Maya Lesson 1.2: Creating a New 3D Modeling/Animation Project

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Welcome to Lesson 1.2, where we'll discuss file management, project structure, and naming conventions in the Maya interface. Hopefully, you've already got Maya loaded up (one of the best 3D modeling and animation software) — if not, get to it from Autodesk!

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The Importance of File Management

Create a New Project in Maya Screenshot


As in most software, you can save a Maya scene file to any location on your computer's hard drive. However, Maya scene files can become quite complex, making proper project management very important. Unlike a simple Word document or PDF where all the information is stored in a single file, any given Maya scene might rely on dozens of separate source directories in order to display and render properly.

For example: If you're working on an architectural interior, it's quite likely your scene might include the building model itself, and various associated texture files — maybe a ceramic floor, a wall material, a hardwood for cabinets, a marble, or granite for counter-tops, etc. Without proper file structure, Maya has a difficult time pulling these associated files into the scene.

Let's take a look at the steps that need to be taken to create a new project file in Maya.

Go ahead and click File > Project > New as shown in the image above.

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Naming Your Maya Project

Maya New Project dialog Screenshot


Click on the first option box, titled Name. This is a step that's fairly self-explanatory, but there are a few considerations that must be made.
The name you choose here is an overall name for your entire Maya project, not for the individual scene you've got open in Maya. In many cases, your project will only be comprised of a single scene, for example, if you're working on a simple prop model, like a chair or bed for your asset library, you'll probably only have one scene file.

However, if you were working on an animated short film it would be a very different story. You'd probably have an individual scene file for every character in the film, as well as separate scenes for each environment. Make sure you choose a project name that describes your overall project, not just the scene you're working on at the moment.

A Note On Naming Conventions

When you name your Maya project, it's not necessary to adhere to any sort of strict naming convention. If you have a multiple word project name, it's fine to use spaces between words. Any of the following would be acceptable use whatever is comfortable for you.

Elsewhere in Maya however, it's important to use a consistent and readable naming scheme without spaces. When naming polygon objects, animation controls/joints, cameras, and materials, it's common practice to use a lowercaseUppercase convention for the main description, and an underscore to delineate pertinent details.

For example: porscheHeadlight_left and porscheHeadlight_right.
In actuality, the naming scheme you choose is up to you. Just make sure your object names are consistent, descriptive, and easily readable in case you ever have to pass off a model or scene to another artist.

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Setting Up the Default Folder Structure

Use Default Folder Structure in Maya Screenshot


The second order of business in the New Project dialog deals with the folder structure of your Maya Project.
Click Use Defaults.
Pressing this button will cause Maya to create a project folder on your hard drive using the name you specified earlier. Inside your project folder, Maya will create several directories to store all of the data, scenes, and information associated with your project.
If you're curious as to the location of your Maya project files within Windows or Mac OSX, the typical path on a standard Maya installation is as follows:
Documents > Maya > Projects > Your Project

Although Maya will typically create 19 default directories in your project folder, the software does most of the legwork, making sure the right information gets stored in the correct folders. However, you should at least be aware of these three:
After you've clicked Use Defaults, click Accept and the dialog will close automatically.

Scenes: This is the directory where your save files will be placed for all the different scenes in your project.

Images: A good place to store any related reference images, sketches, inspiration, etc. Usually used for files that are related to the project, but not actually accessed by Maya when the scene renders.

Source Images: All texture files should be stored here, in addition to any other files that Maya directly references at render time (like bump maps, normal maps, particle sprites).

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Setting the Project

Setting the Project in Maya screenshot


OK. We're almost there, just two more quick steps and you'll be able to try your hand at some basic 3D modeling.

Select File and choose Project > Set.

This will bring up a dialog box with a list of all the projects currently in your directory. Choose the project you're working on and click Set. Doing this tells Maya which project folder to save scene files into, and where to look for textures, bump maps, etc.

This step isn't strictly necessary if you've just created a new project, as we have. Maya automatically sets the current project when a new one is created. However, this step is crucial if you're switching between projects without creating a new one.

It's a good habit to always set your project when you launch Maya unless you've just created a new project

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Saving Your Maya Scene File

Saving Your Maya Scene screenshot


The last thing we'll do before moving onto the next lesson is to look at how to save a Maya scene.

Go to File > Save Scene As to launch the save dialog.

There are two parameters you need to fill when using the "save as" command: File name and type.

  1. characterModel_01_startTorso
  2. characterModel_02_startLegs
  3. characterModel_03_startArms
  4. characterModel_04_startHead
  5. characterModel_05_refineTorso
  6. characterModel_06_refineHead
  7. So on and so forth.
  8. File Name: Using the same naming conventions as mentioned previously, go ahead and give your scene a name. Something like myModel will work for now. Because Maya, like any other software, is not immune to data corruption, it's a good idea to save iterations of scenes from time to time. So rather than overwriting my scene again and again under the same file name, we usually "save as" an iteration whenever we get to a logical division in the workflow.
    Using this kind of detail is advantageous because not only do you know the order in which your different scene files were created, you have a vague idea what work you did during that span.
    Whether or not your use this much detail in your scene files is your choice, but we strongly recommend you "save as" from time to time. That way if characterModel_06 becomes corrupted, you've always got characterModel_05 to fall back on. We guarantee it'll save you a lot of heartache at some point in your 3D making career.
    Maya Ascii (.ma)
  9. Maya Binary (.mb)
  10. File Type: There are two types of Maya scene files, and for beginners, it matters very little which one you choose.
    The type of scene file you use does not affect the outcome of your rendered image. Both Maya Ascii and Maya Binary files contain the exact same information, the only difference is that Binary files are compressed into numeric values (and therefore illegible to the human eye) while ASCII files contain the original (legible) script.
    The advantage of .mb files is that they are typically smaller and can be read by the computer more quickly. The advantage of .ma is that someone well versed with MEL (Maya's scripting language) can alter the scene at the code level. Someone particularly gifted could even retrieve usable portions of a corrupted file from a Maya ASCII, whereas with Maya Binary this would be impossible.
    Enough theory. For now, just choose Maya ASCII and click Save As. For what we're doing there's no reason to worry about file sizes, and MEL scripting is something most beginners don't touch until they're somewhat more familiar with the software.
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