Maya 2017 - User Interface

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Maya 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 commands 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.


This drop-down menu changes the top menu bar

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.

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

Animation specific menu bar

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 polygon 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.



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. If your Manipulator tool is not in the toolbox go to Modify » Transformation Tools » Show Manipulator Tool or press the T hotkey. You will also find the Last Used Tool button here, use this to quickly reselect the tool you used previously. Each of these tools has a hotkey so you can quickly choose the tool you need, try to get used to working with these hotkeys as they will increase your workspeed significantly.

Below the tools you find the viewport buttons; 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.


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. Some buttons are hidden by default, you need to click the little arrow buttons for all the Status Line buttons to become visible.

Maya2017 statusline01.jpg


Single perspective viewport

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.

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

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 the space bar 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 Perspective or Orthographic sub-menus, depending on the type of camera.

Four viewports: one perspective and three orthogonal views
Change the active camera in this drop-down menu


Navigation controls

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.

If you press F while having an object selected, the camera will focus onto that object.


Use the Outliner window to keep an overview of the objects in your scene

To keep your scene orderly it's important to pay some attention to the naming of your objects and groups. To help you with this there is the Outliner. The Outliner can be opened with the button on the left side of your screen, and it will give you a list with all the objects in your Maya scene. If there are a lot of objects in your scene this can help you retrieve objects or groups more easily, or you can easily clean up objects that you don't need anymore.

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), ctrl + Y (redo) ctrl + A (attribute editor), W (move tool), E (rotate tool), R (scale tool).


The Channelbox shows you the properties of the currently selected 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.

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 is a little easier to remember. 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.

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

Attribute editor

You can also find the Attribute Editor in the top right corner

The attribute editor shows the attributes of the selected object. You can show the attribute editor by going to Window » Attribute Editor or pressing ctrl + A:

Every type of object's attribute editor of course looks different, but generally, the tabs are the nodes of the selected object, the attributes of all these different nodes are on these tabs. In the attribute editor all information on the selected object can be seen (and edited).

Script Editor

Open the script editor with the button in the lower right corner

Maya is a very broad software application with numerous possibilities and applications. Nevertheless its flexibility is one of the key features: there are several options to tailor the program to your own needs and demands and to add new functionality yourself. One of the key components to do that is the Maya scripting language, MEL. MEL stands for Maya Embedded Language. In fact the entire interface of Maya as you know it is written in MEL. Everything you do and see in the interface corresponds with one or more MEL commands.

Below the Channelbox you see a white line and a gray line. On the right to the gray line there is one button, here you find the script editor (also; you can open the Script Editor through Windows » General Editors » Script Editor. This interface is used to enter commands and scripts, but the history panel also provides feedback. On the left the chosen script language can be changed. If you want to execute a MEL script, make sure it says MEL on the left.

If the Script Editor is opened, you'll see a window similar to the image to the right. The window is divided in two parts: The top part is the history, the bottom part is where you can type. Here you can also choose between scripting in MEL or in Python. The history probably already contains some output. You'll notice that most actions in Maya result in output in the history panel. It shows the commands that are being executed and the results of those commands. In this image you can see part of the commands used to make the objects.

Display Options

Press 5 for Shaded Display
Press 4 for Wireframe Display
You can find all these display options in the Shading menu

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.

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 2 or 3 when one or more polygon objects are selected, Maya will change the display for these objects to smooth preview 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 wireframe 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.

More useful display 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.

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