Intro Maya

From TOI-Pedia


Why using 3D digital data in the design process?

Highly accurate 3D digital model

Technical drawings are the main form of communication of the design in the design process, at least: they used to be and nowadays still are in most fields. These are 2D representations of objects that are 3-dimensional, which means these drawings are limited in what they can show and hard to interpret by the general public. There is also the risk that the 2D drawings are inaccurate or incorrect, which can cause major problems during the construction phase or when a project has been delivered. Capturing the design in 3D can avoid a major part of these problems

Besides communication, the most common application of the 3D architectural model is visualization of the design. Visualizations can be used for acquisition, but also as a tool for simulating architectural design decisions (e.g: the choice of a cladding material).

3D digital models can also be used as a basis for simulation and analysis. This can be extended to the manufacturing process: digital manufacturing of building components or rapid prototyping of design solutions.

Interior Render, S. Mulders

Maya is used at the Faculty of Architecture of the TU Delft for a number of reasons. The list below is a brief overview of some of the key reasons; it's by no means the complete account:

  • Maya combines several modeling options: Polygons, NURBS and Sub-D's making it very flexible
  • Maya support history-based modeling, allowing parametric design methods
  • Maya's extensive animation and dynamics supports allows advanced conceptual architectural design approaches
  • Maya's open architecture allow the program to be extended using MEL and Python scripting and C++ programming

So what is Maya?

Simply put, it's a computer program that enables you to create advanced virtual 3d models.

But to be more precise, Maya software is an open and integrated 3D modeling, animation, effects and rendering application.

Maya can be used to:

How to use Maya in the architectural process

XXL: A.van Hees, J.Breider, B.Meijerman, E.den Hartog, C.Leung, M.Flint, S.Mulders

The answer to this question really depends on your project and personal preference. This chapter gives a brief overview of the most important applications in the architectural process.

Mass study
Maya can be used as a 3 dimensional sketch tool, generating volumes for a Mass Study.
Conceptual design
research design decisions regarding the shape and geometry of the design, but also properties such as materials and lighting. The end result can be communicated through visualizations rendered from the 3D model in Maya.
Preliminary design
Maya can be used to communicate the design between the actors in the design process (the specialists), but also to other stakeholders. Furthermore the 3D model can be used by specialists to do simulations and analyses of the design.
Final design
Depending on the accuracy of the 3D model it can be used for a variety of applications, such as visualizations, manufacturing of building elements and components. 3D models can even be used as the legal document describing the design.

Maya Interface

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The interface of Maya looks complex , however don't worry most of the tools you won't use. So don't be intimidated by the interface.

Every program has an interface to communicate with the user. The layout of an interface has a certain logic to it, so the user can easily find a function without having to know all the positions of the different functions by heart. So if you know how an interface works you will find everything a lot faster.

Mostly you will work from left to right, from top to bottom; the commando's you will use first (like opening a file) are placed in the upper left corner, and information about created objects can be found on the right.

interface totaal

Pull Down Menu's

The layout of the menu bar is the same as the overall interface; frequently used commands are placed on the left. Because Maya has many menus for various tasks, the menu bar has been split into a fixed part (File, Edit, Create, Select, Modify, Display, Windows,[...] ,Cache, Help) and a part that can be set to a specific task using a Pull-down menu. This pull-down is located on the left side, directly beneath the File and Edit menus:

Maya Interface pulldown.png

When you change the pull-down menu from Modeling to Animation, the menus after 'Windows' are changed to the menus specific for animation:

Maya interface animation.png

And below when set back to Modeling:

Maya Interface modeling.png

Let's take a closer look at the 'Modeling' set menu bar. It starts with four items for polygonal mesh objects: Mesh, Edit Mesh, Mesh Tools, Mesh Display. Mesh contains commands for changing polygon objects. The next two menus are Edit Mesh and Mesh tools: functions to add/remove polygon objects and/or components to polygone meshes. Mesh Display contains helpful display functions for polygonal objects/components.

Menus Curves and Surfaces contain commands related to NURBS curves and surfaces.

It's impossible to know every command by heart. But when you see the logic of the way all commands are structured in the menus, it shouldn't take too long to find what you're looking for.


Below the Menu bar we find the Status Line. Various functions are located here: first the file buttons, then the selection options and masks, snap buttons, rendering buttons, the input box and finally the sidebar buttons.

Maya interface statusline.png


On the left side next to the viewport you find the toolbox. Here you can find the selection tool and the Transformation tools you can use to move, rotate or scale objects. The Show Manipulator Tool offers a more advanced manipulator that allows multiple transformations simultaneously and is geared towards custom operations on specific objects.

Below these tools you find the viewport tools; one perspective viewport, 1 perspective and 3 orthogonal viewports, and viewport with outliner. In the outliner you can find a list of objects in your scene.

Maya Interface toolbox.png


This one of the most used menu's of Maya because its allows you to access certain parameters of your object. The Channelbox is on the right side of the screen. In this menu you will find all the properties of the selected object, and you can change those properties. If you apply a certain operation on an object, Maya will remember this. This is called the construction history of an object and that is also shown here.

Interface channelbox.jpg

If you create an object in Maya it will automatically get a unique name. When you are building a large building or model it can be useful to change the standard name of an object to something that makes a little more sense to humans. This can help you finding and selecting objects in larger scenes. You can change a name by clicking on the standard name in the channelbox. When you have already used a name, e.g: door and you name another object door, Maya will automatically suffix a number, making the name unique. So your new door will be named door1 and so on.

Interface channelbox2.jpg

In the Outliner you can select objects by name, so giving them a logical name can be very useful.


By default the workspace shows one single panel with a default view of your scene (with standard grid). This panel shows your scene as viewed from the standard perspective camera (persp). When you navigate through your scene the camera you look through is actually moved.

Interface 0.jpg

You can use the Quick Layout Buttons (below the Tool Box) to change to the Four View. This will replace the single panel with 4 panels: 3 orthogonal views ( front, side and top) and one perspective (persp).

Interface 3viewports.jpg

You can quickly switch from the Four View to a Single View by tapping your space bar while hovering your mouse over the panel you want to enlarge. When you tap space again, you will switch back.

You can change the camera that is shown in each of the views by using the pull-down menu Panels in the panel. Here you can switch between the different cameras. You can find the cameras in either the Perspecitive or Ortographics sub-menus, depending on the type of camera.

Maya Viewport panelsmenu.png

Display options

Maya has different options for displaying the objects. When you start Maya will show objects as green lines (when selected) and blue lines, when not selected, the so called wireframe mode. You can also get to this mode pressing 4 on your keyboard. If you want to see shaded objects you press 5. (See below)

Interface displayoptions.jpg

Other display options you can get by pressing 6 and 7. 6 will show you textures and 7 will show the light setup and possible shadows.

If you press 8 the Paint Effects panel will become active. By pressing 8 again you will go back to the normal view. You can go back to a 'normal' tool by selecting the Select, Move or any other tool from the Tool Box.
If you press 2 or 3 when one or more polygon objects are selected, Maya will change the display for these objects to smooth display. Press 1 to go back to the default display.

In the shading menu in your viewport there are also other ways of displaying the objects in that viewport, for instance, the wire frame on shaded can be useful:


With the X-ray shading mode objects will be shown transparent.


The interactive shading can be very useful too, especially when you are handling a very large and slow model. This shading mode shows the objects in shaded (or wireframe on shaded)mode when not navigating, but shows the objects in wireframe mode when using the navigating tools. The backface culling can also be convenient. When using it, Maya only shows the faces that have the normals facing in the direction of the camera you're looking through. In this way it's easy to detect which faces might have the normals in the wrong direction.

Also very useful options can be found in the show menu in your viewport:


It is possible to show only the object you have selected, to do this, select the objects you want to be shown, then go to Show » Isolate Select » View Selected. To show all objects again go to Isolate Select again to check it off.

You can also let Maya only show objects of certain types, for instance, when you are modeling you don't need to show all the camera's and lights, so in the show menu in the viewport you can check the things you need and turn off the things you don't need to see.


To navigate in 2D and 3D space you have to use Alt in combination with the mouse buttons.

Alt + left mouse button: rotate (tumble)
Alt + middle mouse button: pan (track)
Alt + right mouse button: move closer or farther (dolly)

Using Alt + Ctrl + left mouse button will allow you to draw a box to move closer or farther (dolly). In most cases you can also use the scroll wheel on your mouse to dolly in or out, although it may be less smooth and precise.

When you are moving around keep an eye on your coordinate system: the y-axis should point up.

Interface navigate.jpg

Selecting, deleting and useful shortcuts

To select objects in Maya click on them. To select more than one object, click to select the first, and while pressing shift click the second object. To deselect all selected objects click somewhere empty in the viewport, to deselect one selected object, press control and click on the object you want to deselect. You can also select objects by dragging a frame around (part of) the objects.

To delete an object, select it and then press the delete button on your keyboard.

Useful shortcuts are ctrl + Z (undo), shift + Z (redo) ctrl + A (attribute editor), W (move tool), E (rotate tool), R (scale tool).

Setting up your project - crucial for a good workflow

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As with any computer program, it's important to keep your work organized. This is especially true when working with complicated scenes with a lot of objects. There are several techniques available to order and name objects so they can be easily selected. In addition Maya uses a project structure as a basis for its file organization. This project structure is a set of sub directories on your hard drive where Maya will automatically place the files you generate. This is crucial is a correct functioning of Maya. It's important to keep all these separate files together otherwise Maya won't be able to find them. There for you need to set your project and organize your scene by using convenient naming of the objects and by using layers and groups. Don't just use one of these methods to organize, but use a combination to be able to handle your scene with the optimal ease.


Working with Projects

A Maya project can consist of many files in various categories. To keep all this data structured, Maya uses a defined project structure. It is important to use a Project to make sure all relevant data can always be located. You may run into trouble, especially with file textures when you don't use this structure or when you forget to Set your project.

Starting a new project

  • Go to File > Project > New...
Maya project.jpg
  • Enter a name for your project
    It's best to avoid spaces and special characters
  • Choose a path where your project should be stored. Maya will create a directory (using the project name) in that location automatically.
  • Click Use Defaults to use default locations for different Project files.
  • Click Accept to confirm and close. Maya will create all the necessary locations.

Typical locations

Some typical locations for different types of files within your project

Maya scene files (.mb) are stored in the scenes/ directory.
all pictures used as file textures are stored here.
all rendered images data are store by Maya are saved here.

Continuing with an existing Project

  • Go to File > Project > Set...
  • Choose the location where your project is. This would be the directory with your project name that is created by Maya when you start a new project.

Now that we know how to set a project it's time to look at some basic rules of file management. By following these rules you'll be sure that you keep your work organized and efficient.

Beginning a project

First, set your project. (by setting a project Maya knows the location where all files of your project should be saved and files will automatically be placed (and found) in a proper location)

Don't use spaces in file names (spaces aren't always supported properly, for example when using batch rendering).

Always use comprehensible file names:




The description should point out whether a file is relevant for the current project. De description 'construction' helps other people that work on the project to identify the contents of a specific file. By including the authors name, everyone knows who to address when there's a problem. The date shows when a file was last modified and whether or not a file contains information that is up to date. Adding a version number refines this, so different versions can be saved for a specific date.

When file referencing is used, it's more convenient to strip the date and version number. Nevertheless it's recommended to use a date and version number for archived files. The file that should be used for referencing could be named filename_current.mb.

File textures

Use clear names for file textures.


Textures: filetype and resolution

Save textures as JPG (non progressive!) using maximum quality (minimum compression).

The resolution depends on the desired quality and the size of the texture in the final render. Use very large textures with caution: it can negatively affect the render speed. Use resolutions between 640-480 and max. 1600-1200. Higher resolutions should only be used exceptionally.

Store textures in the sourceimages directory of the Maya project, so NOT in the textures directory!


The layer box in Maya can be found under the channel box. Layers are very convenient to work with as you can organize your scene, assign colors to them, you can turn them on and off, you can select all objects in it all in once, etc.

You can create a new layer by going to layers > create empty layer or clicking on the new layer icon:


You can change the name and properties of this layer by double clicking it and adjusting the name and color (the color will be visible in wireframe mode, it is not a way to assign a color to your geometry!):


If you want to use colors it is easiest to not use the first 5 bottom colors because Maya itself uses these colors to indicate selections etc, so this can cause some confusion.

To get the objects in the created layers you select the objects, then click on the layer with the right mouse button and let go above 'add selected objects'.

You can remove a selected object from a layer by doing the same but letting go above 'remove selected objects'. To remove all objects from this layer let go above 'empty layer' and to delete the layer let go above 'delete layer'.

If you want to delete a layer you can right click on the layer and let go above delete layer. If the layer has objects in it, the objects will become layer-less again.

Putting all objects in layers in a logical way will make working in Maya easier because now you can for instance make all objects in a layer invisible, shown as a template or as a reference. To make the objects in a layer invisible by clicking on the V in the first box next to the layername. To make a layer function as a template click on the second box (the empty one) next to the layername until it shows a T. Now only the objects' outline can still be seen and you cannot select or do anything with these objects. To make a layer function as a reference click on the same box again until it shows an R. Every object in the layer will still be visible and it is possible to snap to components of the objects, but you cannot select or adjust them.


You can also select all objects in a layer in once. You select the layer by clicking on it so it will be marked with blue (you can select a second layer by pressing shift and clicking on the second layer) and then go to layers > select objects in selected layers:


In this menu you can also delete all unused layers. Check out the other options in this menu too.


Groups are also very useful to help to organize your scene. It is wise to group together the objects that you need to move, scale, rotate or adjust in some other way together as a whole, you could for instance group together a glass panel with its framing. Mind that grouping objects doesn't turn them into 1 object. To group objects together, select all the objects and go to edit > group:


Give the group a convenient name in the channelbox. You can now select this group by going to hierarchy mode:


In this hierarchy mode you can only select groups, so if you want to select single objects again go back to object mode (the button on the right side of the hierarchy mode). You can also see and select the group in your outliner:


You can now also see why it's so important that you give your groups and objects logical names. Another way to select a group is by selecting an object belonging to the group you want to select and then pressing the arrow up on your keyboard.


To keep your scene orderly it's important to pay some attention to the naming of your objects and groups. If there are a lot of objects in your scene this can help you retrieve objects or groups in the outliner more easily.

Maya Help

When you start working with a program as versatile as Maya, your bound to run in to some problems. Don't let this deter you, because there are plenty of possibility’s to find an answer to those problems.

One of those possibility’s is the Maya help, Maya has an excellent and extensive help system that can be accessed by pressing [F1] key on the keyboard:

Maya help.jpg

The general help screen opens from where you can look up your specific problem, either by browsing through the help files:

Maya help contents.jpg

or by searching:

Maya help search.jpg

But the quickest method usually is selecting the help file directly from the window where you've ran into a problem:

Maya help duplicate.jpg

This opens up the correct help file:

Maya help duplicate open.jpg


The TOI-Pedia is an ever growing database with loads of useful information and tutorials. You can find solutions to most common problems with Maya, AutoCAD, Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and Premiere.

Because all the information on the TOI-Pedia is cross referenced, there are multiple ways to reach a certain piece of information. You can navigate by:

  • Course: find information that is relevant for a specific course
  • Application: find all information for a specific application
  • Tutorial: find practical information on how to do something or to achieve a specific goal. These are ordered by application.

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You could also use the Search bar to find a specific piece of information.

Running Maya

Maya should be installed on all computers at the faculty of Architecture, including the TU Delft Student Laptops. The software has been made available to students to install on their own computer as well. You can find out more on how to get your copy of Maya as a student of the faculty of Architecture on the Maya for Students web page.

When you're running Maya on your laptop or computer at home, you have to make sure you're connected to the TU Delft Campus network to be able to use the TU Delft license for Maya. When you're connected to the wired or wireless network of the TU Delft, you should be OK. When you're working at home using your own internet connection, you probably need to use VPN to connect to the TU Delft network. More information can be found on the Maya for Students web page mentioned above.
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