell, the biggest downside to this method is that you have to unitize your UVs. So if you have any textures for your 3D model the UV layout will no longer work. So if you're going to use this ramp method you'll want to do it for something that doesn't have the UVs unwrapped or for something like an Ambient Occlusion render. Ramp_Render Now that you know some of the ways you can create a wireframe render in Maya try out these different methods for your project and see which ones best fit your needs. If you have any questions or you want to share your own method that you prefer over these post it in the comments below! Interested in trying Digital-Tutors training? Start learning new creatives skills from industry professionals with a free demo account today!